Hard-boiled private dick Hamilton Nash is hired to investigate a case of stolen diamonds, which leads him to a lovely and odd young woman named Gabrielle, who believes she has been stricken with the ancient curse of the Dain family. The curse has historically caused its victims to die prematurely. Written by
Marty McKee <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Someone, back in the misty reaches of 1977-78, had a pretty good idea: Take Dashiell Hammett's "The Dain Curse" and turn it into a TV mini-series "event." The novel itself, after all, had started out as a serialization in "Black Mask" magazine, and a legion of readers had faithfully followed its plot convolutions there, so why -- or so the reasoning must have gone -- shouldn't it work equally well on the installment plan by spreading a TV dramatization out over several nights?
This, unfortunately, was the last good idea experienced by anybody in conjunction with the production.
Any number of object lessons can -- and should be --drawn from what wound up being presented as "Dashiell Hammett's The Dain Curse." (Presumably, to differentiate it from "Joe Blow's The Dain Curse," an important distinction.) Object lesson #1: If you're going to slavishly follow a plot that has enough twists and turns and old fashioned red herrings to make "The Canterbury Tales" read like "Dick And Jane Floss Their Teeth," then you'd best make sure you've at least got a director and cast who can maintain a pace that will keep your audience riveted. Otherwise, you run the risk of numerous viewers snapping awake simultaneously during a commercial break and saying "For THIS we missed 'Three's Company?'"
Similarly, if you're going to adhere to the plot (and its dialogue), it's generally a good idea to cast actors who can carry it off. The novel's short and fat, middle-aged (but extremely tough) protagonist happens to also be anonymous, all for a purpose; changing him into the tall and thin, dapper (but extremely sardonic) James Coburn and giving him a name like Hamilton Nash (sounds like Dashiell Hammett, get it? wink! wink!) may gain you a bit of star power, except that he hasn't a clue how to relate to his material.
Equally to the point, if you decide to change the story's setting from San Francisco and the central California coast to New York City and some generic seashore locale, keep in mind that any number of Hammett partisans -- whose teeth are already set in terminal-grind mode by this point -- are going to expect you to have a very good reason for doing so.
In fairness, it should be mentioned that all concerned appear to give it their best shot (Hector Elizondo, as small-town sheriff Ben Cotton, and Jason Miller, as Owen Fitzstephan, are both standouts) as this "event" lurches from situation to situation; unfortunately, best shots here have a tendency to fall short of the mark, rather like a trapeze artist who can never quite make that third midair somersault in time or a high-wire artist with chronic nosebleed. The end result is a traveling circus, gamely striking its tent and moving on but getting . . . you guessed it!
14 of 18 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?