and earlier there was Bogart as SamrnSpade with Peter Lorre and SidneyrnGreenstreet and Mary Astor and EHsharnCook, Jr., in the third fdmed version ofrnThe Maltese Falcon (1941), not to mentionrnBrian Donlevy and Veronica Lakernand Alan Ladd getting the bejesusrnknocked out of him by William Bendixrnin the second version of The Glass Keyrn(1942), not additionally to mention allrnthose Thin Man movies with WilliamrnPowell and Myrna Loy and Asta and thernmartinis. But to be a bit less nostalgic,rndiere are all the oblique transmogrificationsrnof Red Harvest, like Akira Kurosawa’srnsammai movie Yojimho (1961)rnwirii Toshiro Mifune, and then SergiornLeone’s spaghetti western A Fistful ofrnDollars (1964) with Clint Eastwood, andrnLast Man Standing, just a couple of yearsrnago, with Bruce Willis. The Coen brothers’rnBlood Simple took its title from arnphrase from Red Harvest, and theirrnMiller’s Crossing is derix’cd largely fromrnThe Glass Key, so I guess the point isrnmade.rnSo ves, this writer did make art as wellrnas money out of entertainment, andrnhe has been rightly called by GeorgernGrella the most important American detectirne stoPi’ writer since Edgar Allan Poe.rnThat’s essentially wh’ we see him in ThernLihrar)’ of America alongside HenryrnJames and all the rest of them, but what Irnwant to know is where were all die rest ofrnthem when Samuel Dashiell Hammettrnwas being grilled by Senator McCarthyrnand Rov Cohn and Senator McClellan,rnI mean, try to imagine BenjaminrnFranklin or Mark Twain or Eudora Welh’rnin die scenario whereby Hammett wasrncalled before the Permanent Subcommitteernhivestigation of the Senate Committeernon Government Operations onrnMarch 26, 1953, during an investigationrnof the purchase of books written bv communistsrnfor the State Department librariesrnoerseas. In sum, the idea wasrndiat it was subversive for this country torndisplay the same books that were loved byrnman’ Americans and which are now recognizedrnas part of the nation’s literaryrnheritage.rnMr. Hammett: The first book wasrnRed Harvest. It was published inrn1929. I think I wrote it m 1927, eitherrnm 1927 or 1928.rnMr. Cohn: At die time you wroternthat book, were you a member ofrnthe Communist Parh?rnMr. Hammett: I decline to answer,rnon the grounds diat an answerrnmight tend to incriminate me. . . .rn’llie Chairman [Senator Mc-rnCardiv]: Mr. Hammett, let me askrnvou this. Forgetting about yourselfrnfor the time being, is it a safe assumptionrnriiat any member of thernCommunist Partv, under Communistrndiscipline, would propagandizernthe Communist cause, normally,rnregardless of whether he was writingrnfiction books or books on politics?rnMr. Hammett: I can’t answer that,rnbecause I honestly don’t knov’.rnI wasn’t diere taking notes in 1953, so 1rngot this dialogue out of Richard Lavman’srnShadow Man: The Life of DashiellrnHammett (1981). Hammett seems tornhave answered honestiy to Senator McCarthyrnon die point quoted, but it is lessrnlikely today to be conceded that SenatorrnMcCarthy asked a pertinent question.rnEven so, the committee was off basernabout books. Providing books doesn’trnmean endorsing them, otherwise librariesrnwould be nearlv empt}’. PresidentrnEisenhower himself commented on thernpropriety of putting Hammett’s books inrnoverseas libraries: He thought it was okay-rnYes, political supervision of literature canrnbe funny in more wavs than one:rnThe Chairman: Mr. Hammett, ifrnyou were spending, as we arc, overrna hundred million dollars a year onrnan information program allegedlyrnfor the purpose of fighting communism,rnand if you were in charge ofrnthat program to fight communism,rnwould you purchase the works ofrnsome 75 Communist authors andrndistribute tiieir works tiironghoutrnthe world, placing our officialrnstamp of approval upon thesernworks?rnOr would you rather not answerrnthat question?rnMr. Hammett: Well, I think-ofrncourse, I don’t know—if I werernfighting communism, I don’t thinkrnI would do it by giving people anyrnbooks at all.rnThe Chairman: From an author.rnthat sounds unusual.rnHammett had already been sentencedrnto jail for contempt of court in 1951 in arncase involving die bail fund of the CivilrnRights Congress, of which he was arntrustee. In diat case, Hammett was questionedrnb’ District Attorney Iring Saypol,rnwho had directed the prosecution of thernRosenbergs. After Hammett got out ofrnjail, his health was broken, his nione’ wasrngone, and he never wrote again. Indeed,rnhe had not written fiction for publicationrnsince 1934. He spent the later 30’s andrnthe later 4()’s pushing left-wing politics.rnThere seems to be at least die suggestionrndiat communism had somcdiing to dornwith the failure of Hammett’s imagination,rnwhich was the imposing questionrnput to him bv Joe McCardiy, of all people.rnThere was some kind of self-destruction.rnAlcohol is one kind. Waste is anotherrn—Hammett threw away manyrndiousands of dollars and who knows howrnmuch talent. Hammett’s jail term wasrnnot merely a case of victimization —rnHammett somehow wanted to go to jail,rnand said being there was like goingrnhome. Hammett’s communism has tornbe seen as another kind of waste, like tiiernfumes of alcohol and satanic smoke thatrnhis image exudes. There’s somcdiingrnsurreal about Hammett’s communism —rnit just doesn’t compute. This man whorndropped out of school at 13 was alwa’s arnreader and an autodidact, a man whornwitii reason prided himself on his intelligencernand insight. But in March 1945,rnhe was reading —alongside volumes ofrnWallace Stegner, Georges Simenon, andrnHeinrich Heine—the incongruous, boring,rnand grossly distorting volume II ofrndie Selected Works of Lenin, TheoreticalrnPrinciples of Marxism. This man whornprided himself on seeing through the surfacesrnof tilings, who portra’ed die implicationsrnof gangsterism and politics brilliantlyrnin Red Harvest and The GlassrnKey, goofily but not unknowingly promotedrnwhatever Stalin wanted. On Aprilrn8, 1938, he joined Langston Hughes,rnRichard Wright, Lillian Hellman, MalcolmrnCowley, and nian’ others in supportingrnthe purges in Moscow. Not longrnafter, in 1941, Hammett joined with otherrncommunists, fellow travelers, and PopidarrnFrontniks in opposing both thernLend-Lease policy of aid to Britain andrnAmerican entry into the war because ofrnthe Nazi-Soviet pact—then flipped withrnStalin, supporting the war effort after diernJUNE 2000/25rnrnrn