Shadow of the Thin Man

Ring a Ding Ding

Shadow of the Thin Man (1941)

The sleuthing team of Nick and Nora Charles were bound to find themselves in the midst of a gambling racket at some point in their on-screen careers. As movie history teaches us, gambling and bookies only lead to murder and further crimes, and in Shadow of the Thin Man our favorite detective comes out of retirement yet again to solve the convoluted case.

It is a wonder the writers at MGM could come up with a new and enthralling murder case for each of the six Thin Man movies, yet they do it again here using the same formula as the others. The key to the stories is the overabundance of characters, which in some cases are difficult to keep track of, and a mystery that gets further compounded with subsequent murders and crimes to the point that no viewer can deduce who the one culprit is. But that is why we have Nick Charles.

A portion of the comedic enjoyment of Shadow of the Thin Man is that although Nick (William Powell) is again insisting on his retirement from the sleuthing business, he happens to keep finding himself at the scenes of the crimes. At the start, the Charles’ are at the racetrack where a jockey is found killed –a jockey who was asked to throw the race. The press jump to the conclusion that Nick is on the case because of his proximity, but he denies any involvement. Later, while at a boxing match, Nick is again just a floor below another shooting murder of an unscrupulous reporter and his assault on an honest journalist.

The Charles’ are friends with the honest newspaperman and Nick agrees to get involved in part to prove this Paul (Barry Nelson) is innocent of the shooting of reporter Whitey (Alan Baxter). As the case progresses, complete with untrustworthy women and hoodlums, Nick discovers the first murder was not what it seemed, but he won’t let the public know that. His shrewd technique leads to the familiar ending with the entire cast of characters in one room, waiting for the guilty man to reveal himself and to try to kill Nick.

I have noticed as progressing through the Thin Man movies that Nick has become and increasingly bad alcoholic. At the start of Shadow of the Thin Man, Nick is out with Jr. (Dickie Hall) in the park across the street –reading him the racing form. Looking to get her husband home, Nora (Myrna Loy) starts shaking a cocktail mixer. This causes the distant Nick to remark: “Nicky, something tells me that something important is happening somewhere and I think we should be there.” The maid also notes that Nicky is becoming more like his father everyday: “This morning he was playing with a corkscrew.”

Nick’s drunkenness is always inserted for comedic relief and usually peters out as the story goes on and the stakes become more serious. Nevertheless, I don’t think I am stretching the truth in saying our favorite crime solver was often the worse for wear and not in an admirable sense.

  • Shadow of the Thin Man is set for 1:30 p.m. ET Dec. 18 on TCM.

What Day Is It? & Every Man Has 2 Wives

Dullsville

     What was going on with the institution of marriage in 1956? Based on my viewing of two episodes of Screen Directors Playhouse from that year I would conclude that no one took that romantic bond very seriously. The two disheartening stories of married couples in What Day Is It? and Every Man Has Two Wives left me sort of offended.

     Gower Champion directs himself and his wife in the former title about a song-and-dance married couple performing a George M. Cohan tribute in a third-rate theater. The couple go on and off stage making costume changes between acts and wife Claire (Marge Champion) asks husband Conroy how they will celebrate this special day after they are through working. Conroy, however, cannot remember what the special occasion is.

     As the duo continues to perform and Conroy tries to unravel the mysterious date while off-stage, the man reveals that he does not know the date of any of the couple’s significant events, such as Claire’s birthday, their wedding day, their engagement day, the day they met, etc. This leads to both becoming quite furious with the other and Claire demands a divorce before they hit the stage for the final number. When all is said and done a singing telegram man arrives at the door to sing happy birthday to Conroy.

     It is incredibly deplorable that a husband cannot recall his own wedding date or his wife’s birthday. The forgetful husband gag has been used ad nauseam in sitcoms to dig men into trouble, and the extent of Conroy’s ignorance is obnoxious to say the least. The audience is supposed to laugh at the fact that the man has forgotten something that should be the easiest thing for him to remember and an event that does not actually harm the woman who wants him to remember it. Nevertheless, I’m not giggling.

     The next episode, Every Man Has Two Wives has almost a swingers feel to it but goes beyond that to really push the infidelity envelope. Barry Nelson plays husband Bill who apparently has spent the last decade of his marriage rambling on about the high school sweetheart Fay who got away. His wife Della (Janet Blair) is somehow used to being told she is second-rate but proposes the couple visit Bill’s hometown to see how the years have affected his love.

     Not long after the couple arrives in town they run into Buddy Ebsen‘s Fred, who was Bill’s buddy in high school. He invites the couple to dinner at his home and to meet his wife, who happens to be Fay (Mary Sinclair). Bill is immediately jealous but discovers his friend is the Potato King of the state and is quite wealthy. Della is surprised to find that Fay is very beautiful still and is jealous of her husband’s reaction to her. At dinner, Bill and Fay hit the dance floor for one number after another and there is nothing respectable about how close they are. Della and Fred watch and become increasingly somber. Eventually we learn that Fay chose Fred for marriage because he could give her all the things money can buy, and she turns out to be a shallow and horrible person.

     For a while it seemed as if the characters in Every Man Has Two Wives were going to just act as if Fay’s greed-driven marriage decision was absolutely natural, but they finally call her out and Bill can return home with his wife and no longer hang the spectre of Fay over Della’s head. The story has a “happy” ending only because the couple doesn’t split, but the relationship sure walked a fine line the could have destroyed the marriage.

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