Thursday, August 1, 2013

"Funny how I meet you at all my homicides."

Read/Watch 'Em in Order #37

Shadow of the Thin Man (1941) finds Nick and Nora back in California, where Nick hopes to spend a relaxing day at the race track.

But this is, after all, a Thin Man movie, so there's no hope of that happening. Nick and Nora arrive to discover a jockey who was being investigated for throwing a race has been killed.

Soon after, the Charles' attend a wrestling match, only to stumble across yet another murder. This time, a friend of Nick's is accused of the crime. So Nick begins to look for the real killer.

 The murder plot is a good one, involving several nice twists. I also enjoyed the return of Sam Levene (one of my favorite character actors) as Lt. Abrams, who first appeared in After the Thin Man.  The rest of the supporting cast is good as well, including a very young Donna Reed as the loyal girlfriend to Nick's falsely
accused friend.

Interspersed with this is a sub-plot involving Nick, Jr.--who is now about five years old. William Powell gets some good laughs out of this, reading little Nick the racing form as if it were a fairy tale; forcing himself to drink milk instead a martini at dinner; and taking Nick for a ride on a merry-go-round otherwise inhabited by the brattiest group of kids ever gathered together in one place.

It's a fun film that I've watched before and will undoubtedly watch again, but I actually think its the weakest of the series. The Nick Jr. subplot takes up a little too much of the plot and it's so completely disconnected from the murder mystery that it sometimes feels like it belongs in a different movie.

Also, as much as I admire Levene as a great actor, I think there are a few moments when he played Lt. Abrams with a little too much broad humor--though I suspect the screenplay and perhaps the director might have required this. Abrams seemed like a competent cop in After the Thin Man. This time, he comes across as dull-witted. The idea, I think, was to make sure we knew Nick was the better detective and the only one who could solve the case. That's fine by itself, but the movie needed to trust itself enough to let Nick be smart on his own merits and not artificially highlight it by dumbing down the people around him.

But I'm complaining too much. We have William Powell and Myrna Loy playing off each other with their typical perfection. We have Myrna Loy wearing an absurd hat and still looking drop-dead gorgeous. We have a good mystery populated by interesting characters. And we get a Crowning Moment of Awesome for Nora at the climax when a killer threatens Nick. If the movie is a little off, it's still "on" often enough to make it entertaining.

It would be four years before MGM gave us another Thin Man movie. This was in large part because after Pearl Harbor Myrna Loy temporarily left acting and spent her time volunteering with the Red Cross to help the war effort. It seems that Myrna wasn't just a goddess in terms of her beauty, but was pretty darn awesome in other areas as well.

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