Here’s an interesting one for you. I had to do a little research to figure out exactly what I have here, and I’m still unclear on a few issues. Please pardon my rather lengthy introductory remarks.
Sam Spade is a character created by Dashiell Hammett in The Maltese Falcon, which I have not read but very much want to. Dashiell Hammett shares some early pulp-classic mystery genre credit with Raymond Chandler, who I have read (just a little) and enjoyed; also, Hammett was partner to Lillian Hellman for some 30 years. “The Adventures of Sam Spade” was a radio series in the 1940′s through 1951, based on Hammett’s character, but I think that Hammett was uninvolved (or marginally involved) in the radio version. His name (says Wikipedia) was removed from the show when his association with the Communist Party became known.
This three-cd set presents six episodes of the radio show, “digitally remastered” and “including never-before-released episodes” – I take it to mean these are original recordings, then, although I haven’t been able to confirm that in my (casual) online research. They do include advertisements for Wildroot Creme Oil, a hair product that was the show’s sponsor. These advertisements are initially somewhat charming in being period pieces, but they are many, and like any advertisement, they get old. Again, this speaks to the authentic feel of the production.
So what about the stories? The six episodes are… “The Insomnia Caper” (1948), “Sam and the Psyche” (1946), “Love Letter” (1949), “The Overjord Caper” (1949), “The Bow Window Caper” (1947), and “The Charogagogmanchogagogchabuna-mungamog Caper” (1949). Howard Duff plays Sam Spade and Lurene Tuttle plays his secretary Effie. These are radio shows rather than your average audiobook, so they include sound effects – gunshots, breaking glass, revving engines, traffic noise – and not just reading of the stories; rather than a single narrator doing voices for different characters, various actors play each character. This is classic pulp stuff, and it’s great fun. There is a definite element of tongue-in-cheek (at least that’s my reading, I can’t speak to the original intent, and the 1940′s are pretty remote to me, but surely…?) in Sam’s character: he is the exemplar of the wise-cracking, hard-boiled, tough-guy detective.
Each story tends to involve a person hiring Sam as a PI, often against Sam’s own wishes: in “Love Letter”, he gets a love letter from a woman he doesn’t know and heads to the assigned meeting point to find himself immediately involved in a situation he’d rather have avoided. His clients are as dodgy as any other character in the story; and there is often a woman who tries to seduce (or seduces) Sam, as a means of distracting him from a plot. Howard Duff’s gruff playing of the role is a large part of the effective mood of these stories.
While the plot of each is formulaic and somewhat forgettable, and the characters are rather stock, that needn’t detract from the fun of these stories. Formulas are often successful and that’s why they’re repeated (think about Agatha Christie). As a regular listener to audiobooks, this radio format that came with multiple actors and sound effects was a refreshing change. The Adventures of Sam Spade is a little simplistic, and definitely easy listening, but great fun, and different from the usual fare.
Rating: 6 double crosses.
Filed under: book reviews | Tagged: audio, classics, mystery, pulp fiction | 2 Comments »