In Search Of… S03E20 The Diamond Curse

Now this is what I watch the show for -- just straight up harmless silliness. And I mean it, as weird fringe beliefs go, 'this diamond will make you unlucky' is about as harmless as you can get. Hell, it's possibly helpful – look at the horrors surrounding the diamond industry and tell me the world wouldn't be a better place if people though all diamonds were haunted.

Leonard Nimoy (l) and the Hope Diamond (r).

Anyhoo, this episode is about the Hope Diamond. It starts with a truly hypnotic intro with Nimoy delivering a beautiful (if meandering) narration about the beauty and supposed power of diamods. This is illustrated with footage of diamonds, segueing into a backdrop of an actress playing a sorceress as we get into the weird stuff. There's a slightly dull bit in the middle when we talk to a gem expert, and then we're back to the silliness.

We cut away to footage of ruins in India, followed by footage of actors in 'Indian' costumes as Nimoy gets into the meat of the issue – a blue diamond that supposedly came from an Indian idol, that was said to be able to curse whoever desecrated the temple. One of the actors in Indian clothing gets attacked and killed while the other one snatches the gem. It all has a 'murder mystery dinner theatre' feel to it. Nimoy tells us that the baddie (a French diamond trader named Tavernier) was later torn apart by dogs. Sucks to be that homme.

We're told that the diamond was sold to French royal family and bad things happened to them. I'm a little hazy on the details. Something about a 'worst of times', I think. After this, we are treated to a truly awesome re-enactment of the theft of the diamond after the Revolution. Some guys in tricorn hats sneak into a building with some columns and spout random French-sounding words as they help themselves to the king's property. This is all filmed through a fisheye lens for some reason. Still, the re-enactors look like they're enjoying themselves for once as they party.

Next up, stock footage of Spain. A Goya portrait of the Spanish queen shows her wearing a blue diamond so… No idea what 'so' we were going for. We're on to London, where a large blue diamond was purchased by Henry Philip Hope. Was it the same one?

To find out, we ask Paul Desatelle, the curator of gems at the Smithsonian. He looks… actually, his outfit is fine. Pity, I like making fun of 1970s fashion. Anyway, he says he's sure that the Hope Diamond is what is left of the French Blue, but he admits that there's no real proof of this.

In the studio Nimoy wears… What the hell is that? It looks like a jacket-shirt-and-ascot combo, but what's up with his sleeves? At first it looks like he has a jumper tied around his shoulders but as we pull out we see it can't be that. Is it like a black Inverness cape over a white shirt or something? I just… I just don't get it.

Oh, and the Hopes all dies penniless, blah blah blah. Diamond sold in 1901.

The next segment begins with the words 'according to legend', which is interesting because we're up to the 20th Century and we should be able to fact check this stuff, you know? Anyway, shot of some cliffs with the story that a Greek broker bought the diamond and fell off some cliffs.

Then literally the best re-enactment ever. We're told a performer in the Folies Bergere had the diamond next until she was killed by a jealous lover. An actress is shown putting on a blue diamond necklace, then a hand holding a gun. She says 'ah', the gun goes off she falls over. Someone – several someones – were paid good money to fill fifteen seconds of screen time in this way. Life is good.

We're told a Turkish Sultan bought the diamond an was bought low in a revolution. Then we move onto actual photos and the name of the next owner Evelyn Walsh McClean, who bought it in 1910. Remember, the diamond left the Hope family in 1901, so it's racked up this supposed body count of three in nine years. Anyhoo, Mrs McClean ignored the warning of a curse.

To my surprise, we move into an interview with someone who knew Mrs McClean. A woman whose father was a bigwig in Washington was at one of her parties. Mrs McClean offered to let the woman (at the time a young girl, of course) wear the Hope diamond. The woman says she's sure that Mrs McClean wasn't trying to curse her, but… Oh. The story ends there. Maybe they'll come back to it?

Mr Desatelle assures us that Mrs McClean did believe in the curse. Mrs McClean's husband was implicated in the Teapot Dome Scandal and died in a mental institution. He was a rich guy in early 20th century USA, so I imagine that's how he would have wanted to go.

In her autobiography, Mrs McClean blame all the terrible things that happened to her family on the diamond curse. But she also kept wearing it until she died.

Nimoy gives a little recap of the story so far, and then set up for the next bit, which seems to be about the Affair of the Diamond Necklace. I guess the Hope Diamond wasn't enough to fill an episode.

We get our second narrated montage as Nimoy explains the formation of diamonds. Desatelle talks a bit about how diamonds were desired in the past. And now we're talking about the Koh-I-Noor? Okay. Lots of footage of both India and 'India'. Still more re-enactment, this time re-enactment of a strange little anecdote about a deposed Indian ruler who tried and failed to hide a valuable diamond. It's an okay story, but the re-enactment was not, I think, put together by someone who knew a lot about Indian history. Just putting it nicely. Later the Koh-I-Noor went to England.

The fascinating cultures of the Subcontinent

Nimoy gives a narration about how a lust for diamonds sometimes leads to crime and… Oh! It's a scarf! He's wearing a black suit, with the scarf tucked under the lapels. Woah, that's weird. Oh, something something dark reflections of ourselves.

Back to France and 'France'. Actors in very cheap looking wigs reenact the 'Affair of the Necklace'. This was a scandal in late pre-Revolutionary France. Look it up if you're interested. I'm busy looking at some very unconvincing French aristocrats chatting some place where there are columns. A beardy guy, who I guess is a historian, boringly details aspects of this story. Glad I wasn't in his class. He mumbles. But we move onto a scene that probably comes from a film version of 'A Tale of Two Cities', so French Revolution.

Yet another illustrated narration, this time about the formation of the Smithsonian's gem collection. Desatelle talks enthusiastically about the good luck that the Hope has bought to his museum.  And we never do get back to the story of the woman who wore the Hope Diamond once as a girl. C'est la In Search Of.

So there you are. You can trace the misfortunes of rich people by following their connection to a diamond. Duh.

Now, I'm not saying that more bad things happen to rich and powerful people than to ordinary people. That's pretty self-evidently not true. What I am saying is that the bad things that happen to the rich and powerful are remembered better than the bad things that happen to the poor. An item that is traded from rich person to rich person is probably no less likely to be coincidentally connected with misfortune than some item traded amongst the poor, but the specifics of those misfortunes will be recorded and recalled.

Besides, the Hope Diamond is now the property of the United States of America. Now I ask you: is there any indication that the USA's luck may be running low? Any indication that it may be heading towards the fate of previous owners of the diamond – violence, bankruptcy, self destruction, revolution? Of course not. So I think we can safely put this particular myth to…

Huh.

Quotes

Nimoy: "The diamonds were broken down and sold separately. Today, they are once again scattered throughout the world. We wonder what curse – if any – they have cast upon their new owners."

Beautiful. In Search Of... writing at it's finest.

Summing up

Nimoyness: 10/10, Cheap reenactments: 9/10, Actually sticking to the main story: 5/10, Intrusive electronic music: 7/10, Wigs: 7/10. Overall: 38/50. Distinction

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