Sam Spade as the detective next door: industry, culture, and class in post-war radio adaptations of hardboiled detective fiction
Martin, Catherine Eloise
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The character of the hardboiled detective seems a strange programming choice for early American radio networks. Despite his considerable popularity in print and film in the 1930s and 1940s, the hardboiled detective's violence and cynicism about American social and economic structures directly countered the enthusiastic capitalism and consumerism promoted by the manufacturing corporations that sponsored most programming on the three major radio networks, NBC, CBS, and ABC. However, by the post-World War II period, all three networks prominently featured series starring characters adapted from the work of popular hardboiled detective writers like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. This thesis examines The Adventures of Sam Spade (1946-1951) as an adaptation ofHammett's most famous detective. I argue that crime series adapted from popular mystery novels, like Sam Spade, were shaped by a number of factors, including the source material, the industry production codes meant to maintain decency over the air, the individual producers and writers responsible for each series, the networks airing the series, the selling needs of program sponsors, and input from listeners. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, these pressures helped to reshape an ideologically varied body of mystery novels into a relatively consistent collection of radio programs that participated in and augmented the mainstream battles against crime and juvenile delinquency. As large portions of the American middle class moved to homogenous and preplanned suburban communities, radio series like The Adventures of Sam Spade helped to redefine urban spaces and social order. These series supported a view of the world in which crime did not pay and suburban the American middle classes - and their possessions - were safely protected by vigilant law enforcement bodies. Chapter One explores the literature on detective fiction, adaptation, and radio's role in transmitting cultural values. I rely particularly on Linda Hutcheon's (2006) theory of adaptation as a continuous process with a product that is particular to its own industrial and cultural context. Chapters Two and Three examine archival scripts from Sam Spade's five-year run. Chapter Two compares the characterization of Sam and the police, citizens, and criminals he interacts with on the radio to Hammett's original descriptions. I support my argument that the series' producers and sponsors sought to soften the detective's personality by referring to frequent censorship edits visible in the scripts. I also discuss external influences on Sam's character, particularly the dominating figure ofHumphrey Bogart. Chapter Three explores the image of post-war society presented by The Adventures ofSam Spade by comparing three early episodes with the Hammett short stories from which they were adapted. I argue that the series' producers appropriated certain elements of Hammett's work to increase their program's credibility and stature as quality entertainment while altering others to create a coherent and conservative world where law and order reign supreme. The radio episodes revise Hammett's exploration ofthe country's checkered past and attempt to present the modern city as potentially dangerous but ultimately controllable.
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