Ron Rosenbaum

Great! A Controversy Over Red Harvest!

I don’t mind being called “mistaken”, even when in this case, to be kind, the person making the call evidently doesn’t understand what I was talking about. Indeed if between us we can strir up some controversy it may serve the purpose of my post. If it attracts more attention to the plea in the post below for Hollywood to do do a true adaptation of Red Harvest,and gives me an excuse to write more about it, then more power to the misinterpreter.

A website called “Never Yet Melted” (great blog name, great source for name) claimed, in response to the post below, that Red Harvest in fact has been adapted no less than three times.

The examples given: Kurosawa’s samurai film Yojimbo, Sergio Leone’s A Fistfull of Dollars and Walter Hill’s Last Man Standing, a 1996 Bruce Willis film.

Now I’ve seen the first two and to say they are “adaptations” of Red Harvest is like saying any movie that features a lone gunman setting two warring factions in a town against each other is a remake of Red Harvest. Sorry.

And check out this IMDb description of Last Man Standing:

“A drifting gunslinger for hire finds himself inthe middle of an ongoing war between the Irish and Italian Mafia.” Not close. Red Harvest is set in the midst of a labor war in a booming mining town town modeled on Butte, Montana and given the allusive name in the novel of “Personville”.

Famous first line: “I first heard Personville called Poisonville by a red-haired mucker named Hickey Dewey in the Big Ship in Butte.” Poisonville!. Can you beat it? It a novel about the subtle poison that infects, well, persons. To reduce it to a divide and conquer plot is to say every movie about a sea voyage is an adaptation of The Odysssey. Not really. Film buffs, who rarely are well-read, need to reconsider what they mean when they speak of “adaptations” if it leads them to believe things like this.

By this definition just about every samurai movie, half the Italian Westerns, pastiches like Miller’s Crossing are remakes of %%AMAZON=0679722610 Red Harvest%%. None of them of course dare say they were based on Red harvest or mention Hammett or Red Harvest in the credits, or make an effort to do right by his estate. Property is theft, right?

‘Fraid not. Perhaps it’s the difference in the comparatively indiscriminate definition of “adapation” adapted by film buffs and those of us who are more interested in the actuality and integrity of great writers and great literature, the fine grain of an individual author’s vision, Dashiell Hammett’s idiosyncratic genius, his actual characters, their individual voices and style. That kind of thing. All the things that make the difference between Red Harvest, it’s very particular political and literary vision and every other divide and conquer movie.

I supppose if you throw all these distinctions away and say they don’t matter, it’s just the divide and conquer plot that counts, then you can say every divide and conquer film is an adaptation of <Red Harvest .And maybe that’s good enough for film buffs. It ain’t good enough for those who admire the way some great films have been able to capture some great literature without throwing everything away that makes a work of art distinctively individual.

If you want to know what makes Red Harvest unique, well read it obviously, but then take a look at an amazing photo-esssay by Wim Wenders called “About Butte”. You can find it by googling it in Zoetrope’s All-Story magazine vol. 10 #2.

Then read all the stories that have been written before my post about the failed quest to adapt Red Harvest. Then ask yourself who’s “mistaken”. And then let’s find a way to remedy this sad failure. Maybe it’s impossible. Pajamas honcho and skilled screenwriter Roger Simon wrote me to say he thinks the plot is too complex and contradictory. But don’t we have enough simple minded movies already? And how will we know til somebody skillful tries. Roger, over to you.

Anyeay, than you “never Yet Melted” for giving me an excuse to write more on the subject and once again, please: somebody give us a film of Red Harvest worthty of the novel.