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The novel writter Dashiell Hammett is involved in the investigation of the mysterious disappearance of a beautiful chinese cabaret actress in San Francisco. Written by
Michel Rudoy <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I didn't really expect my first forray into Wenders to be a fictionalized pulpy detective story homage to the patriarch of pulpy detective stories, writer Dashiell Hammett, produced by Coppola's Zoetrope Studios, but there you have it. Strangely, I'm not even sure this is a Wenders film in anything but name, as Coppola himself allegedly had to reshoot one and a half years after Wenders wrapped shooting significant portions of a film his backers found very 'dissatisfying'. Par the course for a film that had to undergo so much revamping to please money men, Hammett is a mess, albeit an interesting mess.
If the premise sounds good enough, pulpy writer Dashiell Hammett being drawn one last time into his detective past as a favour to a former Pinkerton colleague whom he helps investigate the disappearance of an underage Chinese prostitute, the script never quite fulfills its potential. Not because it's sprawling and convoluted (the best noirs usually are), but because it's just that for all the wrong reasons, and on top of that half-baked and unconvincing. At times it plays almost like a Dick Tracy caricature of noir plots.
Most interesting thing about it however are the meta- aspects of the story, probably what drew Wenders into the fold (apart from his fascination with American genre cinema). Writer Hammett playing detective Hammett, the lines between reality and fiction blurring dangerously as he does. But the film never runs with it, as though afraid it might alienate a mainstream audience that likely had little vested interest in such a film to begin with.
The opening sequence shows what might have been: having just finished his latest novel, Hammett lies down playing out the ending in his head; after a violent coughing fit, he staggers back into his living room only to find waiting for him the hero of his book. Is Hammett hallucinating in the grip of alcohol and tuberculosis or does he base his fictional characters on people he knows?
The ending tries to bring all that back full circle but it's too little too late. The movie has dawdled a little too much in squeaky clean Zoetrope sets trying to pass for 1920's San Francisco, has tripped over the needlessly convoluted mess it creates for its characters. It's still a fun watch, the cast is populated by familiar faces (three Twin Peaks actors, Sam Fuller, Elisha Cook Jr.), and Frederic Forrest gives a good show. Interesting curio, not much else, Hammett fans will probably dig it significantly more than me.
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