Hamilton Nash

Adapted by Robert Lenski
Based on The Continental Op character created by Dashiell Hammett

For six glorious hours, Dashiell Hammett‘s Continental Op actually had a name. but if you weren’t one of those fortune few who caught the 1978 CBS six-hour mini-series adaptation of The Dain Curse, you’ll just have to take my word for it. HAMILTON NASH was deftly portrayed on film by actor James Coburn, who was chosen for the role partly due to his ringer-resemblance to the great Hammett himself.

Nash’s name, carefully crafted by screenwriter Robert Lenski, derived from Hammett’s, linking the Continental Op character even more closely with the author. Some say that the Op is Hammett’s alter ego; both Lenski and Coburn have effectively merged author and character in this particular film. With the exception of a change in location setting (from San Francisco to the author’s birth city, Baltimore), this three-part mini-series is extremely faithful to Hammett’s original story. Coburn earned superb reviews for his haunted portrayal of the rough-and-tumble sleuth, who saves the daughter of a wealthy family from a religious cult and helps her to overcome her drug addiction (an alcoholic, Hammett knew the perils of addiction all too well).

Nash deserves recognition — and remembrance — based on the strength of Coburn’s depiction. Lenski’s screenplay (his first mini-series) even won an Edgar for Best Mystery Teleplay Special.

Coburn’s portrayal is worthy of a separate listing. Heck, it’s been 25 years since I’ve seen it, and I still remember how much I enjoyed it. I don’t think it was ever repeated, and certainly not as a mini-series. The only version you’d probably come across these days is the two-hour abortion you might find on a local VHF channel at 2:30 in the morning (or for rent in the cheapo corner video store). That’s a pity, since it’s

a) the only film version of The Dain Curse and
b) it was actually outstanding.

BUYER BEWARE

  • The (now out-of-print) Anchor Bay edition of the VHS videotape is billed as “the original unedited mini-series,” but I’ve heard rumours this is, in fact, the shorter, bowlderized 2-hour version. The 2017 DVD version, however, is a two-disc set, and promises all six hours (minus time for commercials) of the original mini-series

UNDER OATH

  • “…the mood and the period have been beautifully defined.”
    — Los Angeles Times

TELEVISION

  • THE DAIN CURSE | Buy the video Buy the DVD Watch it now!
    (1978, CBS)
    3-part serialized TV movie, later released as a two-hour version
    Teleplay by Robert Lenski
    Based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett
    Directed by E.W. Swackhamer
    Starring James Coburn as HAMILTON NASH (The Continental Op in the book)
    Also starring Hector Elizondo, Jason Miller, Jean Simmons, Nancy Addison, Paul Stewart , Beatrice Straight, Tom Bower, David Canary, Beeson Carroll, Martin Cassidy, Brian Davies
Report respectfully submitted by Doug Frank.

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