The Dain Curse (1978)–Part 2

We’re back!  Let’s continue exactly where we left off in “The Dain Curse,” based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett, a gripping miniseries for sure!

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That would be the Temple of the Holy Grail, run by Aaronia Haldorn (Jean Simmons) and her husband Joseph (Ellis Raab), which scary henchman Tom Fink (Brent Spiner).  There may be some religion going on there, but it’s hard to tell with the wacky pageant displays, chemicals that distort the senses and oh so much more.  Our lead detective, Hamilton Nash (James Coburn) is there to protect Gabrielle Leggett (Nancy Addison), who is seeking refuge there after some bizarre family secrets made staying at home impossible, to say the least.

When we last saw Ham, he was barely able to collect his senses, the victim of a chemical piped through the temple to make sure he couldn’t help Gabrielle.  Managing to get outside before the poisoned air killed him, goes back inside for Gabrielle, out of her mind and holding a bloody sword and saying she had killed someone.  “The Dain Curse seemed very real,” Ham tells us in a voiceover.

Whom did she kill?  A doctor mixed up in the Temple of the Holy Grail’s madness.  There are four knife wounds, but there is no blood.  Gabrielle’s finance Eric (Martin Cassidy) wants to get her out immediately, but Gabrielle, in high Lady Macbeth mode, is covered in blood.  Ham leaves them to find Gabrielle’s maid, but Eric demure, “I can’t stay in here while she’s dressing.”  An incredulous Ham replies, “then turn your back.”

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Going to check things out, Ham finds the body and knife gone, and only a small bloodstain remains as a reminder of the murder Gabrielle thinks she committed.  Meanwhile, Gabrielle strips off her bloody gown and gives it to Eric, deliberately teasing his Puritan sensibilities naked.  Ham eventually finds Minnie (Hattie Winston) asleep in her rude due to that blasted chemical that nearly did Ham in.  This time, he’s strong enough to break open the windows, but then her door flies open and we hear “Down enemy of the Lord God!  Down on your knees,” is bellows.  “Leap to your salvation,” it adds, causing Minnie to jump up and nearly do just that…out of the window!  Ham nearly passes out, but then finds himself at the wrong end of manic Tom Fink’s gun.  Ham grabs the gun and gives Tom three minutes to wake up Minnie, hoping to buy some time.

Returning to Gabrielle’s room, Ham finds both she and Eric gone, but the voice demands of an awake Minnie that she kill Ham.  Ham finds Eric and they make their way to the main temple room where Joseph appears to be channeling every crackpot phony religious man ever seen on film while his wife is tied up on the altar.  Joseph raises his arms to kill Aaron and Ham shoots him just in time.  Gabrielle faints into Eric’s arms, but there’s still Minnie, brainwashed and thinking she has to kill Ham.

“The police and the coroner came to take away the dead and the guilty and the innocent.  I was trying to explain which was which,” he says.  Aaronia is in prison, “like a duchess holding court,” but not at all softened or apologetic.  She claims to know “nothing of Joseph’s murderous intent,” chalking it up to plain old madness.  He knows she’s only telling partial truth, but what of it?  Tom shows Ham and the police how the whole place worked, proud of his scientific knowledge, voices and chemicals.

Ham and his friend Owen (Jason Miller) go to a gin joint to celebrate, though Owen is upset because Ham didn’t take him, knowing his “love of the bizarre.”  Owen, of course, has it all figured out: the Haldorns were actors who saw a huge profit to be made from their skills.

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It seems like a perfect wedding when Ham attends the wedding of Eric and Gabrielle, though the uneasy feeling he claims not to understand is clearly a deepening love for Gabrielle.  As for her, he notes the whole wedding was lacking: “Gabrielle was a bride who has never been kissed.”

Alas, this being a miniseries, things are far from over.

Eric sends a telegram to Ham, insisting he race up to their honeymoon spot immediately and not tell Gabrielle he’s coming.  His coworkers tease him about not being through with Gabrielle, much to his protection, but he jumps when he sees the telegram.  “You want anything special?” the hotel owner asks Ham in the middle of the night when he arrives.  “You got anything special?” Ham replies with wisecrack excellence.  “No,” but there is a telegram from Eric waiting for him.  Eric has wired him to stay at the hotel until he comes to collect him, but Ham is impatient and decides to walk to find Eric and Gabrielle, a treacherous “hike” along the cliffs.

Spotting a hat in the water, goes to retrieve it and finds it still attached to Eric’s head.  Dead head.  On a dead body.

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(the part of Eric isn’t much and this picture tells the story…goofy young man thinks he’s in love, but he’s not even a good sidekick)

Digging through Eric’s pockets, he rules out robbery, but he dashes away quickly when he sees a picture of Gabrielle in Eric’s wallet.  “I had to get to her,” he insists, running as fast as he can.  Those who get dizzy easily may want to avert their eyes from the scene where Ham races from room to room in her house, because it’s all done in one camera shot to meet the intensity of the moment.  But there are a lot of rooms and the wallpaper in most of them is hideous.

