Hammett (1982)

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Released 14-Apr-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Mystery Main Menu Audio
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1982
Running Time 93:35
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Wim Wenders

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Frederic Forrest
Peter Boyle
Marilu Henner
Elisha Cook Jr.
David Patrick Kelly
Lydia Lei
Case ?
RPI $29.95 Music John Barry

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement Yes, Minor
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Samuel Dashiell Hammett, later to be known as just Dashiell Hammett, began his life as a detective. Later, he would use his experience in the field of investigation to write stories and books covering this subject, but what if he was called back just once more to solve the case of a lifetime? A case that was so big that it could spell the death of him and those close to him? What if? Imagine no more, for this film is just that tale.

    Dashiell Hammett is hard at work on his latest detective story for the pulp crime magazine The Black Mask. Even though his health isn't the best and he lives harder than is good for him, Dashiell (Frederic Forest; One From the Heart, Falling Down) still pushes himself to bring more of his experiences in the world of the private investigator to the rest of the world through the pages of his writing. But just as he has finished his latest work, an old friend has come calling, and Hammett is about to gain some more experiences for his stories.

    Jimmy Ryan (Peter Boyle; Young Frankenstein, Outland, TV's Everybody Loves Raymond) has come to Dashiell for a bit of help. A young popular Chinese cabaret performer has disappeared, and as the trail has turned cold, Ryan thinks Hammett can help. But even as they begin their search for the girl, Hammett loses Ryan during a shoot-out with a mysterious man who has been following the pair all day. Much to his disappointment, Hammett also loses the manuscript for his latest work in all the commotion. With his story lost and his old friend missing, Hammett is left without a clue in a case that he hadn't started. Too bad - he'll have to finish it as he has become embroiled in an affair that entails organized crime, corrupt elected officials, the sex slave trade and blackmail. Writing about crime and detectives is one thing, but Hammett has to get back into the swing of things, and fast, or this could be his last case ever!

    This movie follows a 'what if' storyline, to some limited success. After all, what better crime story than the story of one of the most important crime writers of the 20th century? Well, this film does work to a limited extent, but I found it to be far from the quality of the stories that came from the writer himself. In case you aren't familiar with his work, a few titles will perhaps jog your memory, such as The Thin Man, The Maltese Falcon, The Glass Key and Red Harvest which would later be combined and made into probably one of the most memorable gangster films of the last 50 years, Miller's Crossing. Needless to say, the writing of Dashiell Hammett was influential in spawning many incarnations of his works including 4 versions of The Glass Key, 3 of Red Harvest and numerous different workings of the classic The Maltese Falcon (Satan Met a Lady 1936, The Black Bird (sort of) 1975, The Cheap Detective (again, sort of) 1978). So why make up a story about the writer rather than go to his works? I couldn't tell you, except that this gave the filmmakers a different angle from which to tell a familiar tale by using a known character, Dashiell Hammett.

    Produced by American Zoetrope with Francis Ford Coppola as Executive Producer, this film has a very studio filmed look with the odd location shot added in. Coppola seems at times to be a fan of soundstage filming when locations might work better, and this looked to be the case here. That said, the sets made for the film are quite good - it's just that some additional San Francisco locations might have given the film a more realistic feel. German Director Wim Winders (Der Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire) (later remade into the Meg Ryan / Nicolas Cage vehicle City of Angels), The End of Violence, Buena Vista Social Club) heads up this production with a keen eye for detail and the ability to get some very good performances from his charges, especially Frederic Forest who does a great job as the famous writer who always seems to have drunk his last whiskey or smoked his last cigarette only to make it through another day (but only just). Other good performances come from the attractive Marilu Henner as Dashiell's neighbour Kit and Peter Boyle as Jimmy Ryan. People who only know Peter Boyle from his work on the popular sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond need only to see his performance here along with his work in films like Outland with Sean Connery and Monster's Ball to see what a versatile performer he is. He only plays a supporting role here, but it's always good to see him in something different. Also filling out the quality performances are David Patrick Kelly (The Warriors, 48 Hrs., K-Pax) as The Punk (a bad guy, as always) and Elisha Cook Jr. (The Maltese Falcon, The Champ) as the street smart cabbie Eli.

    So, is the film any good? My wife asked me the same question just as I had finished watching the film. "And don't give me any of that 'director intended / cinematography' crap, just answer the question. Good or not"? My answer: the film has merits. This is by no means a definitive crime thriller and not a patch on the filmed works of Dashiell Hammett, such as The Maltese Falcon and Miller's Crossing. Take out the Hammett character and you have just another crime story, so you really have to see the film in that light. The thing that makes this film worthwhile is the combination of the quite good direction of Wim Wenders and the quality performances of all the cast in the film. This film will be of interest to anyone who knows the works of the main character and is interested in the classic detective thrillers. No, this is not one of those, but it is interesting nonetheless, and worth a look.

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Transfer Quality


    Given that we have the first release of this title worldwide, I suppose that we can't complain too much. That said, I hope that this isn't the best that is ever offered as the quality could have been a bit better.

    This film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, which seems to be similar to what was probably the intended aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The transfer is appropriately 16x9 enhanced.

    We have an adequate level of sharpness of image with this DVD, but there are a few factors that do at times impede the level of clarity that we could have otherwise enjoyed. There is a poor level of shadow detail, some minor film grain and just that little bit of softness of image which might have been intended by the filmmakers. Otherwise, I can't really complain about the level of clarity we have here given that we have the first release worldwide of this title, and it is presented on a single layered disc. As stated before, shadow detail is a bit ordinary during a lot of this picture, with prime examples being at 21:19 and at 55:27. This could be for several reasons, such as the type of film stock used or an intended look as demanded by the filmmaker. This underlit look has been deliberately used before, such as we see in the Terrence Malick classic Days of Heaven, but I didn't get the impression that this is what was intended here and rather we just have a fairly poor degree of clarity in some of the darker portions of the film, of which there are many. I had no problems with low level noise.

