OPINIONSrnHell Manrnby J.O.Tatern’My views on Hammett expressed [above]. He was tops. Often wonder why hernquit writing after The Thin Man. Met him only once, very nice looking tallrnquiet gray-haired fearful capacity for Scotch, seemed quite unspoiled to me.rn(Time out for ribbon adjustment.)”rn— Raymond Chandler,rnLetter to Alex BarrisrnDashiell Hammett: Complete NovelsrnEdited by Steven MarcusrnNew York: The Library of America;rn97S pp., $35.00rnWhy should we be surprised to seernthe Continental Op, that chunkyrnand dcglamorized veteran of the pulprnpages (A Black Mask back in the 1920’srn(not to mention Sam Spade, Ned Beaumont,rnand Nick Charles), published upscalernlike this 70 years later, with everythingrnarranged so nicely on acid-freernpaper, and with a ribbon to mark ourrnplace as though this volume were thernBible or poetr)’ or something? But that’srnjust the point. This book is a bible of anrninverted kind, and poetry too — also inverted.rnBut we shouldn’t be that surprised,rnbecause this same volume (thesernfive novels) was in effect published byrnKnopf, though not so nicely or so scrupulouslyrnedited, as The Complete DashiellrnHammett in 1942. This stuff has been retreadedrnso many times—and in so manyrnlanguages —that it is hard to keep score.rnThat’s why it is classic, get it? Not becausernthe schoolmarm told you so, butrnbecause you bought it cheap when yournwanted to, off the rack down at the drugrnstore, in 40’s and early 50’s paperbacks forrn25 cents. Dashiell Hammett was thernstraight goods with bad girls and boozernand guns and everything, and now thernschoolmarms are telling you that it is literaturernwhen they used to be the onesrnj.O. Tate is a professor of English atrnDowling College on Long Island.rnwho liked Silas Mamer when you likedrnRed Hardest a lot better than that, but lifernis not fair and you had to write your bookrnreport on Silas Mamer or else stay afterrnschool and wash the blackboard andrnclean the erasers by clapping them, butrnyou spent your own money on DashiellrnHammett when the schoolmarm wasn’trntrv’ing to bore you to death, because onernday you were going to have your own gunrnand your own booze and your own broadrnto go with them, and if she crossed you,rnthen you were going to send that broadrnover like Sam Spade did Brigid, whosernname rhymed with “frigid” but everybodyrnknew she wasn’t, which was whyrnyou were reading it in the first place, sornwhen the schoolmarm started in again onrnlittle Eppie and Silas Marner, you knewrndeep down exactly why they didn’t letrnyou have a gun yet either.rnSo the emofionally laden status of thisrnmaterial must be conceded. And thernwaves of memory and confusion and nostalgiarn—yes, and anger and pit’ as well;rnI’ll get to that in a minute—wash over usrnin an ineffable and inexorable sequencernof splashes (mood music here) compoundedrnof tears, sweat, and JohnnyrnWalker Red Label, one of Dash’s favorites.rn1 hasten to admit that I was notrnone of Dash’s intimates, but I alwaysrnthink of him as “Dash” because of thatrndreadful movie, Julia (1977), with JanernFonda as Lillian Hellman, and VanessarnRedgrave cast way against type as a communistrnwhatever (Academy Award), andrn3′ Jason Robards as “Dash,” whom hernI vaguely resembled, or whom in otherrnc words he did not look much like (alsornAcademy Award). I find it hard to get therncontamination of that movie out of myrnmind, which is precisely why it was madernand why Hollywood loved it. And thatrnlevel of confusion is only one of thoserncompounded by other books—bring outrnthe Hellmans and bring out the best.rnHow mandatory it was to establish a connectionrn— a laying on of hands, a communionrnof the devils—between the OldrnLeft and the New, from Lillian Hellmanrnto Jane Fonda as from John Reed to WarrenrnBeatty, and you get the idea. WimrnWenders’ Hammett (1982) was so muchrnbetter, and who ever heard of an Irving orrna James, though there have been moviesrnabout Poe and Twain, of course, and onernnamed Chandler as well.rnAnd of course there was Howard Duffrnon the radio as Sam Spade 50 years ago.rn24/CHRONICLESrnrnrn