Wednesday, March 6, 2024

The Continental Op is the original bastard

Dashiell Hammett's Continental Op is one of those pieces of literature that I find fascinating. The Maltese Falcon and Sam Spade is what everyone thinks of when they hear Hammet's name with the Thin Man being a close second. With that said, The Continental Op was his most reoccurring character and is widely regarded as an essential piece of the development of the noir genre.

The Continental Op was a nameless agent of the Continental Detective Agency, a thinly disguised Pinkerton Detective Agency. He describes himself as short and fat and demonstrates a perfect willingness to use deceit and corruption to serve his own needs.

Hammett described his later creation Sam Spade as an idealized detective, what real detectives wish they could be. If that's the case, the Continental Op may be what Hammett felt actual detectives were like.

Part of Hammett's street cred came from the fact that he had been a Pinkerton detective. Those experiences clearly influenced the creation of the Continental Op, which makes me often wonder what some of Hammett's experiences in the agency were like.

The Continental Op wasn't the first hardboiled detective in fiction but the character did a lot to help develop the idea. It helps that Hammett was one heck of a writer. His own experiences with the Pinkertons apparently left him jaded and cynical and that bled into the Continental Op. That definitely gives some heft to the Continental Op and his bleak world.

Some folks believe that Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (which influenced plenty of later works) was based on Red Harvest, the first Continental Op novel. Kurosawa, on the utter hand, said it was based on the Glass Key. So Hammett wins no matter what lol.

Compared to Sam Spade, the nameless Continental Op seems faceless and invisible as well. However, he helped create a world where the Maltese Falcon could get written. And, while, lets be honest, the Maltese Falcon is Hammett's masterpiece, his Continental Op stories and novels are still great reads.

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