Shadow of the Thin Man, 1941, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Starring William Powell, Myrna Loy. Directed by W. S. Van Dyke. B&W, 97 minutes.
Nick (William Powell) and Nora (Myrna Loy) Charles are off for a relaxing day at the racetrack, only to arrive moments after the presumed murder of one of jockeys. The man had been accused of throwing a race only the day before, and the police lieutenant on the scene asks Nick for his help in solving the crime.
Nick declines to help the lieutenant, but later that evening Major Jason I. Sculley (Henry O’Neill) asks for his help in dealing with the gambling syndicate he’s been tasked to bring down. The jockey who was shot was their first real witness, the Major tells Nick, and now the task force is right back where it started. However, Nick declines to help once again.
It isn’t until a friend of the Charles’ is framed for murder that Nick steps in and goes head to head with the very gambling syndicate that the Major has been trying to bring down.
Shadow of the Thin Man had a key departure from the first three Thin Man films. The studio had expected Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, the husband and wife team who wrote the first three Thin Man scripts, to write at least one more. Roger Bryant wrote in his book William Powell: The Life and Films, “Goodrich said of this period in Hollywood, ‘They press you awfully hard there…when they started talking about another Thin Man, we started throwing up and crying into our typewriters. We had the nervous breakdown together, [so] we said, “let’s get out of here [and] we quit.'” Instead of Goodrich and Hackett, the script was written by Harry Kurnitz and Irving Brecher. It also was not based on a story by Dashiell Hammett as the previous films had been, but rather, a story by Kurnitz.
The attack on Pearl Harbor came only two weeks after the release of Shadow of the Thin Man. While the film barely acknowledged the war exploding around the world, Loy took the United States’ entry into it seriously and dropped out of Hollywood for three years, instead volunteering for the Red Cross out of New York as assistant to the director of military and naval welfare. She spoke out vehemently against Adolf Hitler, resulting in her films being blacklisted in Germany. The next film she would make would be The Thin Man Goes Home, released in 1945.
Shadow of the Thin Man does not have the same dosage of witty repartée audiences enjoyed in the first three Thin Man films (The Thin Man, After the Thin Man and Another Thin Man), although Nickie Jr. is used for comedic dialogue and interchange throughout the film. It does, however, hold on to the tremendous chemistry between Powell and Loy, benefiting from their ability to make the most of a lesser script. The duo, with the able help of director W. S. Van Dyke, manage to bring much, although not all, of the magic of Nick and Nora Charles to the screen in this fourth entry into the Thin Man series.
What a difference the writers make. Who knew?
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It made a huge difference with this film, at any rate.