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Banter, Booze, and Bad Guys: Shadow Of The Thin Man (1941)

Review Copyright Roger Zotti, 2000


Thin

After MGM bought the screen rights to The Thin Man, Dashiell Hammet's mystery novel, studio chieftain Louis B. Mayer hired W.S. "Woody" Van Dyke to direct the film version and Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich to write the screenplay.

Then he cast suave William Powell as retired private eye Nick Charles and Myrna Loy as his wisecracking, loyal, wealthy wife, Nora.

Five Thin Man films followed the first one. All were witty, sophisticated, and predictable--which was what Depression-weary audiences craved for entertainment.

The charming Nick and his equally charming wife were an instant hit.

~~~

Nick and Nora probe an apparent murder at a race track in the agreeable Shadow Of The Thin Man (1941), the fourth entry.

Along with Powell and Loy, director W.S. Van Dyke II's impressive supporting cast features Sam Levene, Barry Nelson, Donna Reed, Stella Adler, and Asta, the Charles's wonderful, hammy pet terrier.

~~~

Several points about Nick. Always impeccably dressed, he's clearly happiest when swilling a cocktail--in fact, he's plain drunk a great deal of the time.

He's also ecstatic consorting with a wide variety of individuals: officers of the law, shady ex-cons with names like Spider Webb, Meatballs Murphy, and Rainbow Benny, and wealthy socialites.

That Nick's powers of perception would make the Sherlock Holmes envious is clear after he and Lt. Abrams (the always reliable Levene) find Rainbow Benny's body.

Abrams is positive it's a case of suicide; Nick disagrees. When Abrams says that Benny was hung and "there's bound to be marks, Nick doesn't miss a beat:

    Nick: Yes, but not raw lacerations like that. I think he was strangled first
    with a rough, heavy cord, a rope. And then the stage was set for this overturned
    chair, the chandelier, the sash. And another thing: When Benny skipped out of
    Mario's tonight, he was wearing a bulletproof vest.

    Abrams: What?

    Nick: It's not on him anymore.

    Abrams: Maybe he took it off.

    Nick: or it was taken off.

    Abrams: By who?

    Nick: By whoever hung him there. Our murderer didn't want us to know Benny
    was living in fear of his life.

The next day, Abrams assembles the suspect in Abrams's office and Nick exposes the murderer.

For Nick, solving the murder was like a puzzle he put together without much wear and tear. (To be sure, Nora's insights helped too.)

~~~

It was Sir Laurence Olivier who said in On Acting, his autobiography, "There's no harm in an audience seeing an actor enjoying himself."

And one of the qualities of the Thin Man films is that Powell and Loy enjoyed working together. Their enjoyment is contagious, one reason for the series' longevity.



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