Thursday, August 21, 2008

Open Channel D

When I was a kid in grade school, it was not uncommon for me to buy a ten cent Bic pen from the school pen machine, take it apart and then hide behind the corner of buildings and whisper into the top of the disassembled writing implement, "Open channel D."

Just like the guy you see to the right.

Yes, I was pretending to be an agent of U.N.C.L.E., the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement.

Thanks to a tip-off from The Rap Sheet, I found out the Tuner Classic Movie channel was planning to broadcast The Spy in the Green Hat, a movie made from two stitched-together episodes of the 60s TV show The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

I used to love the show when I was a kid and employ the theme music as the ring tone on my cell phone today, but haven't actually seen an episode since the 1960s. So with great anticipation and much puffing up of the show to my wife--who is from China and wasn't even born when the thing was first broadcast--we sat down to watch the TiVo'ed movie last night.

It was great to see David McCallum in the role of Illya Kuryakin (pictured above) and Robert Vaughn in the role of Napoleon Solo, but the sad truth is the movie was horrible. My wife was parodying the dialog about five minutes into it, but after she left to go to bed, I couldn't even bring myself to watch all the way through to the end.

The Wikipedia article on the show explains that it got more campy as it progressed, turning into a spoof rather than a straight-up spy thriller. Maybe the subtlety was lost on me as a kid, but I don't remember it being a spoof. However, watching it now, it seemed like a third-rate Austin Powers rip-off.

Still and all, there were some interesting surprises. The plot involves THRUSH's intention to change the climate of the earth to turn Greenland into a tropical paradise (even before Al Gore's PowerPoint!) and the cast included a surprising number of actors famous from other, more serious endeavors.

Jack Palance was the main baddie, but a minor baddie was played by Elisha Cook of The Maltese Falcon fame.

Janet Leigh, of Psycho fame, was also a baddie, and in an ironic turn, actually got to stab other people with a big knife.

Finally, Joan Blondell, played a mobster's aged, flapper-type wife. When the mobster gets mad at her, he takes a half a grapefruit and mashes it in her face, recreating the famous scene in The Public Enemy where James Cagney did the same thing to one of Blondell's Enemy co-stars.

I'm not ready to abandon all my childhood memories. Maybe there's still hope for the first season.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Hammett-Inspired Artwork and Fiction

As Kevin Burton Smith reported, the San Francisco Arts Commission has commissioned a set of posters inspired by Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon by painter and illustrator, Owen Smith.

The idea is that they would be placed in kiosks along Market Street between Van Ness and the Embarcadero. My wife and I went searching for them the other day, and I was a bit bummed to discover they aren't that easy to find.

I expected they would be in the taller, more visible kiosks that JCDecaux installed when they sold the city on the the idea of using the advertising revenue generated from them to subsidize their automatic, public pay toilets (sometimes referred to in San Francisco as "hobo heroin huts.")

Turns out the posters are not on the tall kiosks; they are on the less common, harder-to-spot triangular ones. We eventually found the poster pictured here, just below Second Street, not far from the Montgomery BART station entrance.

It depicts the scene in Spade's apartment where he tells Brigid that he's turning her in. Spade's dialog is quoted on the poster:

"I'm going to send you over... You're an angel... If they hang you, I'll always remember you."

Pretty hardboiled!

In keeping with Hammett and things hardboiled, I've got the first part of a story called "Ride a Red Dragon" up at Seth Harwood's excellent It's set in 1920s San Francisco and features speakeasies in Half Moon Bay and gambling parlors in Chinatown, both of which are also settings in Hammett Continental Op stories from Black Mask.

Check it out here.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Spade and Archer

Something I have in common with Alfred Hitchcock, Fidel Castro and Don Ho is a birthday on August 13th.

To celebrate, my wife and I spent a night in the Dashiell Hammett Suite at the Hotel Union Square.

Why does the hotel have a Hammett Suite? Back in 1921 when the hotel was known as the Golden West, Hammett booked a room for his bride-to-be Josephine Dolan before the day of their wedding. In addition, it was rumored that he conducted some of his affair with fellow writer Lillian Hellman there. And according to the San Francisco Chronicle, the Hellman connection may go even deeper:
Some at the hotel connect the mischievous ghost [said to haunt room 207] to Lillian Hellman. A boozer, a lover, a fighter, the volatile playwright was not one to go quietly into the night. (She's said to have propositioned a young dinner companion the night before she died at age 79.)
We didn't see any ghosts during our stay, but, alas, did hear quite a few foreign tourists scattering their Euros among the impoverished locals until late into the night, and in the morning, plenty of garbage trucks making their rounds.

Here's a night time shot of the window overlooking Powell Street with the Spade and Archer lettering:

Have Spade and Archer taken off...

And in noirish black and white:

Spade and Archer - B&W

Friday, August 08, 2008

Runoff Crime Map

Inspired by the Dell Mapbacks of 1940s and 50s--particularly those done for Dashiell Hammett's Continental Op stories--I worked with Bleak House Books to include a mapback on the dust jacket of the hardcover edition of my latest novel, Runoff. It showed a map of downtown San Francisco with the crime scenes from the novel plotted out.

Unfortunately, the hardcover edition is sold out, so I thought I'd freshen up the idea with an online version using Goggle's Map capability. The advantage of the online version is it's scrollable and I can include pop-ups with the scene-setting photos that start each chapter, along with a chapter excerpt referring to the location. There's also a tracing of the chase in the first chapter between PI August Riordan and the backhoe ATM thief he's after.

I've embedded the map here, but I suggest you click the link labeled "View Larger Map" and expand your browser window as wide as possible to take full advantage of the clickable map key that details all the locations.

View Larger Map

Friday, August 01, 2008


For a three-way Coggins assault on your senses (fortunately, not involving smell), check out the following:

Runoff Wins Mystery Award