Tag Archives: Dashiell Hammett

Shadow of the Thin Man (1941, W.S. Van Dyke)

Shadow of the Thin Man has a healthy mix of comedy and mystery. The resolution to mystery is a little lacking at the end, but the film moves so smoothly until then it’s easily forgivable. And there is one amusing final twist (along with a good final joke).

Most of the comedy comes from William Powell playing responsible parent. Myrna Loy doesn’t have any scenes alone with their son, Richard Hall; instead, she has scenes commenting on Powell’s behavior around Hall. Thanks to Van Dyke’s direction–he excels in the oddest set pieces in Shadow, with a comedic merry-go-round sequence being a standout–the film always implies Loy’s active parenting without ever having to show it.

Why not show it? Because it’s nowhere near as funny as Powell’s.

As for the mystery, Powell and Loy keep stumbling into murder investigations. Eventually they take a more enterprising role. There are a lot of suspects and suspicious characters, ranging from the likable Barry Nelson and Donna Reed to Loring Smith and Joseph Anthony’s racketeers. None of the suspects, save Stella Adler, are particularly good but they’re all decent. The script doesn’t do the actors any favors. Anthony in particularly doesn’t get enough screen time.

Instead, Irving Brecher and Harry Kurnitz’s script concentrates on the investigation and how Powell and Loy make discoveries. The mystery’s resolution isn’t spectacular, but the journey to it is rather good. Van Dyke’s pacing, both for tension and comedy, is outstanding.

Shadow is a fine time.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by W.S. Van Dyke; screenplay by Irving Brecher and Harry Kurnitz, based on a story by Kurnitz and characters created by Dashiell Hammett; director of photography, William H. Daniels; edited by Robert Kern; music by David Snell; produced by Hunt Stromberg; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring William Powell (Nick Charles), Myrna Loy (Nora Charles), Barry Nelson (Paul Clarke), Donna Reed (Molly Ford), Sam Levene (Lieutenant Abrams), Alan Baxter (‘Whitey’ Barrow), Henry O’Neill (Major Jason I. Sculley), Stella Adler (Claire Porter), Loring Smith (‘Link’ Stephens), Joseph Anthony (Fred Macy), Lou Lubin (‘Rainbow’ Benny Loomis), Louise Beavers (Stella) and Richard Hall (Nick Charles Jr.).


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Another Thin Man (1939, W.S. Van Dyke)

Another Thin Man is a peculiar blend of old dark house mystery and the Thin Man style of murder mystery. Most of the first half of the film is the old dark house mystery, with healthy doses of humor thrown.

Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett’s screenplay brings William Powell and Myrna Loy to New York from elsewhere, stopping off in the city long enough to establish them having a baby and to set up some events for the finish, before sending them out to Long Island. Once there, Powell gets roped into helping C. Aubrey Smith, who’s had some murder threats against him.

The film has three distinct phases. That first phase, the continuation of the Thin Man series, emphasizing the relationship between Powell and Loy, then that old dark house phase. Once the final phase comes around–when the action moves back to New York–the film starts to feel a little long. Supporting cast members haven’t just been dropping like flies, new ones keep getting introduced.

Director Van Dyke doesn’t really make an effort to unify the film’s tone. In the city, it feels one way, on Long Island, it feels like an entirely different picture. The script hurries events too much, never taking time to develop anything.

Sadly, the primary supporting cast lacks standouts–Harry Bellaver, Abner Biberman and Marjorie Main are the strongest and they’re in small parts.

Weak editing from Fredrick Y. Smith too.

More of the film works out than not; its missed opportunities are easily forgotten.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by W.S. Van Dyke; screenplay by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, based on a story by Dashiell Hammett; directors of photography, William H. Daniels and Oliver T. Marsh; edited by Fredrick Y. Smith; music by Edward Ward; produced by Hunt Stromberg; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring William Powell (Nick), Myrna Loy (Nora), Virginia Grey (Lois), Otto Kruger (Van Slack), C. Aubrey Smith (Colonel MacFay), Ruth Hussey (Dorothy Waters), Nat Pendleton (Lieutenant Guild), Patric Knowles (Dudley Horn), Tom Neal (Freddie), Phyllis Gordon (Mrs. Bellam), Sheldon Leonard (Phil Church), Don Costello (‘Diamond Back’ Vogel), Harry Bellaver (‘Creeps’), Muriel Hutchison (Smitty), Abner Biberman (‘Dum-Dum’), Marjorie Main (Mrs. Dolley) and William A. Poulsen (Nickie Jr.).


