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HISTORY

The summary for this entry was completed with participation from the AFI Academic Network. Summary was written by participant Matt Caron, a student at Emerson College, with Eric Schaefer as academic advisor.

The film begins with a written prologue that reads: “This is an entirely imaginary story about the writer Samuel Dashiell Hammett, who… in the words of one of his most gifted contemporaries… helped get murder out of the Vicar’s rose garden and back to the people who are really good at it. The detective story has not been the same since.”
       As noted in a 15 Oct 1976 HR news item, Nicholas Roeg was originally set to direct Hammett. Roeg and Joe Gores, who wrote the novel Hammett (1975) on which the film was based, were contracted to collaborate on the screenplay. Although Tom Sternberg was listed as a producer in HR at this time, he did not receive credit in the final film. On 30 Mar 1978, HR stated that executive producer Francis Ford Coppola’s company, American Zoetrope, had made agreements with Orion Pictures Corporation for the production of the picture with Wim Wenders as director and that shooting was schedule to begin in late spring 1978.
       According to various contemporary news sources, including LAHExam on 17 May 1983 and Film Collector’s World on 20 May 1983, Hammett took six years to complete and much of the film was reshot before release. LAHExam reported that shooting began on the project in 1980, with a $7 million budget, but production ...

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The summary for this entry was completed with participation from the AFI Academic Network. Summary was written by participant Matt Caron, a student at Emerson College, with Eric Schaefer as academic advisor.

The film begins with a written prologue that reads: “This is an entirely imaginary story about the writer Samuel Dashiell Hammett, who… in the words of one of his most gifted contemporaries… helped get murder out of the Vicar’s rose garden and back to the people who are really good at it. The detective story has not been the same since.”
       As noted in a 15 Oct 1976 HR news item, Nicholas Roeg was originally set to direct Hammett. Roeg and Joe Gores, who wrote the novel Hammett (1975) on which the film was based, were contracted to collaborate on the screenplay. Although Tom Sternberg was listed as a producer in HR at this time, he did not receive credit in the final film. On 30 Mar 1978, HR stated that executive producer Francis Ford Coppola’s company, American Zoetrope, had made agreements with Orion Pictures Corporation for the production of the picture with Wim Wenders as director and that shooting was schedule to begin in late spring 1978.
       According to various contemporary news sources, including LAHExam on 17 May 1983 and Film Collector’s World on 20 May 1983, Hammett took six years to complete and much of the film was reshot before release. LAHExam reported that shooting began on the project in 1980, with a $7 million budget, but production stopped because Wenders and Coppola were unhappy with the ending. LAHExam noted that a hiatus of this kind was unprecedented in Hollywood, and both filmmakers went their separate ways to work on other projects; Coppola directed One from the Heart (1982, see entry), which also starred Frederic Forrest, and Wenders directed The State of Things (1983, see entry).
       Var reported on 29 Jul 1981 that production began 4 Feb 1980 and was suspended in Jun 1980. On 12 Nov 1981, DV stated that the production would begin again, with four weeks of additional shooting time scheduled. As reported in DV and in LAHExam on 17 May 1983, the second shoot introduced cinematographer Philip Lathrop to the production, who took over from Joseph Biroc and received credit as “Other photographer,” and actor Peter Boyle, who stepped in for Brian Keith in the role of “Jimmy Ryan.” While Lydia Lei’s role as “Crystal Ling” was expanded, Ronee Blakely, who was divorced from Wenders during the first phase of production, was cut from the film entirely. The reshoot was based on a new script written by Ross Thomas who received top billing as screenwriter, perhaps because 75% of the film was reshot with a new budget of $1.25 million. According to Wenders in LAHExam, the intense schedule of the second shoot helped him to reconnect with the project and he noted that 95 pages of the script were completed in only four weeks. Wenders said that although there was no bad blood between himself and Coppola, he suggested that Coppola exhibited more control over the director than was appropriate.
       A 14 Aug 1981 article in LAT states that although shooting concluded in fall 1980, the film was determined to be “unreleasable” by Coppola, and Zoetrope’s inability to issue the picture caused a financial crisis at the studio, resulting in layoffs and employees voluntarily working at half of their regular rate. When foreign investors pulled their support at this time, Coppola was reportedly $8 million short on the budget and used his personal real estate as collateral. It was the first film to be produced at the Los Angeles studio of Zoetrope, where it was shot almost entirely on sound stages, according to the 20 May 1983 LAT review.
       Hammett opened at the Cannes Film Festival in 1982 and was released in Germany, France and Spain in Oct 1982. Although there were exclusive bookings in New York, Los Angeles, Toronto and San Francisco in fall 1982, the film was not officially released in the United States until its May 1983 Los Angeles premiere. As reported in LAHExam on 24 May 1983, the film’s generally positive reviews did not translate to profits at the box-office. During its opening week in Southern California, the film grossed $37,724 in twelve theaters, with an average of $3,144 per screen. Test runs in San Francisco and Seattle showed lower profits. Although Warner Bros. was reportedly unwilling to release the film nationally after these results, according to LAHExam, Hammett was released in New York on 1 Jul 1983.

