Shadow Of The Thin Man
Director WS Van Dyke Stars William Powell, Myrna Loy, Donna Reed USA 1941 Language English 1hr 37mins Black & white
Enjoyable later outing for Nick and Nora
People are always moaning about the number of remakes, sequels, copycat movies we get these days, but ever since Hollywood has existed, it has loved a winning formula. It’s a fact often repeated (by me, at least) that the John Huston/Humphrey Bogart Maltese Falcon from 1941 was the third movie adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s book, which had only been published in 1930…
Which brings us to Shadow Of The Thin Man, which was the fourth in the series inspired by another great Hammett novel. Hammett had come up with the stories for the first two sequels, but for this one he’s just credited with having created the characters. They are, if you’ve never seen one of the films or read the book (and do read the book), Nick and Nora Charles. Nick (the brilliant William Powell) is a former private eye, friends with all sorts of dodgy characters, who has moved up in the world since marrying heiress Nora (Myrna Loy, every bit Powell’s match). They both drink, a lot, an awful lot – Nick never orders one cocktail when he can have two, and probably three. Somehow, despite being constantly sozzled, they consistently solve crimes ahead of the police.
By the fourth film, they, and their terrier Asta, have been joined by Nick Jr. Nick Sr’s struggles with fatherhood are the source of a fair number of the gags in this one, especially when he is forced to go on a merry-go-round when, if anything, even more pickled than usual.
As I mentioned in my review of the superficially similar Star Of Midnight, one of the interesting things about the Thin Man series is that the crime plots are played straight. There are no funny bits involving the bad guys, often a standard bunch of B-movie lowlifes. That leads to a weird fluctuating of moods – and in this film more than ever, because someone is found hanged, which is for some reason rather more sobering than a shooting.
The plot this time involves the death of a jockey, some shady types who run a wrestling arena and a crusading sports reporter. The Charleses manage purely by chance to be on hand when all the drama takes place – ‘Funny how I meet you at all my homicides,’ mutters Lieutenant Abrams of the SFPD (Sam Levene). He’s the one, though, who insists that Nick has to help him crack the case.
There’s a huge food fight, a running gag about a fancy hat, and a probably slightly overlong gathering of the witnesses at the end. I’m not sure it adds anything the previous films were lacking – unless you’re particularly tickled by the idea of a functioning alcoholic as a dad – but it’s still very funny, and Powell and Loy are great together. One word of caution: the film does have repeated gags built around the idea of the easily confused fat black maid, which make uncomfortable viewing these days.