Review: Shadow of the Thin Man (1941)

>> Sunday, March 8, 2009

USA/B&W-97m./Dir: W.S. Van Dyke/Wr: Irving Brecher & Harry Kurnitz/Cast: William Powell (Nick Charles), Myrna Loy (Nora Charles), Barry Nelson (Paul Clarke), Donna Reed (Molly), Sam Levene (Lieutenant Abrams), Alan Baxter (Whitey Barrow), Stella Adler (Claire Porter), Henry O’Neill (Major Sculley)

The fourth entry in the popular Thin Man series, Shadow of the Thin Man, was the first not to be derived from a Dashiell Hammett story and not to be written by the screenwriters Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett. Unfortunately the changes in scribblers can be felt in the finished product. Shadow of the Thin Man is neither as witty nor as alcohol-soaked as the series entries that preceded it.

Nick and Nora Charles, Asta, and Nicky Jr. are back in San Francisco for Shadow of the Thin Man, presumably due to Nick Sr.’s fondness for the horse races. Unfortunately, plans for a pleasant day losing money at the track are spoiled when a jockey turns up dead. Lieutenant Abrams (Sam Levene, reprising the character he played in After the Thin Man) tries to persuade Nick to help him investigate the murder, but the ex-detective resists. Of course, after a few more bodies pile up, Nick is once again reluctantly pulled out of retirement.

After a promising start, with Nora luring Nick back to their apartment by agitating a cocktail shaker (see “Potent Quotables” below), the drinking drops off dramatically. Apparently, the writers felt that it would be unseemly for the couple to overindulge in front of their young son. Nora only drinks one martini while on camera (although she wins 240 martinis from Nick in a wager on a turtle race). Nick manages to down a few more cocktails than Nora, but never enough to get really drunk. In fact, the only time Nick gets truly dizzy is in accompanying his son on a carousel. Worst of all, Nick Jr. manages to bully the old man into drinking a glass of milk. Horrors!!!

While dryer than the previous Thin Man movies, Shadow manages to maintain much of fun associated with the series. William Powell and Myrna Loy still have great chemistry, and while their dialogue isn’t quite as sharp as in the previous films, they make the most of every line and physical bit of business. The mystery is every bit as thorny as in the earlier entries; and as before, they are supported by a great cast of character actors, including the aforementioned Sam Levene, who is a sputtering delight as the befuddled cop; a pre-stardom Donna Reed; Stella Adler as a gangster’s moll; and even Ed Wood regular Tor Johnson (with hair for a change) as a mop-topped wrestler. Eagle-eyed viewers may even spot Ava Gardner amongst the extras when Nick and Nora arrive at the track.

Drinks Consumed--Martinis (gin) and unnamed cocktails

Intoxicating Effects--Sneaking sips

Potent Quotables--MAID: Ma'am, did he hear that or did he smell it?
NORA: That's Mr. Charles, isn't it?
MAID: Yes'm.
NORA: This is a cocktail, isn't it?
MAID: Yes'm.
NORA: They'll get together.

Video Availability--Shadow of the Thin Man is available as a solo DVD or as part of The Complete Thin Man Collection (The Thin Man / After the Thin Man / Another Thin Man / Shadow of the Thin Man / The Thin Man Goes Home / Song of the Thin Man).

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Nick and Nora next appeared in The Thin Man Goes Home (1944).

The Complete Thin Man Collection (The Thin Man / After the Thin Man / Another Thin Man / Shadow of the Thin Man / The Thin Man Goes Home / Song of the Thin Man)

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I like to drink. I like to watch movies. I like to watch movies about drinking. I like to write about the movies I’ve watched, but only if I’ve had a drink first.

All text including the title "Booze Movies: The 100 Proof Film Guide" Copyright William T. Garver

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