What he doesn’t find is any evidence of Gabrielle, not even her clothes, until finding them in a separate bedroom.  A bride sleeping alone?  There are muddy slippers and there is a gun, recently fired.  “I know Eric hadn’t been shot.  I didn’t want to guess who had been,” he murmurs.  When he finds the remnants of morphine, he petulantly notes, “The Dain Curse was ten steps ahead of me again.”

I should point out here that the miniseries actually handles the move from the tumult of the story’s wild and wicked opening plots to the deeper and quieter examinations of the second set of plots.  As written by Hammett, there is a very abrupt and clear difference in tone, a softening of the lead character and a rather bucolic insistence on adapting the pacing.  Both are completely valid, as are both central mysteries, but the difference is very jarring in the novel.  With Coburn so committed to his character, the shift in locale, tone and antics seems very smooth.  A lesser actor in lesser hands would have kept you watching the first part and all but asked you to turn of the second.

Ben Feeney (Hector Elizondo) is the local sheriff, for whom Ham has an instant dislike and mistrust.

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“I say we’re looking for a dope fiend husband killer,” is Fenney’s assessment, considering no one in the town ever saw Gabrielle, the morphine packet is strong evidence and he is eager to get this whole case out of his lap quickly, with maximum press exposure (accusing him of tracking “heads and headlines” in one of the scripts best withering comments).  “Killers get what’s coming to ’em in my county,” he adds, which only further fuels Ham’s discomfort.

They track down Maria Gross (Karen Ludwig), the woman hired to be Gabrielle’s maid.  She is at home, saying she’s sick and can’t work.  Maria has it all figured out: Gabrielle loves another man, the other man killed Eric and ran off with Gabrielle.  “A lot of times, Mrs. Carter used to say to me, ‘you better keep him away from me or I’m gonna kill him,'” as a way of answering Ham’s questions to how she came up with this grandiose conclusion.  The town bootlegger also thinks Gabrielle was stepping out on her husband, assuming jealousy was the motive.

Finding an abandoned car with no evidence in it causes an argument between Ham and Feeney.  Ham then meets Marshall Cotton (Beeson Carroll), referring to himself as “the law around here.”  A hubbub is raging as they meet, as the townsfolk swarm the car of wealthy Hubert Collinson (Roland Winters), Eric’s grandfather.  Hubert, though not a fan of Ham’s, insists he stick with the case and will “not spare any expense to see this case through.  If you fail, you just make sure I never see your face again.” The old man rails, “I want to know who thought he should die and I want to know why!”  He doesn’t believe Gabrielle is guilty, but if she is, he will expect justice.  

Among the swarm of lawmen, detectives and reporters who have come to hopefully find Gabrielle and find her guilty of the murder is Jack Santos (David Canary), a longtime friend and adversary of of Ham’s.

Horning his way back into the action is Owen, forever fey and foppish, though with a seemingly important piece of evidence, a scribbled note asking $10,000 in exchange for Gabrielle.

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It’s not quite as goofy as the knock-off chinoiserie caftan Owen sports during this scene, which comes with an overly complex explanation of how exactly he came to be a part this escapade.  He has apparently become obsessed with the Dain Curse, now about 150 years old, he believes.  “Women with Dain blood are…are…” he says, fumbling, “possessed?” Nash asks to finish the sentence?  “Yes,” Owen agrees, reading out of an old book wearing sunglasses inside the apartment at night, “and all their offspring.”  Owen warns Ham he’s in “grave danger,” as melodramatically as possible, but Ham agrees to let him tag along to the small town with him, as long as he doesn’t spew the curse crap to the locals.

Feeney is, understandably, skeptical when Ham tells him about the ransom note, but they are not out of clues yet.  Cotton thinks he knows where the crime occurred.  The details are relatively unimportant, but Ham is fascinated when Jack tells him that this small town isn’t exactly what it appears.  After all, Feeney and Mrs. Cotton (Roni Dengel) have been having a fling, which explains the animosity between them, but they are not the only two vying for her attention.  It seems every male we’ve met in this small town has the hots for her, but maybe it’s her position of power as the town’s telegraph operator.  What it all adds up to is a chain of animosity among the town roosters, clouding the case with red herrings and stupidly placed evidence.

Owen has just arrived in town, causing mouths to drop even though he’s dressed rather standardly, when Mrs. Cotton comes screaming into the restaurant that her husband is going to kill her lover, though her husband is actually there with them.  Keeping track of who’s who?  Doesn’t matter.  Well, not until a gunfight breaks out that ends with the death of the bootlegger lover.

What does matter is that after the shooting is all over, Gabrielle is found in an abandoned warehouse, in one of her states.  Ham asks if she killed her husband.  She doesn’t answer, only whispering, “the curse…it will kill you too.”  “She is absolutely sane,” Ham tells them all.  “I had Gabrielle now and that’s all I needed to find the answer.  What I didn’t know, is that The Dain Curse was from over.”

Indeed, we still have a long way to go!

Categories: Adventure Miniseries

2 Comments to “The Dain Curse (1978)–Part 2”

  1. anon 13 November 2014 at 12:34 am #

    Your last post was almost a month ago. When is the next one?


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