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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
1 Oct 1981
---
Daily Variety
12 Nov 1981
---
Daily Variety
13 Nov 1981
---
Film Collector's World
20 May 1983
---
Hollywood Reporter
15 Oct 1976
---
Hollywood Reporter
30 Mar 1978
---
Hollywood Reporter
1 Apr 1980
---
Hollywood Reporter
7 Apr 1981
---
Hollywood Reporter
8 May 1983
---
Hollywood Reporter
20 May 1983
p. 3
LAHExam
17 May 1983
p. 1, 4
LAHExam
24 May 1983
---
Los Angeles Times
14 Aug 1981
---
Los Angeles Times
30 Jul 1982
---
Los Angeles Times
20 May 1983
p. 1, 6
New York Times
1 Jul 1983
p. 8
Variety
29 Jul 1981
---
Variety
25 Nov 1981
---
Variety
27 Jan 1982
---
Variety
2 Jun 1982
p. 15
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Prod
Prod
Assoc prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Other photog
Cam op
1st asst cam
1st asst cam
Still photog
Still photog
Key grip
Gaffer
Best boy
Best boy
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Art dir
Illustrator
Graphic des
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Leadman
Set des
Set des
Const coord
Const coord
Set artist
Prop master
Prop master
COSTUMES
Cost des
Cost
MUSIC
Mus comp and cond
Chinese mus consultant to John Barry
Solo piano
Solo clarinetist
Mus rec at
Rec eng, Group IV
SOUND
Sd mixer
Sd mixer
Boom person
Boom person
Supv sd ed
Dial ed
Dial ed
Sd ed
Sd ed
Asst sd ed
Re-rec mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Spec eff
Title des
Titles and opticals by
MAKEUP
Hair stylist
Hair stylist
Make-up
Thomas Tuttle
Make-up
PRODUCTION MISC
Scr supv
Scr supv
Casting
Casting
Extras casting
Extras casting
Extras casting
Electronic cinema
Electronic cinema
Electronic cinema
Electronic cinema
In cooperation with:
Electronic cinema
SONY
Prod coord
Auditor
Transportation capt
Transportation capt
Asst to the prod
Asst to Mr. Wenders
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod aide
Prod aide
Prod aide
Prod aide
Prod aide
Prod aide
Prod aide
Prod aide
Prod aide
Prod aide
Loc coord
Loc coord
Research
Research
Addl research
Addl research
Addl research
Use of "The Black Mask" courtesy of
STAND INS
Stunt coord
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Hammett by Joe Gores (New York, 1975).
LITERARY SOURCE AUTHOR
DETAILS
Release Date:
1983
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 20 May 1983; New York opening: 1 Jul 1983
Production Date:

Copyright Info
Claimant
Date
Copyright Number
Zoetrope Studios
14 July 1983
PA184024
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo in selected theaters
Color
Technicolor
Duration(in mins):
98
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
26603
SYNOPSIS

In a 1928 San Francisco Chinatown apartment, Dashiell Hammett sits at his typewriter and completes a detective story. After passing out drunk and dreaming of the last scene in his story, where Sue Alabama shoots “Pen Pal” Morrison in a heist, Hammett receives an unexpected visit from his former partner Jimmy Ryan, a private detective who Hammett used as the inspiration for his story’s unnamed protagonist. Jimmy tells Hammett he is in town trying to find a Chinese immigrant named Crystal Ling, and asks for Hammett’s help. As Hammett and Jimmy leave to mail Hammett’s manuscript and drink whiskey, Hammett’s neighbor, Kit Conger, stops by asking for booze and Hammett introduces her to Jimmy. A man with clicking heels closely follows them through Chinatown, but as Jimmy attempts to elude him in a crowd, Hammett loses his manuscript and Jimmy fires on their stalker and disappears. Searching for his friend, Hammett wanders into a brothel and encounters two former acquaintances, Detective Bradford and Lt. O’Mara, who tell him they have not seen Jimmy. When Hammett informs them about Crystal, he is warned to forget her. As he continues his search for Jimmy, Hammett is pursued by Gary Salt, who introduces himself as a newspaper reporter and says that he has something for Jimmy. Hammett takes Salt to a bar where they hope to find Jimmy, but he is not there. While Salt explains he is working on a story about a girl in Chinatown, Hammett walks toward a man he mistakes for Jimmy and when he returns, Gary is gone. Outside, Hammett approaches the man with clicking heels and invites him ...

