Frisco Beat: Lon Chaney Hits the Old Mint Again!

If you’ve ever caught the 1920 Lon Chaney silent flick The Penalty, you no doubt remember the sequence where Lon and his mob are looting the Old Mint on the corner of Fifth and Mission. On Thursday March 29 — and, yes, I guess there is some irony involved — Chaney returns to the scene of the crime, as the Old Mint hosts a screening, with some introductory remarks by me before the movie, and then Brian Hollins a.k.a. CitySleuth doing his Then & Now power point on location shots from almost 100 years ago.

You might recall that we recently did these same duties for a showing in the Tenderloin Museum, but the concept proved so popular the crew over at the Old Mint decided they wanted in on the action, too. Why not?

They are adding live music and other stuff to the festivities — and, come on, just getting to see this primo Chaney movie inside the building where the actor is running around on the front steps, what could be better?

I can tell you what the Old Mint has that no other venue will ever have: location, location, location.

Show up if you have the interest. I’ll do my usual thoughts of how I think Dashiell Hammett was inspired by this movie to write his tour de force San Francisco action novel The Big Knockover, and anyone who digs local history will be amazed by CitySleuth’s research — honest, the guy’s the best.

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Hammett: A Clew Pile or a Deck of Cards?

Jeopardy! dealt another Hammett clew into the show yesterday, March 6 — in the Category Facts About Fiction.

The $800 clew:

Dashiell Hammett introduced Sam Spade in this novel

Yeah, an easy one.

One guy got it with the correct response: “What is The Maltese Falcon?”

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Hammett: A Parable for Valentine

An even eighty-eight years ago today Knopf released a little tale of mystery and romance you know by the handle of The Maltese Falcon.

Yes, timed for release on Valentine’s Day.

Every Valentine’s Day for years now I’ve had to make the suggestion that the Falcon might just be the sickest Valentine’s Day novel ever. If it’s a romance — and you can see the outlines of a romance in it — then you still have the spectre of a noose hanging over the heroine at the end.

If they hang you — kind of makes you think romance isn’t the most significant aspect of the story.

Another unusual angle is that when Spade might be thought to be wooing Brigid O’Shaughnessy he drops a parable on her.

The Flitcraft Parable.

Again, not the usual malarkey of a regulation romance.

If you don’t know the Flitcraft angle (it’s in the novel but not in the Bogie flick), Brian Wallace just popped me an overview which wowed him — and written by Jim Nelson. You might remember Jim’s name from recent years, when he trudged along on the Fritz Leiber Tour I sometimes offer.

If interested, dip into Jim’s survey of the parable — and then reserve a few minutes to think about whether such a thing really fits into the whole Valentine’s Day scenario. A brain-buster, for sure.

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Death Lit: An Avram Davidson Vibe

The historied dark mantle of Prague cloaks 14 stories of crime in this superior entry in Akashic’s City Noir series. A fair number of collections from this series have rolled through my paws over the years, with this one and the recent Montana Noir far better than the average.

Oakland Noir, another new-ish one, was kind of a dud — and all things being equal, Oakland ought to have been one of the best in this set.

Akashic has been popping these items out since 2004, so I figure you ought to know by now if you enjoy them or not (someone must, because there are dozens, with more always in the pipeline). For Prague Noir specifically I’m tipping you off to one story which I know some of you might like, and if you don’t want to buy the whole package new then just wait it out — keep an eye open for a cheap used copy later on so you can read “The Cabinet of Seven Pierced Books” by Petr Stančík.

I started that one and instantly thought, man, this reminds me of Avram Davidson’s adventures of Dr. Eszterhazy, set in a more fantasticated version of Europe. You have the “autarchic detective, one Egon Alter” dropping casually into the action and many other touches which ought to delight Eszterhazy fans.

And I have no idea if Stančík has ever heard of Avram, much less has read a word he wrote. Could be a case of a mindset, a cultural background, nudging him in a similar direction.

I’m not encouraging everyone who reads these words to seek the story out. If you like Avram, yes. Or if you enjoy films by Wojciech Haas such as The Sandglass and The Saragossa Manuscript.

If you want a sample for consideration, the following paragraph riffing on the ghetto jumped out at me:

Alongside the ordinary poor souls, there were crooks, kabbalists, cheats, hucksters, mystics, pessimists, lusty murderers, ghost-hunters-for-hire and their demons who hadn’t found their back to the astral world, black and salon magi, wounded poets, old angel-hunting women, former alchemists, abstract painters, perpetuum motion inventors, honey counterfeiters, Lilliputian prostitutes, forgers, cannibals (due to hunger or preference), door-to-door hypnotizers, and other lost beings lived there.

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Rediscovered: Me and Willeford in a Comic Book

Brian Van Gold of Oakland just did a little homegrown comic book featuring me and Willeford — mostly Willeford. I show up in a one-page anecdote illustrating the time Willeford informed me that All Great Literature is Depressing.

I think this marks only the second time I have pulled a cameo in a comic book.

