Question: It's commonly known that A Fistful of Dollars is a remake of Yojimbo. But I recall reading somewhere that the inspiration for Yojimbo was the Alan Ladd version of The Glass Key. Is this true?


Answer: I've read that Akira Kurosawa cites the Alan Ladd version of Dashiell Hammett's The Glass Key (1942) as one of his inspirations for Yojimbo (1961). But Yojimbo's plot, which revolves around a masterless samurai (Toshiro Mifune) who blows into a lawless town ruled by warring gangs and restores order by pitting the gang lords against each other, is strikingly similar to that of Hammett's first novel, 1929's Red Harvest. In that book, the nameless Continental Op (the antihero of dozens of the short stories Hammett wrote for pulp detective magazines), is outraged when the last honest citizen of deeply dirty Western mining town Personville (pronounced like "poison") is murdered. He sets out to open "Poisonville up from Adam's apple to ankles" by setting its various corrupt power brokers at each other's throats. Curiously, Red Harvest is the only Hammett novel that hasn't been officially filmed, though not for lack of trying; the rights have been optioned repeatedly and filmmakers as diverse as Bernardo Bertolucci (who wanted to make a version starring Jack Nicholson), Neil Jordan and David Lynch have expressed interest. Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars (1964) is an uncredited remake of Yojimbo that moved the story back to the American West, and Walter Hill's Last Man Standing (1996) is a credited remake of Yojimbo that continues the tradition of not acknowledging Red Harvest. That said, Last Man Standing relocates the story to brutally corrupt Western town and "updates" it to the 1930s, connecting the dots between Kurasawa's samurai swordplay, Leone's gunslingers and Hammett's gangsters. Oh, and let's not forget Joel and Ethan Coen's Miller's Crossing (1990), which synthesizes the plots of Red Harvest and The Glass Key into one big Hammett hybrid. Miller's Crossing credits neither book, but it bears pointing out that the title of the Coens' first film, Blood Simple (1984), is a term Hammett coined in Red Harvest: "If I don't get away soon," muses the Op, "I'll be going blood simple like the natives."