Shadow Of The Thin Man


Rating 4½

Directed by W S Van Dyke

Written by Harry Kurnitz and Irving Brecher, based on characters created by Dashiell Hammett

Starring William Powell, Myrna Loy, Barry Nelson, Donna Reed, Sam Levene, Henry O’Neill, Loring Stephens, Joseph Anthony, Lou Lubin, Alan Baxter and Stella Adler

Nick and Nora Charles (William Powell and Myrna Loy) are pulled over for speeding on their way to the race track. They end up with a police escort to the track and find themselves in the middle of a crime scene when a jockey who was accused of throwing a race is found shot dead. Nick does everything to keep out of the investigation, but when investigative newspaper reporter Paul Clarke (Barry Nelson) is accused of a second murder, that of Whitey Barrow (Alan Baxter), he gets dragged into the case.


“He’s getting more like his father every day.”
“He sure is. This morning he was playing with a corkscrew.”

‘Shadow Of The Thin Man’, the fourth in a sequence of six films based on the characters created by the celebrated crime thriller writer Dashiell Hammett, was released in 1941, two years after ‘Another Thin Man’. Like the second film ‘After the Thin Man’, it is set in San Francisco, whereas the first and third films took place in New York City. This was the last ‘Thin Man’ film to be directed by W S Van Dyke, who was subsequently diagnosed with cancer. He refused medical treatment and committed suicide in February 1943 at the age of 53.

There are new writers this time around, replacing Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, who wrote the first three films, and also no direct involvement by Dashiell Hammett, the author of the original 1934 novel. He wrote the stories on which the second and third films were based.

The film continues the pattern already established in the earlier instalments, mixing comedy and crime thriller, as Nick and Nora banter their way through a labyrinth of clues and possible suspects. Nick still drinks at every opportunity. It’s a tried and tested formula and although this is no competition for the classic first film, it is still very enjoyable and of a superior standard. William Powell was one of the best film actors of the era and his easy-going charm, coupled with his celebrated on-screen chemistry with the equally excellent Myrna Loy, plays a big part in the success of this and the earlier films.

At the end of the second film we learned that Nora was pregnant. In the third film they were parents to a baby. This time around, little Nicky is old enough to go for walks in the park with his father, who reads the racing form to him, under the pretence that it is a fairytale. Little Nicky gets his own back by making Nick drink milk at dinner, rather than his usual cocktail, and then getting him to ride a merry-go-round horse. We are undoubtedly intended to find the child cute. He’s not, but he isn’t on screen long enough or often enough for this to be a problem.

I am biased because from the moment I first watched a William Powell and Myrna Loy film sometime in the mid 1970s they have been two of my favourite stars of the so-called Golden Age of Hollywood, but this is another worthy addition to the ‘Thin Man’ series.

Review posted 24 February 2009


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