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dash and lilly, biographical film, biography, review, biopic

Dash and Lilly (1999) 

When Dashiell Hammett first met Lillian Hellman, he was a noted author of such detective novels as 'The Maltese Falcon' and she employed as a reader for MGM. Within four years Lillian Hellman had written her first play and Dashiell Hammett had authored his last novel. 'The Thin Man' featured an idealized version the couple, whose boozy banter added an air of levity to proceedings. Dash and Lilly similarly romanticises the authors' relationship, and while their first encounter attempts to recall the witty repartee of Nick and Nora, Hammett and Hellman’s subsequent hangovers subdues all the fun.

Unsurprisingly, this biopic starts off with Hellman at a typewriter, but she is not working on her latest play. Instead, Hellman is drafting a letter to the House Un-American Activities Committee that she hopes will save her from naming names. Calling upon an absent Hammett for inspiration, the biopic flashes back to the couple’s aforementioned first meeting. So begins a thirty-year affair that despite their best efforts, only ends upon Hammett’s death.

Sam Shepard gives one of his best performances as the self-professed gambling, whoring, women-beating drunk. His solid, understated portrayal of Hammett makes his sudden outbursts of anger and emotional final scene all the more affecting. He is nicely contrasted with Davis’ overly mannered Hellman, who does her best to match Hammett’s flaws. The diagnosis given to him of “too much” could just as easily apply to her. Bebe Neuwirth is ideally cast, but unfortunately wasted, as Dorothy Parker.

Disappointingly, though the film looks good and dutifully ticks off the significant events of Hammett and Hellman’s life together, Dash and Lilly never sparks to life, a fact made all the apparent by the inclusion of clips from The Thin Man. It would appear that first time director Kathy Bates doesn’t always need a sledgehammer to hobble an author.

Sam Shepard, Dashiell Hammett, Judy Davis, Lillian Hellman, Bebe Neuwirth
fact check, factcheck, fact vs fiction, inaccuracies, true story

Though copies of Hellman’s letter to the HUAC were handed to the press at the conclusion of her testimony, the author did not recite it to those assembled.

Dorothy Parker, David Paymer,	Arthur Kober, Mark Zimmerman, Walter Winchell

No scene recreations in this biopic. It does however feature two clips from The Thin Man.

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