Hammett took murder out of the Venetian vase and dropped it into the alley ... . He wrote at first (and almost to the end) for people with a sharp, aggressive attitude to life. They were not afraid of the seamy side of things; they lived there. Violence did not dismay them; it was right down their street.
Hammett's first major character was the Continental Op, an anonymous operative of the Continental Detective Agency, who first appeared in print in 1923 and went on to feature in over 30 stories and two novels, Red Harvest and The Dain Curse. Red Harvest is thought to have been an influence on Akira Kurosawa's film Yojimbo, and combined with The Glass Key is a heavy influence on Coen Brothers's noir film Miller's Crossing . Red Harvest also coined the term Blood Simple (after which the Coen Brothers' film debut is named); the phrase refers to the addled, fearful mindset people are in after a prolonged immersion in violent situations.
Hammett's third novel, The Maltese Falcon, introduced the world to prototypical private eye Sam Spade, and is perhaps his single most famous work, though many people know it only via the 1941 film version starring Humphrey Bogart, which is one of the defining examples of Film Noir.
His fifth and final novel, The Thin Man, received a Lighter and Softer film adaptation starring William Powell and Myrna Loy, which launched a popular film series.
Interestingly, he also teamed up with Flash Gordon artist Alex Raymond on a newspaper comic called Secret Agent X-9; while it was not a success for him (he left after the first year), it carried on with other writers and artists until 1996.
Works by Dashiell Hammett with their own trope pages include:
Other works by Dashiell Hammett provide examples of:
- Acquired Poison Immunity: Lampshaded and subverted in "Fly Paper"
- Adaptation Displacement: Bet you didn't know there were two film versions of The Maltese Falcon prior to the 1941 one. Both of them, incidentally, were terrible--although the second of them, Satan Met A Lady, features a young Bette Davis.
- Blown Across the Room: Though Hammett worked as a Pinkerton Detective and had firearms training from his military service, he happily embraced this trope for dramatic effect, particularly in his Continental Op stories.
- Punched Across the Room: Also shows up from time to time.
- Censor Decoy / Getting Crap Past the Radar: In The Maltese Falcon, Hammett calls gunman Wilmer Cook "that gunsel," assuming his editors wouldn't know the other meaning of the word. They didn't.
- The Chessmaster: The Continental Op, Sam Spade
- Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep" / No Name Given: The Continental Op
- Femme Fatale / The Vamp: Several of each over various stories. Brigid O'Shaughnessy is the most famous. Although the Continental Op's Jeanne Delano, the 'Girl with the Silver Eyes' is a helluva lady.
- Framing the Guilty Party: An odd example. In "The Golden Horseshoe", the Op is sure he knows who arranged a double murder, but can't prove it. So he frames the guilty party for a death that was actually a suicide.
- Gambit Pileup: Hammett loved double, triple, and higher multiple crosses-- see Red Harvest, "Nightmare Town," "The Whosis Kid," "The Big Knockover" and its sequel, "$106,000 Blood Money."
- Gaslighting: The Dain Curse.
- Gayngster: The baddies in The Maltese Falcon, Joel Cairo in particular.
- Guns Akimbo: In a couple of Continental Op stories with Chinese gangsters, the Op notes that they like to shoot this way-- and not bother aiming.
- Handy Cuffs
- Hardboiled Detective: he helped codify the trope.
- Hidden Supplies: Also attributed to Chinese gangsters by the Op.
- Inscrutable Oriental: Tai Choon Tau in "The House on Turk Street" and Chang Li Ching in "Dead Yellow Women" (the latter having a touch of Yellow Peril about him as well).
- New Old West: "Corkscrew"
- Outlaw Town: "Nightmare Town" and Red Harvest.
- Private Detective: some of his detectives didn't quite fit the hardboiled category.
- Ruritania: "This King Business"
- Sassy Secretary: Sam Spade's Effie Perrine.
- Taking Over the Town: "The Gutting of Couffignal".
- Town with a Dark Secret: "Nightmare Town"
- The Unfettered: The Continental Op will get the crooks he's after, no matter what it takes or how many laws he has to break.
- What Beautiful Eyes!: Jeanne Delano, "The Girl With Silver Eyes". Also Uh-Oh Eyes when the Op remembers where he last saw her.
- You're Insane!: The Dain Curse