Something must be amiss, or someone amok, when a mere tidbit like Dashiell Hammett's "Dain Curse" takes six hours to unreel, as the TV version did last year on CBS, whereas a huge quarter-pounder, even in paperback, like Thomas Wolfe's sprawling "You Can't Go Home Again" is wrapped up and shipped out in only two hours, as happens tonight in another CBS film.
The movie, at 9 on Channel 9, reduces Wolfe's grandiose autobiographical novel about a grandiose writer of autobiographical novels to the tale of a drunk and a shrew-the writer and his aged mistress. The casting of Lee Grant as the Mistress is in itself enough to invalidate the whole production, but Ian Mclellan Hunter's script is primitive as opposed to primal and Ralph Nelson directed as if making a film for high school lit classes.
Grant is all eyelashes, as usual; no one even bothered to give her a hair style to match the '20s and '30s period of the piece (she is also seen reading the redesigned '70s version of a New York newspaper). As George Webber, the Wolfe figure in the story, Chris Sarandon is assertive and suitably physical, but by now the brash young writer-stud character is a suffocating stereotype, and little can be done.
When Sarandon flicks away a cigarette so he can hug the blank, incompetent Grant, and murmurs "Esther, Esther, Esther, Esther, Esther," the film echoes but fails to equal the work of past trash masters like Douglas Sirk and Delmer Daves (who made "Youngblood Hawke," and Wolfian soaper, in the '60s).
Wolfe's books continue to resist dramatization, whether on the stage or the screen, and here the attempt has been paltry and indefensibly mannered. "O," as Wolfe himself liked to exclaim in print, "Lost!"