Image Entertainment presents
The Dain Curse (1978)
Ham: I'm a detective, remember?
Gabrielle: Well, you're not a very good one. If you were, you could tell me why everybody close to me and near me, everyone that has anything to do with me, dies."- James Coburn, Nancy Addison
Stars: James Coburn, Hector Elizondo, Jason Miller, Jean Simmons, Nancy Addison
Other Stars: Paul Stewart, Beatrice Straight, Ellis Rabb, Brent Spiner, Paul Harding, Martin Cassidy, Beeson Carroll
Director: E.W. Swackhamer
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, drug abuse, thematic material)
Run Time: 04h:52m:06s
Release Date: 2005-05-10
DVD ReviewDashiell Hammett helped bring about the genre of hard-boiled detective fiction with his stories of the Continental Op, a private detective whose experiences were based on Hammett's own at the Pinkerton agency. The Op figured in Hammett's first two novels, the second of which is the basis for this exceptionally-faithful miniseries adaptation.
In 1928 San Francisco, detective Hamilton Nash (James Coburn) is asked to look into a burglary of some unset diamonds from the Leggett family, and quickly solves that mystery. But deeper and more sinister mysteries beckon, all of them swirling around young Gabrielle Leggett (Nancy Addison), who believes herself to bear the Dain Curse, a corruption of the blood that results in everyone around her meeting a violent death. There seems to be something to the Curse, with over half a dozen dead bodies turning up in rapid succession. With the help of writer Owen Fitzstephan (Jason Miller), Nash tries to unravel the sordid tale of murder, religious flummery, drug addiction, jealousy, adultery, kidnapping, and visions of God.
As literary adaptations go, this miniseries does a fine job of sticking to the convoluted source material, picking up even small incidents wholesale. Other than giving the nameless Op a name (appropriately resembling the author's), there's very little added here that doesn't appear in the original. Hammett's dialogue only makes an occasional appearance, but when it does it's to good effect. The structure loosely follows that of the novel, with the three episodes roughly parallel to the three parts of the book. The first two are compelling and rocket forward pleasantly, with plenty of mayhem and weirdness to hold viewer interest. The third episode sags somewhat, devoting far too much time to Nash's attempts to cure Gabrielle of morphine addiction and not enough to explicating exactly how and why all the murders were committed; swapping ten minutes between these two matters would have gone a long way towards making this a recommended viewing experience. There's also a greater implication of a romantic interest between Nash and Gabrielle, which feels more than a little uncomfortable considering Coburn is old enough to be 20-year-old Gabrielle's grandfather.
That's not to say the program is bad. It does have the merit of being perfectly cast: although the gaunt Coburn is not quite Hammett's "middle-aged fat man," his rough-hewn persona (and resemblance to Hammett himself) make an indelible impression and fits the hard-boiled material to a T. Addison is exceptionally striking as the drug-addled, guilt-ridden and semi-autistic Gabrielle. Jean Simmons makes a memorable Ice Queen as the high priestess of the Temple of the Holy Grail, and Jason Miller (The Exorcist) has fun with the flamboyant Fitzstephan. Martin Cassidy is appropriately earnest and inept as Gabrielle's fiancé. Hammett's disdain for law enforcement carries through here, with Hector Elizondo and Beeson Carroll as police who are more interested in getting their names in the papers and settling personal scores than in actually solving crimes. Star Trek: The Next Generation's Brent Spiner has a small but vital role as one of the key cogs in the plot.
Although made for television, the miniseries has exceptional, filmlike production values, dripping with period costumes and settings. Charles Gross' score helps with the period feel, most prominently using a meandering clarinet to emphasize the Jazz Age feeling of the story and affirming the sense of being slightly at sea. The result works pretty well, though the finale seems a bit rushed and unsatisfying. This is the uncut version of the entire miniseries, and not the edited-down one previously available on video.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: The miniseries is presented in its original full-frame video. There are a handful of instances of frame damage, but on the whole it looks quite good for a nearly 30-year-old television program. There's some grain that occasionally looks sparkly, but the color is subdued and naturalistic. Black levels are slightly plugged up, but detail and texture on the whole are attractive.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 mono sounds reasonably good. There's very mild hiss at reference levels, but it's not noticeable at more typical listening levels. The music is a shade tinny, but considering the subject matter and the period, that's not entirely inappropriate and may well be intentional.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 36 cues and remote access
2 TV Spots/Teasers
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
Extras Review: The sole extras are the "next episode" tags for the second and third episodes. Disc 1, containing the first two episodes, does include a "Play All" button for those who prefer the uninterrupted experience to the extent possible.
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsJames Coburn brings the Continental Op to life in this faithful rendition of the novel; the transfer is quite acceptable for its age but there is little for extra materials.
Mark Zimmer 2005-07-08