Combustible Celluloid
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With: William Powell, Myrna Loy, Maureen O'Sullivan, Nat Pendleton, Minna Gombell, Porter Hall, Henry Wadsworth, William Henry, Harold Huber, Cesar Romero, Natalie Moorhead, Edward Brophy, Edward Ellis, Cyril Thornton, Asta
Written by: Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett
Directed by: W.S. ("Woody") Van Dyke II
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 93
Date: 05/25/1934

The Thin Man (1934)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Detective Comics

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Even after 70 years, this extraordinarily entertaining romantic comedy/mystery is still fresh, and holds up to repeated viewings mostly thanks to William Powell and Myrna Loy's sparkling chemistry. Even though Powell played detective Nick Charles and had all the fun, Loy was never overshadowed in the role of his wife, Nora. Adorable Maureen O'Sullivan stars as the girl who hires Nick to find her missing father, a scientist falsely accused of murder.

Nicknamed "One Take," director W.S. Van Dyke (Tarzan the Ape Man) made the whole thing in less than three weeks, and his quick shooting methods must have relaxed his stars; he captures many moments of unforced spontaneity. In one scene, Nick and Nora speak on the phone just after Nick has locked his wife in a cab and sent her to "Grant's Tomb" to keep her out of danger. She's understandably irritated, and their resulting conversation is a beautiful, funny battle of wills. At one point, Powell merely chuckles. It may be nothing, but it seems perfectly genuine, slightly out of character and totally in the moment.

The movie also comes with a refreshing sophistication and bracing wit that audiences used to enjoy before lowbrow toilet humor took over. Some modern audiences may be shocked at the sheer amount the characters drink, but it was considered a harmless joke at the time.

The superior screenplay is by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich (It's a Wonderful Life, Father of the Bride), liberally adapted from Dashiell Hammett's novel. The film was a smash success and five sequels of decreasing quality followed (Van Dyke directed the first four films). This first film takes place at the end of the year, over Christmas and New Year's, and so makes delightful holiday viewing.

Warner Home Video releasedthe film on DVD in 2002, with no terribly exciting extras. In 2005, Warner Home Video followed up with a bang: a new 7-disc box set containing all six movies, plus a bonus disc. Besides The Thin Man (1934), we now have After the Thin Man(1936), Another Thin Man (1939), Shadow of the Thin Man(1941), The Thin Man Goes Home (1945) and Song of the Thin Man (1947).

The bonus disc consists of a new documentary on Powell as well as an older one (1991) on Loy (she was still alive when it was made). The Thin Mandisc is much the same, but the other five movies come with short films, cartoons, radio shows and trailers. Most excitingly, The Thin Man Goes Home features the great Tex Avery classic Screwball Squirrel (1944) (To date, no Tex Avery collection has been released on DVD.)

Van Dyke directed the first four films in the series. Richard Thorpe directed the fifth and Edward Buzzell the sixth. Guest stars in the later films include James Stewart, C. Aubrey Smith, Tom Neal (ofDetour fame), Gloria Grahame and Dean Stockwell (as Nick Jr.). The films grew subsequently weaker, but because of Powell and Loy's extraordinary chemistry,they are all worth seeing, and the entire series is highly recommended.

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