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In a 1928 San Francisco Chinatown apartment, Dashiell Hammett sits at his typewriter and completes a detective story. After passing out drunk and dreaming of the last scene in his story, where Sue Alabama shoots “Pen Pal” Morrison in a heist, Hammett receives an unexpected visit from his former partner Jimmy Ryan, a private detective who Hammett used as the inspiration for his story’s unnamed protagonist. Jimmy tells Hammett he is in town trying to find a Chinese immigrant named Crystal Ling, and asks for Hammett’s help. As Hammett and Jimmy leave to mail Hammett’s manuscript and drink whiskey, Hammett’s neighbor, Kit Conger, stops by asking for booze and Hammett introduces her to Jimmy. A man with clicking heels closely follows them through Chinatown, but as Jimmy attempts to elude him in a crowd, Hammett loses his manuscript and Jimmy fires on their stalker and disappears. Searching for his friend, Hammett wanders into a brothel and encounters two former acquaintances, Detective Bradford and Lt. O’Mara, who tell him they have not seen Jimmy. When Hammett informs them about Crystal, he is warned to forget her. As he continues his search for Jimmy, Hammett is pursued by Gary Salt, who introduces himself as a newspaper reporter and says that he has something for Jimmy. Hammett takes Salt to a bar where they hope to find Jimmy, but he is not there. While Salt explains he is working on a story about a girl in Chinatown, Hammett walks toward a man he mistakes for Jimmy and when he returns, Gary is gone. Outside, Hammett approaches the man with clicking heels and invites him to continue trailing him. Unfazed by the man’s threats, Hammett continues to a billiard club on his way home, but the man continues to follow. Sharing a glass of whiskey with Kit at her apartment, Hammett tells her that he lost his manuscript but intends to write a better one and expresses concern over losing Jimmy. Back in his apartment, Hammett pieces his story together from rejected pages in the waste paper basket. The next morning, back at his typewriter, Hammett is visited by Salt, who confesses that he isn’t really a writer but a collector of gossip. While researching a “real” story about the immigrant sex trade in Chinatown, he discovered Crystal and shows Hammett a photograph. Salt says he wants Crystal back from Jimmy and warns that Jimmy’s life is at stake. Later, Jimmy calls Hammett, urgently telling him to check his dictionary. He says that he is in trouble because he cannot find Crystal. Inside the dictionary, Hammett finds a copy of the San Francisco Chronicle with a missing article. Visiting the newspaper’s office with the clicking-heeled stalker on his trail, Hammett learns that the missing article was about local businessman Frederick F. Callaghan II, who committed suicide in the wake of a “financial reversal,” and his attorney was “English Eddie” Hagedorn. With a tip from his Chinese barber, Hammett looks for Crystal at the Occidental Board Presbyterian Mission House, which harbors runaway prostitutes. Pretending to be a newspaper reporter, Hammett discovers that Crystal had escaped from brothel owner Fong Wei Tau, who bought her for $5,000 when she was twelve years old, but a staff member at the Mission was tricked into letting a man take her away. Hammett proceeds to the morgue and asks Doc Fallon about Callaghan, while the man with clicking heels waits for Hammett outside. As he shuts the door to his office, Fallon says that a man with Jimmy’s description had been by the previous week for the same reason. When Hammett assures Fallon that he is working only for himself, Fallon lets him read the Coroner’s report and learns that Callaghan died from a blunt object to the head and a bullet in the heart rather than suicide. Returning to his apartment, Hammett finds Crystal asleep in a chair. After telling Hammett that she wants Jimmy to stop looking for her and that Salt is an evil man, she asks him to protect her by letting her stay in his apartment and seductively offers to do anything in return. As they kiss, Hammett asks Crystal about Callaghan. Although she is reluctant to answer, Crystal says that she witnessed Callaghan’s wife kill him in a jealous rage because he had bought Crystal from Fong. Before Hammett leaves to pursue Fong, he asks Kit to call Detective Bradford if he is not back in the morning. At Fong’s casino, Hammett asks Fong if Jimmy has been there and Fong produces Hammett’s manuscript, bribing him to reveal Crystal’s location. When Hammett refuses, he is knocked unconscious and detained in a cell. As he comes to, a little girl leads him through an opium den and a brothel to Jimmy, who is confined underground. After helping him out of the cell, Hammett and Jimmy escape, but Detective Bradford and Lt. O’Mara wait for them outside and take them into custody. Hammett is interrogated and taken to the morgue, where he is presented with a body that reportedly belongs to Crystal. Back at the station, Bradford shows Hammett pornographic films of Crystal and asks if he knows