    I am a little surprised that this film wasn't presented in black and white. Obviously this is a decision for the filmmakers, but given the subject matter and the era that the film harks back to, I thought that perhaps a black and white palette would have been a better canvas upon which to tell this tale. So interested was I to see if this would have worked that I ramped back the colour level during a short portion of the film just to see what it would look like. Even thought this technique doesn't give the most accurate presentation of what the film would have looked like sans colour, it was an interesting look, as the level of shading was fairly good and the absence of colour didn't detract in the least from the story. That all said, this film was filmed in colour as intended by the director and what has been captured on film is fairly good. The tones are earthy and somewhat muted, but suit the material well. This muted look might be due to the age of the print, but it does look fairly similar to what I remember when first seeing this film in 1984. Colour's committal to this DVD is reasonable and without a complete remaster and a dual layered DVD transfer this is as good as it gets.

    Although this is a single layered transfer, MPEG artefacts are not a huge problem with only an unobtrusive level of pixelization visible from time to time. The bitrate for this title at times hovers at around the 6.12 Mbps mark and peaks at 7.12 Mbps while sitting at a reasonable level of 5.56 Mbps for most of the programme. Considering this is a single layered compression job, we get a decent level of image quality. The transfer job in terms of film to video artefacts is reasonably good, with nasties such as aliasing and edge enhancement not as troubling as they could have been. Image stability is good except for the wobble in the image when it appears that Peter Boyle accidentally bumps the camera as he leaves the scene at 49:50. This is not so much a technical problem, but the image did jerk for just the shortest amount of time and this looks to be Peter's fault. Grain during some of the darker portions of the film does stand out with a noisy dark area lacking in clarity when shadow detail would hopefully have been a bit more defined. Examples of this can be seen at 52:01, 61:46 and 74:32 as well as at other times throughout the film. The print used to commit this film to disc is reasonably clean with only an infrequent nick and fleck evident during the movie.

    There are no subtitle options available on this disc.

    This disc is formatted as a single layer, and as such there is no layer change present.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The audio here is adequate, but not remarkable.

    There is only one audio option available on this disc, that being an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mix.

    The dialogue quality here is okay and this is fairly important as this is no shoot-em-up actioner, but rather a dialogue-driven film where the spoken word is quite important. I, for the most part, had no real problems with the intelligibility of the spoken word here, although the odd phrase did send me to the subtitle option...which wasn't available in the first place.

    Audio sync was quite ordinary at times during this film, with some obvious ADR to be seen and heard at 60:49. Just plain out-of-sync audio is visible at 78:15 and it gets worse from that point on for a fair amount of time before rectifying itself by the end of the scene, but not before becoming annoying enough to distract me from the film for a while. A tighter sound job on the next transfer (if ever) wouldn't go astray here.
    The music for this film comes from prolific soundtrack composer John Barry, known and awarded  for his work on the scores of such films as Dances with Wolves, Dr. No, Goldfinger and others in the James Bond series, Midnight Cowboy, Out of Africa and the upcoming Pixar/Disney film The Incredibles. The music here is appropriate and uses all of the expected cues to highlight the story and era in which the story is set, but I didn't notice any remarkable recurring themes and the score seemed rather subtle for the most part.

    The surrounds take a supporting role here with very little in the way of rear effects other than the expected atmospheric contributions heard. This is not the most dynamic or demanding sound mix, but what we do have does work for the film. Just don't expect full flight 5.1 here as you'll be disappointed.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    There is not a whole lot here, people. Sorry.


    After the usual distributor's logos and copyright warnings (which are very much in the theme of the film), we are taken to the disc's Main Menu offering us:     The Main Menu features audio from the film's soundtrack. All the menus are 16x9 enhanced.

Theatrical Trailer   -   2:35

    This presents the film as another in the pantheon of films from Francis Ford Coppola, as his name was at the time very bankable. It plays all the main scenes and presents the viewer with a film that harks back to the era of Bogey, Cagney, Venetian blinds and some dame lookin' for answers...and trouble. Presented full frame with audio in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     This title has yet to be released on DVD anywhere else in the world so, for now we get the pick of the crop - enjoy.


     Hammett is an imaginative tale of an truly influential author. This is an interesting film for a lot of other reasons other than the actual film. Having Wim Wenders directing a Francis Ford Coppola film in the early 80s is enough to get me interested. Despite this trip to film school, this is just an okay film with a story that doesn't demand too much and is far from the complexity that we see from the author Dashiell Hammett himself in his own work. Interesting to look at, but not overly remarkable. Have a look if you are interested in the author or this genre of film.

     The video transfer is adequate.

     The audio is ordinary with a less than dynamic sound mix and some problems with audio sync.

     The extras are thin with only a theatrical trailer available.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Sean Bradford (There is no bio.)
Sunday, August 10, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDPanasonic DVD RP-82 with DVD-Audio on board, using S-Video output
DisplayBeko TRW 325 / 32 SFT 10 76cm (32") 16x9. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderYamaha RX-V2300 Dolby Digital and dts.
AmplificationYamaha RX-V2300 110w X 6 connected via optical cable and shielded RCA (gold plated) connects for DVD-Audio
SpeakersVAF DC-X Fronts (bi-wired), VAF DC-6 Center, VAF DC-2 Rears, VAF LFE-07 Dub (Dual Amp. 80w x 2)

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