• Dain Curse, The

    Released by: Scorpion Releasing
    Released on: January 14th, 2014.
    Director: E.W. Swackhamer
    Cast: James Coburn, Jean Simmons, Brent Spiner, Hector Elizondo, Jason Miller
    Year: 1978
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    The Movie:

    This 1978 made for television adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's The Dain Curse probably seemed like a great idea at the time but sadly falls a little short but the time it's all wound up.

    Real life tough guy James Coburn plays a private eye named Hamilton Nash who is called in to try and figure out what happened to a case of diamond jewels that has mysteriously disappeared. As he starts to look into things he ties in the theft to the Dain family, who have a long running curse associated with their name (hence the title of the movie).

    Gabrielle (soap opera actress Nancy Addison) is the lovely lady currently struck with the annoyance and her ties to a bizarre religious cult might just be the clue that Nash is looking for to crack the case wide open. The more he looks into things though, the thicker this mess becomes and soon he's pulled into a bizarre world of grave robbery, human sacrifice, and sinister cultists with murder on their minds.

    While it was previously pretty easy to find in its abridged form on VHS, the full five hour version was previously released by Image some years ago. It’s been out of print for ages and Scorpion Releasing has thankfully reissued the full five hour version on this two DVD set. The shorter cut of the film is almost incoherent at times and it leaves a lot of character development out which makes the plot and story rather difficult to follow at times. While this full cut of the movie isn't without its flaws, it's a marked improvement in terms of coherence and plot twists even if sometimes it comes at the cost of a moderately plodding pace.

    As far as the cast of the film goes, it's very much a mixed bag. While Coburn is fun in the lead, he doesn't really suit Hammett's world, he's got a smile on his face for much of the time and, as he's prone to do, he plays Nash as too much of a charmer rather than a hardened and world weary man which would be more appropriate considering the source material. Coburn's resemblance to Hammett himself is likely the main reason that he was chosen and while he's been great in plenty of films, this time, although he's amusing in the lead, he doesn't quite fit. Nancy Addison has little to offer in terms of charisma for her character and she plays the role very much like the soap opera characters she played in the past. While you'd think that wouldn't matter so much in a pulp detective story, it does hurt the movie quite a bit when you have trouble caring for the damsel in distress.

    On the flipside, Jason Miller (best known as Father Karras of The Exorcist) and Hector Elizondo (of The Princess Diaries) as Ben Cotton, the small town Sheriff who gets involved in things rather unwittingly, are both quite good. Sadly, while they both have decent roles, neither one of them gets quite enough screen time to make the movie as good as it could have been.

    The film takes place in the 1920s and in that respect, director E. W. Swackhamer, who helmed more television projects than you can shake a stick at, does a pretty good job. The sets and locations used for the shoot look the part, and even if the film takes place on a different coast and in a different city than the source material does, this doesn't really hurt the film. The look, feel, and atmosphere all seem pretty accurate as does the wardrobe and dialogue for the majority of the characters and we do get some memorable scenes that feel completely fitting with the movie’s pulp fiction origins.

    Sadly, despite an interesting cast the mystery just keeps unfolding and unfolding and unfolding some more until it feels so stretched out that by the time it is all finally wound up once and for all, it's just not that interesting anymore. A few of the red herrings do come as legitimate surprises and when this happens the movie is good, but that isn't enough in the long run to save it. The Dain Curse has just enough going for it to make it worth a watch, but it’s not the raging success that it should have been.


    The 1.33.1 fullframe image doesn't look half bad at all. The miniseries was shot on film and there is some mild print damage evident in a few spots as well as a little bit of film grain present on the transfer but for the most part the image looks pretty good, if fairly soft. Colors are well defined, the image is clean and clear and the contrast levels look to be set properly. Skin tones look lifelike and natural and while the black levels could have been a little darker and a little stronger, there aren't any problems with mpeg compression and only slight edge enhancement is noticeable on the picture.

    The English language Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack is perfectly sufficient, even if it isn't all that remarkable. Dialogue is clean and clear if a little on the flat side and the levels are balanced nicely in that the sound effects and background music don't overshadow and of the performers doing their thing. Charles Gross' evocative score comes through with a nice bit of punch but isn't overdone. For a made for TV movie made a few decades ago, The Dain Curse sounds fine.

    There are no extra features on this two disc set outside of a few trailers for other Scorpion Releasing properties, chapter selection and menu screens.

    The Final Word:

    The Dain Curse is mediocre fare at best but Coburn is fun, if slightly miscast, in the lead role and the supporting cast all turn in decent efforts. Scorpion’s two disc set is light on extras but it looks and sounds just fine. If you’re a fan of either Coburn or Hammett, this is worth seeing.

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Scott's Avatar
      Scott -
      That's too bad I was really looking forward to this, but I've never seen it before. I just really love Colburn and Scott Miller and made for tv murder mysteries from the 70's.
    1. Todd Jordan's Avatar
      Todd Jordan -
      and Father Karras starring as Mike Brady.