T.N. Thompson (Mister Dynamite)

Created by Dashiell Hammett

At first glance, this 1935 film, based on a Dashiell Hammett short story, sounds like a blast! MISTER DYNAMITE is the titular private eye, an unscrupulous detective hired by a gambler to look into a murder committed in his casino.

I figured it would be good for some hard-boiled P.I. action.

And then I saw the lobby card. Somehow I never pictured any of Hammett’s various eyes–even Nick Charles–sporting a top hat, white gloves or, so help me, are those spats?

And, it turns out, that whole “based on a story by Dashiell Hammett” is a little dubious, after all. The script was actually based on a screen treatment by Hammett, commissioned by Warner Bros. as the potential sequel to the relatively successful first film version of The Maltese Falcon–no, not the 1941 John Huston/Humphrey Bogart classic, but the decidedly less-classic adaptation directed by Roy del Ruth and starring Ricardo Cortez as Spade.

And get this–the film was at one point supposed to star… William Powell! So maybe the top hate wasn’t so far off.

But WB head Daryl Zanuck didn’t like the treatment, in which Spade pretty much goes over to the dark side, and the rights for the treatment went back to Hammett. Hammett promptly reworked it into a short story, called it “On the Make” and renamed the private eye GENE RICHMOND. But the story was never published, and only saw the light of day in the 2013 collection, The Hunter and Other Stories.

Meanwhile, Warner Bros. sold the script to Universal in 1935, where it was “liberally reworked” by Universal writers Harry Clork and Doris Malloy, with the gumshoe’s name changed once more, this time to T. N. THOMPSON (T.N.T! Get it?).

The resulting film (from what I could dig up) bears little resemblance to Hammett’s original treatment, pushes up the comedic elements, with Thompson and his long suffering, smart ass secretary swapping wisecracks like they were being paid by the pound, and other moments are about as screwball as they come, closer to the Marx Bros. than Black Mask. The first Thin Man movie was only a short time away, although the novel was out, and it’s clear Hammett, by then, was already mostly associated more light-hearted fare than we view him today.

Still, I’d love to actually see this flick–it remains the most difficult to find of the films associated with Hammett.

UNDER OATH

  • “With a fast, alert screenplay woven from a Dashiell Hammett short story, Crosland’s firm handling and the urbane performances of Lowe and Jean Dixon, (Mister Dynamite) was a good early example of the “Thin Man” type of sophisticated mystery.”
    Don Miller, B Movies

FILMS

  • MISTER DYNAMITE
    (1935, Universal Pictures)
    67 minutes, black and white
    Story by Dashiell Hammett
    Screenplay by Harry Clork and Doris Malloy
    Directed by Alan Crosland
    Cinematography by George Robinson
    Produced by E.M. Asher
    Starring Edmund Lowe as T.N. THOMPSON
    Also starring Jean Dixon, Victor Varconi, Esther Ralston, Verna Hillie, Minor Watson, Robert Gleckler, Jameson Thomas, Greta Meyer, Frank Lyman, G. Pat Collins, Bradley Page, James P. Burtis, Matt McHugh
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

 

Leave a Reply