First was many moons ago after Roy Thomas had me and The Dashiell Hammett Tour show up in a four-issue mini-series featuring a revamped Jonni Thunder (who originally was a guy, but in the revamp was a female detective in San Francisco).

Think that cameo was in issue three, but I’d have to dig through the files to be sure.

Roy had just been on the walk, and apparently figured What the hell? Carmine Infantino, famous for The Flash, was the artist, working off the cover image on the second edition of the tour book.

I noticed that Roy made the news not long ago c/o his role as the original writer on the Iron Fist series, and got dragged — at least briefly — into the dustup on whether Iron Fist in the Netflix incarnation ought to have been played by an Asian actor or not, or whatever the specific controversy may have been. I glanced at a couple of articles and thought, Roy’s making the news — cool.

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Hammett: A Speedy Return to the Clew-Pile

Barely a fortnight had slipped past when Jeopardy! once again sampled from the huge variety of potential clews related to the life and work of Dashiell Hammett — I admit, I was taken by surprise.

I was thinking it would be at least a break of two or three fortnights.

On January 18 in the Jeopardy! round, the category Movie Spoilers, $400 slot:

The “bird” sought by Kaspar Gutman & others in this Bogart film turns out to be fake.

First guy buzzes in: “What is The Maltese Falcon?”


I wonder if they’ll ever have a clew about why Gutman’s name is spelled Kaspar in the movie instead of as Caspar in the novel? The kind of thing that keeps me awake nights.

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Hammett: In the Clew-Pile for 2018

Didn’t notice any Hammett clewing for the new season of Jeopardy! that kicked in toward the end of last year — though I did notice they had an entire category devoted to PKD recently. Man, Hammett and/or Hammett and the Black Mask writers deserve a whole row, too.

But at least they got him in early this year, we’ll see about how often as we roll along.

On January 2 in the first Jeopardy! round, in the category Short Stories:

Dashiell Hammett also wrote stories about this detective, including “Too Many Have Lived”

The first contestant to buzz in guessed “Who is Nick Charles?”

Nope. Wrong!

(No Nick Charles short stories, sucker.)

Another guy buzzed in.

“Who is Sam Spade?”


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Rediscovered: Charlie Siringo, Range Op

If you’re curious, you can read at least the opening of a new article posted today for Westworld out of Denver on the famous or infamous range detective Charlie Siringo — researched and written by none other than our pal Nathan Ward, who last made a big splash across this blog with his Hammett bio The Lost Detective.

Siringo got into legal dustups with the Pinkerton’s agency over writing about his exploits, and Nathan tells me, “I still think Charlie’s legal problems with publishing his Pinkerton memoirs encouraged Hammett to create a fictional agency for his own work.”

All these guys out there, thinking deep thoughts on Hammett topics. . . .

Nathan is poking around on a paperback edition of the bio, to include a few corrections. And he adds, “Good to hear from Terry that I was right about something.” That’s in reference to Terry Zobeck nitpicking a few bibliographic details in his review here, but just the other day giving Nathan the credit line for uncovering an otherwise “lost” review column from the author of The Maltese Falcon.

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Hammett: Koichi Suwabe’s Lectures on The Maltese Falcon

Here’s something for the arch-Hammett fan to track down — a close to 400 pager all about The Maltese Falcon, going at it chapter by chapter.

Published in 2012.

It’s in Japanese, but if you’re dedicated at working translation programs. . . .

You’ll get some hints about where and what to translate from the extensive section of notes, which tag the English language refs, lines from the novel, lines from the sources.

The reason I know about it is because the author, Koichi Suwabe, showed up out of the blue for the last anyone-can-show-up walk for October 29 — he brought along a copy and put his John Hancock in it for me in Burritt alley. Told me he’d used my tour book as a ref, and sure enough, I found various bits in English from the tour in the notes.

Very cool. You get the sense you’re getting someplace when you’re quoted in another language.

The book itself is really attractive, a solid little hardback in dustjacket, and my copy has an additional banner wrapper on it — with a Maltese cross and a pic of Hammett. Ribbon bookmark, of course.

A quite satisfying way to close out 40 Years on the Mean Streets.

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Rediscovered: Further FLIVVERing from Carroll John Daly

Man, I don’t even have to LOOK for evidence, it just rolls in like the sea.

You may recall that in The Great Flivver War of 2015 I found an example of Black Mask great Carroll John Daly using the term “flivver” to describe a Ford Model T.

Today I was looking over a new blog post describing an early Daly opus from People’s Magazine in 1923, which mentions the hero’s horse:

In short order Red has saved Gerta and is hired as foreman on her ranch, but it is hardly smooth sailing from there, as soon Gerta is kidnapped, and even once he rescues her Red has to face her jealousy over saloon girl Rosita.

But with the help of his horse, “El Flivver!…El Hennery Ford! The devil caballo!”, and his Colt .45 automatic, Red is a match for just about anything the Old West or Old Mexico can throw at him save perhaps Gerta.

Yep, it’s Hi-Yo El Flivver Away!

The devil horse, a.k.a. El Henry Ford. . . .

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