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After the Thin Man (1936, W.S. Van Dyke)

There is very little economy to After the Thin Man; instead, screenwriters Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett and director W.S. Van Dyke act with rampant abandon. The first twenty or so minutes of the film is just audience gratification–it’s a sequel to a popular film and the filmmakers are giving the audience what they want. They’re doing it well, sure, but it doesn’t have much to do with the eventual narrative.

Instead, Goodrich, Hackett and Van Dyke stage massive comedic set pieces, whether it’s William Powell and Myrna Loy getting home to a surprise party in their honor where no one notices them or Asta the dog’s rather amusing (and beautifully staged) domestic problems.

The murder mystery itself doesn’t start until about a half hour in. The plotting of the film is significant too–it’s a direct sequel to the previous movie and the first sixty-seven minutes are continuous. Once Powell and Loy finally get to go to sleep, there are only about forty minutes left. Strangely enough, the only time the film plods is during those forty minutes. The last twenty minutes breeze by, but some of the investigating is too full of exposition to move well.

Lots of great supporting performances–Joseph Calleia, Elissa Landi, James Stewart, Jessie Ralph, Levine, Penny Singleton. The script gives the supporting cast lots to do.

Technically, Van Dyke and editor Robert Kern do have problems with disconcerting cuts to close-ups–and then not cutting to Loy in the finale–but otherwise, the film’s a fantastic time.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by W.S. Van Dyke; written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, from a story by Dashiell Hammett; director of photography, Oliver T. Marsh; edited by Robert Kern; music by Herbert Stothart and Edward Ward; produced by Hunt Stromberg; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring William Powell (Nick Charles), Myrna Loy (Nora), James Stewart (David), Elissa Landi (Selma), Joseph Calleia (“Dancer”), Jessie Ralph (Aunt Katherine), Alan Marshall (Robert), Teddy Hart (Casper), Sam Levene (Abrams), Penny Singleton (Polly), William Law (Lum Kee), George Zucco (Dr. Kammer) and Paul Fix (Phil).


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The Thin Man (1934, W.S. Van Dyke)

While enough cannot be said about the efficiency of W.S. Van Dyke’s direction of the The Thin Man, the efficiency of the script deserves an equal amount of praise. Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich get in so much little character stuff for the supporting cast, it’s hard to imagine how the film could possibly function without it. Robert Kern’s editing is essential for it to work too–the pace of reaction shots is fabulous.

Of course, the script’s structure is also peculiar. Until their second big scene–their first one alone–William Powell and Myrna Loy aren’t the leads of the story. Instead, it’s Maureen O’Sullivan. She starts out the film and it then moves to introduce various people into her story. Even at the end, after O’Sullivan has long since given up the primary supporting role to Nat Pendleton’s police inspector, she’s still integral.

From Powell and Loy’s first scene, their chemistry commands the film. The script has the banter, but it’s the way the actors play off each other (under Van Dyke’s able direction). Also wonderful is how the intercuts of their dog enhances the scenes. Van Dyke cuts to these reaction shots of Asta the terrier and it makes the viewer feel part of this peculiar family.

It’s important too, since much of the film takes place in Powell and Loy’s hotel suite.

The leads are great, the supporting cast is excellent–Edward Brophy, Harold Huber, Minna Gombell, Porter Hall being the standouts.

The Thin Man’s a masterpiece; it’s brilliant filmmaking.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by W.S. Van Dyke; screenplay by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett; director of photography, James Wong Howe; edited by Robert Kern; music by William Axt; produced by Hunt Stromberg; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring William Powell (Nick), Myrna Loy (Nora), Maureen O’Sullivan (Dorothy), Nat Pendleton (Guild), Minna Gombell (Mimi), Porter Hall (MacCaulay), Henry Wadsworth (Tommy), William Henry (Gilbertt), Harold Huber (Nunheim), Cesar Romero (Chris), Natalie Moorhead (Julia Wolf), Edward Brophy (Morelli), Cyril Thornton (Tanner) and Edward Ellis (Clyde Wynant).


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