YEAR:  1999

ROLE:  Dashiel Hammett

DIRECTOR:  Kathy Bates

A&E TV PREMIERE:  May 31, 1999

 
Plot Summary

In the Roaring 20's, Dashiell Hammett and Lillian Hellman lived the life that others dreamed of. But beyond the much-publicized escapades of the passionate couple, their life was marked by personal battles, numerous infidelities and the never-ending expectations and pressures of stardom. This A&E Original Movie brings to life the turbulent and ultimately tragic love affair between these two literary titans. Their hard-living journey is depicted from the jazz age excess to the anti-communist witch hunts of the fifties through Broadway and Hollywood triumphs that captures the spirit and despair that defined, not just the couple, but their generation.

Film Details
Judy DAVIS ......................Lillian Hellman
Bebe NEUWIRTH...........Dorothy Parker
Laurence LUCINBILL..........Joseph Rauh
David PAYMER..................Arthur Kober
Screenplay.............Jerrold L. Ludwig
Cinematography..........Bruce Surtees
Length............................100 minutes
DVD release...............May 31, 1999
 
Publicity Stills
 
Production Notes

The A&E production was filmed October thru November 1998 in Ontario.

Sam discusses his experience:
"It was fantastic. I got to work with Judy Davis and [director] Kathy Bates and they were extraordinary to work with. Again, it was an emergency filmmaking situation. We shot the whole thing in 20 days, but that's the way these things are done. I never changed costumes so many times on one film in my life, you know! Four different mustaches, different varying degrees of gray hair. It was unbelievable. But there is something to be said for doing things under duress. You have to come up with the goods. It's sometimes good to be pushed up against the wall.

Director Kathy Bates:
"
I was fortunate to persuade Judy Davis and Sam Shepard to play the title roles. Neither Miss Davis nor Mr. Shepard suffer fools gladly, and it was this quality among others they shared with Hellman and Hammett that gave their performances sharpness and authenticity.Both Judy and Sam were well-prepared. They'd both read biographies about their characters and they cared very deeply about what was about to happen. We had something like 60 locations in 25 days, we were shooting three different decades in four different cities. They were concerned about the quick (filming) time. They worked their tails off; they really did."

The film received nine Emmy nominations and three Golden Globe nominations. Sam received both an Emmy and Golden Globe nomination.

 
Reviews

Mike Duffy, Detroit Free Press:
"'Dash and Lilly,' a lively portrait of the tempestuous, 30-year romance between hard-drinking literary lovers Dashiell Hammett and Lillian Hellman, struts its entertaining stuff. The smart, acerbic Judy Davis is a perfectly cast delight as smart, acerbic playwright Hellman, And slim, handsome Sam Shepard bears an uncanny physical resemblance to Hammett. Kathy Bates also makes a fine film-directing debut as she nurtures a jauntily relaxed acting chemistry between Davis and Shepard, a rapport that brings out the affectionate, rough-and-tumble relationship of raging nonconformists Hellman and Hammett."

John Leonard, NY Magazine:
Shepard and Davis are a triumph of casting. He may seem a little too healthy for a former Pinkerton detective who suffered most of his life from tuberculosis, who chain-smoked his way to emphysema, and who died, in 1961, of cancer in both lungs, but Shepard's got the evasive eyes and the sudden violence and the Citizen Robespierre righteousness.

Kevin McDonough, Charleston Daily Mail:
Judy Davis is simply fabulous as the brash, opinionated and often thoroughly miserable Hellman, and Shepard is her equal as the reserved, dipsomanical Hammett. And if this tandem weren't delightful enough, Bebe Neuwirth floats in and out of the picture as the wisecracking New Yorker critic Dorothy Parker.

Jesse Berrett, City Pages: 
Davis and Shepard, turning in dour, repressed performances, capture the emotional essence of a world in which a smart remark meant far more than a fat royalty check. Shepard slides easily from the cowboys and loners he has long played to the man whose prose taught those men a lesson in emotional restraint. He understands this '30s hero's flinty self-rule as well as the writer's often senseless obedience to his own standards of rectitude.

Caryn James, NY Times:
A perfectly cast Sam Shepard... Mr. Shepard's Hammett is handsomely craggy and gray haired, his gentle soul apparent beneath his drunken furies. It is an appealing performance.

James D. Watts, Jr., Tulsa World:
Shepard certainly looks and sounds the part of Hammett: tall, lean and craggy, spitting out cynical wisecracks in a soft, bemused voice. And his portrayal of Hammett's slow crumbling, as drink and disease and the inability to write take their toll, is delicately nuanced, so that you feel the electric tension of the young Hammett being leeched away.