who made them. As Hammett leaves, Salt approaches and inquires if Jimmy gave the police information about Crystal. When Hammett accuses him of taking Crystal from the mission and reports that she’s dead, Salt runs away, but Hammett retains his wallet and finds a betting card with six names written on the back. Returning home, Hammett finds his apartment vandalized with blood on the walls. He tells Kit the attack is a warning and shows her Salt’s betting card, and when she identifies the names as the six richest men in San Francisco, he asks her to help him tail Salt. Tracing the card to Frank Nestor the news vendor, a bookie, Hammett learns that Crystal frequented the photography studio near his stand. On their way inside, Hammett and Kit notice Salt’s name on a mailbox. In the studio, Hammett finds a receipt for a $100 retainer in Jimmy’s name and learns that Salt was Jimmy’s client. When Kit discovers an envelope, they hear hushed voices outside. Hiding behind a two-way mirror, Hammett sees the man with clicking heels hold Salt at gunpoint, demanding the delivery of items that Hagedorn told him were in Salt’s possession. When Salt insists he does not have them anymore, the man shoots him dead and takes Kit hostage, but Hammett scares him off. Outside, Hammett and Kit open the envelope and discover pornographic photographs of Crystal with the men on the betting card. After sending Kit back to the apartment to call the police, Hammett breaks into Hagedorn’s apartment, disarms the man with the clicking heels and locks him in the sauna. As Hagedorn lies in his bath, Hammett asks about his connection to Jimmy. Hagedorn explains that he was having Hammett followed to find Jimmy because Jimmy possesses information useful to his client, Mrs. Callaghan, and that her husband was ruined financially by a poor decision about the stock market. When Hammett accuses Callaghan of buying Crystal, Hagedorn denies Crytal’s claim and says that she was like a daughter to the couple. While informing Hagedorn that Salt was murdered by his henchman, the man with clicking heels escapes the sauna and approaches Hammett from behind, but Hagedorn shoots the man dead and Hammett falls to the floor, unconscious. Coming to, Hammett finds Hagedorn searching his belongings, but he allows Hammett to leave as he calls the police. Later, while getting dressed after a romantic tryst with Kit, Hammett tells her to call his lawyer, Jim Welch, as soon as he leaves the apartment with detective Bradford, who is knocking at the door. Bradford delivers Hammett in handcuffs to a government office where Lt. O’Mara, Hagedorn, Fong and the six men from Salt’s pornographic photographs are gathered. As Hammett disperses the photographs, he composes the story behind them, deducing that after a stag party where the men viewed one of Crystal’s films they were lured into the photography studio by Salt, who captured their exploits on film. Hammett suggests that the men went after Crystal to retrieve the negatives and when she was killed, a blackmailer threatened to publish the images. Hagedorn confirms the story, and tells Hammett that the blackmailer has insisted that Hammett deliver the money personally. After Hammett demands to have his manuscript returned and to be left alone, Hagedorn gives him an envelope of credentials and instructs him to deliver $1 million dollars in an hour. Hammett and Kit head to the wharf, but as Hammett proceeds to make the buy-back, Kit stays behind to call for help if things go wrong. At the end of the dock, Hammett finds Crystal, who takes the money and returns the negatives holding him at gunpoint. She tells Hammett that she created the blackmail scheme with her lover, Callaghan, and Mrs. Callaghan killed him out of jealousy. As Crystal defends her actions by describing the injustices she endured in her childhood, Jimmy appears and says he has partnered with Crystal, then aims a gun at Crystal’s head. Jimmy returns Hammett’s manuscript, but when he suggests a better ending, where the heroine makes off with $1 million, Crystal shoots him with a gun hidden in her purse. Hearing the shots, Kit calls the police, but the line is disconnected by Lt. O’Mara, who has arrived at the scene. Standing over Jimmy’s body, Crystal recites Sue Alabama’s final lines from Hammet’s story and tells him that she has also read it, but that she liked the ending. She invites Hammett to join her, but he warns her that she will not get away with her scheme. Insisting she can beat them, Crystal drives away while Hammett mourns the loss of Jimmy and watches the pages of his manuscript float away in the water. Delivering the negatives to Bradford and O’Mara, Hammett leaves the wharf with Kit and she observes that things have not resolved the way they do in one of his stories. Hammett replies that life is never the same as fiction. Back at his apartment, Hammett sits down at his typewriter. Remembering characters from recent events, Hammett concludes a new story.

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Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.