Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, August 4, 2016


William Powell prepares to question the suspects
THE THIN MAN (1934). Director: W. S. Van Dyke.

Nick Charles (William Powell) retired as a detective when his wife, Nora (Myrna Loy), inherited a fortune from her father. On a trip back to New York, Nick discovers he can't stay away from sleuthing when several people he knows are embroiled in murder. Dorothy Wynant (Maureen O'Sullivan) is worried when her father, Clyde (Edward Ellis), disappears, and things get more complicated when Clyde's mistress, Julia (Natalie Moorhead of The Curtain Falls) is found murdered. More deaths follow as the suspects pile up: Wynant's ex-wife Mimi (Minna Gombell of Babbitt); his weird son, Gilbert (William Henry of Nearly Eighteen); his lawyer, MacCauley (Porter Hall); Mimi's gigolo and second husband, Chris (Cesar Romero); and several other nefarious types. Nick gathers all of the suspects (he pronounces the word with the accent on the second syllable, which is kind of charming in an old-fashioned way) at a dinner party he hosts with an utterly baffled Nora. The Thin Man has good performances from all -- Gertrude Short is snappy in a small role as the shrewish girlfriend of a dead hood -- but one could argue that there's more silliness than humor and it often gets in the way of the not-very-memorable story, although it does manage to build up minor interest and suspense as it goes along. Nobody who watches this will especially care who the killer is. Powell does his usual suave shtick with aplomb; Loy is fine if typically arch; and the little dog Asta almost runs off with the show. There were five sequels to this popular film, most of which, if memory serves me, were superior to this first entry. The title refers to the vanished Wynant, described by police and papers as a "thin man with white hair." Nick, rarely without a drink in his hand, seems half-inebriated throughout the movie. Nat Pendleton is the detective on the case, and Henry Wadsworth is Dorothy's fiance, Tommy.

Verdict: Too self-consciously "cute" by half but not without its moments. **1/2.


angelman66 said...

This is a classic and Powell and Loy were among the greatest screen pairs in history. I think they made close to a dozen pictures together. True, it is arch and too clever for its own good, heavy on charm and thin on p,it, but very watchable. And who can resist Asta the dog?

William said...

Asta is my favorite -- such a star! But I hear he later developed quite a star "attitude."

Neil A Russell said...

I'm going to have to admit I probably like the idea of this movie rather than the movie itself. But that hasn't kept be from watching it any time I catch it in the listings.
The story is pretty thin itself but the performances by Powell and Loy always carry it through for me.
I'm usually primed and ready for the line "as our astute friend has pointed out" when Powell refers to Nat Pendleton and it never fails to get a laugh. Maybe I'm just easy to entertain.
I've also always thought the ongoing tipsiness was a nod to the recently repealed Prohibition but the flowing liquor continued on throughout the series so maybe seeing William Powell taking a belt tested well with audiences.
One point of disagreement, I find the first three films to be the best, once they got to "Shadow of the Thin Man" and any of the further two (Song of and Goes Home) to be trying too hard to keep up the fun, especially when they had to bring in kids. Ok, I'll give you Shemp Howard as a highlight in one of them. Oh, and Keenan Wynn.
"Love Crazy" is a fun Powell and Loy film and has the added benefit of Jack Carson, well worth a watch!

Neil A Russell said...

"Me". "Kept me" not "be" obviously. I even proofed this...chemo day! LOL

William said...

Neil, I proof everything five or so times and still keep missing things, so don't worry.

You make good points about "Thin Man". You're right that Pendleton never comes off as especially "astute."

I suspect that the continuous drinking was part of Powell/Nick's charm and added to his "insouciance." So far no one has called him a drunk and none of the susPECTS assume he's off his game because he's a bit tipsy.

I've already looked at "Another Thin Man" and "After Thin Man" and the rest are on the list. I saw them all twenty years ago or so and enjoyed them. But you may be right about the later entries not being so hot.

You're reminded me that I've got to add a note about Shemp Howard in my post on "Another Thin Man" -- although I'll probably forget!

Best, Bill