Joanne Ostrow, The Denver Post:
The droll humor, the vintage fashions, the highballs, the leftist causes, the McCarthy era paranoia, the smart-mouth flirting and bickering ... this is the kind of movie that separates the networks from the cable companies... Davis is a key ingredient and Shepard's machismo contributes to the mix, but the tastiest flavor is added by Bebe Neuwirth, who plays Dorothy Parker.

James D. Watts, Jr., Tulsa World:
Davis is, no question, extraordinary.... Shepard certainly looks and sounds the part of Hammett: tall, lean and craggy, spitting out cynical wisecracks in a soft, bemused voice. And his portrayal of Hammett's slow crumbling, as drink and disease and the inability to write take their toll, is delicately nuanced, so that you feel the electric tension of the young Hammett being leeched away. Together, however, they make a potent pair, creating out of the shorthand of Ludwig's script a textured portrait of the seismic battles that made up the Hammett-Hellman relationship.

Bob Curtright, The Wichita Eagle: Oscar-winning actress Kathy Bates is a first-time director with this wicked, witty, sometimes humorous and often heartbreaking tale that has a "Masterpiece Theatre" look and feel... The script by Jerry Ludwig captures all the zingers and observations as the words both caressed and cut. And the two leads create evocative, compelling and haunting portrayals, showing us a private side of some very public people... American Shepard, a playwright himself, captures Hammett's wry charm and exasperating destructiveness.

Gail Pennington, St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
Shepard, a writer himself, is outstanding as the quiet, tortured Hammett, conveying much with his eyes. Sporting white hair, he's also handsomer than ever... The supporting cast is strong, including David Paymer as Hellman's first husband, Arthur Kober, and Laurence Luckinbill as her attorney. But as wit Dorothy Parker, Bebe Neuwirth steals every scene she's in.

Robert Philpot, Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
The performances transcend its TV origins. Sam Shepard, typically enigmatic and remote, is well-cast as the surly Hammett. And Bates, a former SMU student making her feature-length directing debut here handles the filmmaking chores with a confident, unself-conscious air that doesn't run over Jerry Ludwig's script.

Megan Rosenfield, Washington Post:
Sam Shepard looks remarkably like pictures of Hammett, who had a white crew cut and a tall, lean frame... The supporting players - a portly Laurence Luckinbill as Hellman's Washington lawyer, Joseph Rauh, and Neuwirth - compliment the excellent Shepard and Davis well.

Tom Walter, Commercial Appeal:
Putting complexity on the screen always is risky, but Dash and Lilly manages to make sense of the relationship. It is helped enormously by the presence of Sam Shepard and Judy Davis in the title roles. Shepard is laconic and mysterious as Hammett, the man who invented hard-boiled detective fiction... Davis certainly doesn't look like Hellman, who charitably could be described as unattractive. But she was seductive, and Davis certainly has that down pat.

Nancy Jalasca Randle, Chicago Tribune:
A&E's "Dash and Lilly" follows the couple through the glittering Jazz Age, the fast times of Prohibition, and the moral testing of the McCarthy era. Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and actor Sam Shepard gives a haunting performance as Hammett; Judy Davis plays Hellman to the hilt.

Minneapollis Star Tribune:
Sam Shepard and Judy Davis do solid work in the recent A&E movie "Dash and Lilly.

Howard Rosenberg, LA Times:
Stylish and well-acted enough to command your attention on the Arts & Entertainment network... Playing an American flawlessly, Australian Judy Davis is all exposed nerve endings as lusty playwright Lillian Hellman, author of "The Children's Hour" and "Toys in the Attic." And Sam Shepard is self-destructively in disrepair as Dashiell Hammett, one of America's foremost detective novelists.

Danny Heitman, The Baton Rouge Register:
While they depict Hammett and Hellman as gently resigned to despair, Shepard and Davis focus on the couple's volatile chemistry, turning in performances that skirmish along the border between passion and hate. Hammett and Hellman were both writers of searing drama, but as "Dash and Lilly" reminds us, they saved the biggest scenes for themselves.

Christopher Borrelli, The Blade:
Davis is her wonderfully scathing self. She flies off the handle better than any actress working today, while Shepard, tall, thin, a shock of white hair, comes off like a smashed version of Harrison Ford - mumbling, flashing a shy smile, forever in love with his own charm, exploding with a terrible honesty.

Ann Hodges, Houston Chronicle:
Sam Shepard as Dash, Judy Davis as Lilly, and Kathy Bates behind the camera as director of her first full-length movie, are three excellent reasons to watch. But even with such talent at work, the play is still the thing, and this play is a thing of well-crafted fascination.

Laura Fries, Variety:
Bates' directorial debut is visually stunning and thesps Davis and Shepard are very credible in their parts.

Film critic Jimmy Gillman:
Working from Jerry Ludwig’s straightforward script that thankfully leaves the psycho-babble and pop psychoanalyzing firmly on the sidelines, it’s a thoughtfully performed affair by Sam Shepard as Hammett and Judy Davis as Hellman.