Author: Based on characters created by Dashiell Hammett. Original story by Robert Riskin and Harry Kurnitz (an interesting detective novelist in his own right); screenplay by Robert Riskin and Dwight Taylor.
Other Data: 1945 — January, according to IMDB. Directed by Richard Thorpe.
Cast: William Powell and Myrna Loy as The Thin Man and wife, Nick and Nora Charles. Lucile Watson and Harry Davenport as Nick’s parents and the wonderful Anita Bolster as their maid, Hilda. A wonderful supporting cast including Gloria DeHaven (as a gushy young ingenue who is imitating Katherine Hepburn) and Anne Revere (as “Crazy Mary”) and a host of other well-known background faces of the 1940s like Donald Meek.
About this film:
First of all, I have to credit a much more insightful (and productive) blogger than myself, William I. Lengeman III at Traditional Mysteries, whose attention to this film sparked my own. I recommend you read what he has to say beginning at http://traditionalmysteries.blogspot.ca/2012/12/movie-thin-man-goes-home.html — and, if you are interested in my favourite topics, you’ll enjoy his entire blog.
I saw this film earlier this month on TCM and enjoyed it all over again; it’s always been a favourite, and I hope you will seek it out because I think you will enjoy it. I think it stands out even in this excellent series because of the nature of the crucial clue; I won’t say anything that will spoil anyone’s enjoyment, but it is based on something that doesn’t happen but should have. The “negative” clue is decidedly uncommon in filmed mysteries, which tend to want to show you things. In detective-fiction terms, this is head and shoulders above most other offerings of the period; a fair-play puzzle mystery but an extremely difficult one to solve upon the first go-round.
It is common to remark that the series “went downhill” after the first. I’ll suggest instead that the series veered sideways and became less hard-boiled so as to suit the audience’s appetite for continuing characters. Certainly nothing stops the charming byplay between Nick and Nora in any of the films, and although the quality of the puzzle varies all six films have a puzzle at their core. The only thing I know for sure that stops after the first film is that Nick gives up calling women “baby” out of the corner of his mouth.
I agree with Mr. Lengeman that the emphasis here is on the “down home”; this bucolic mystery echoes at least two other entries in the series that feature Nora’s family affairs, so he may have put his finger on the unifying factor that causes people to think that the second through sixth films are somehow different/inferior. The Nora of the first film who has a “lulu” of an evening gown and, as a policeman remarks, “has hair on her chest” is not the Nora of this film, a wife in an apron who helps her mother-in-law serve dinner and gets turned over her husband’s knee for a comedy spanking. Similarly, this is a kinder, gentler Nick — who doesn’t get all that peeved even when his parents are the possible targets of a nearby sniper. There is a sub-plot about industrial espionage which serves as the springboard for most of the charming character work for Nick and Nora. There is a priceless sequence where Nora is trailing a suspect and in turn being trailed by someone else; the parade goes through a poolroom filled with “wolves”. Another moment where she is entrapped with a collapsible lawn chair, and a sequence later in the film when she is forced to jitterbug with an energetic sailor, contribute greatly to the gentle humour of the film.
There is a piece of this film that seems jarring to me, but in an odd way. The character of “Crazy Mary” is just too good; it’s as if she wandered in from a more realistic film. Anne Revere appears to be make-up free and the character has a raw energy that is based on a tragic incident in her past that makes us both pity her and be afraid of her. The rest of the movie doesn’t hit this level of realism and at the other end of the believability spectrum, Anita Bolster does a wonderful job as Hilda, the comedic spinster maid (a la ZaSu Pitts or Edna May Oliver) who is hilarious but quite, quite unrealistic. Anne Revere, on the other hand, might well have been nominated for Best Supporting Actress for this brief portrayal, which has depth and intelligence. She actually did win in 1944 for National Velvet and was nominated in 1943 and 1947 before having her career ruined in the McCarthy era.
My honest opinion is that this is the last superior entry in the series; it’s all downhill from here, and the sixth is probably the worst. But this film is absolutely worth your time and, if you haven’t previously seen it, I urge you to give it a careful viewing and really do try to figure out whodunnit and why you should know that. It will increase your delight and chagrin at the surprise ending.
Notes For the Collector:
Copies of the film are readily available and I believe, without troubling to confirm it, that the original trailer is available via archive.com as being in the public domain. As I noted above, Turner Classic Movies showed it recently and re-runs it perhaps once a year. There is a boxed set of all six Thin Man films and I recommend it to your attention; all six are worth your time and the first in the series is a masterpiece.