Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Thin Man Series

Sequels are nothing new in Hollywood. But some things have changed. Where are the stars of today? William Powell and Myrna Loy are so perfect in these roles as Nick and Nora Charles, they command the screen. The level of wit in those movies is really something. Even with thin plots and some of the actors are less than A-list, the writing is sharp and the way the two leads deliver a line is something. Not just the lines, but the looks (and that is what makes stars). In one of the movies Nick tells Nora he likes their son, “We should do that again.” Nora replies, “Anytime, dear.” William Powell’s expression says more than any double entendre most modern screenwriters could accomplish. I love the way the banter just rolls from them, like it’s natural for a married couple to have fun. The wit may remind one of a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie, except they don’t hate each other in the beginning. And instead of a romantic comedy, Nick and Nora solve mysteries. Their dog, Asta, steals clues.

The Thin Man really shouldn’t be the name of the series, as it applies only to the case in the first film in the series.

Many people think that old movies are safe for the whole family; that may be true. Nick and Nora are a married couple crazy about each other, they don’t swear, and they sleep in separate beds. However, In the Thin Man movies William Powell is just short of an alcoholic, in fact in the first one, I say they both are. And many things they say are suggestive in a way that is clear to most adults, but goes over the head of kids. As a woman is walking away from their table, Nora says mentions the woman’s earrings. Watching the woman walk away, Nick says “Yes, quite beautiful.” “The earrings are higher.” Nora points out.

After the Thin Man is not very good. In the second film in the series, the first 40 minutes are wasted trying to set the story up, when really, there isn’t much story to set up. Too many sets are allowed to go on for too long, looking for that extra laugh that never comes. The mystery is OK, but the banter is weak and the wit is not as sharp. One of the most clearly suggestive items is a very clear “infidelity” on the part of Mrs. Asta, the (insert a word for female dog). This is kind of amusing, but it is carried too far and goes on too long. I’m surprised there were more Thin Mans made after this one. If there is any reason to watch, it’s the lovely Myrna Loy (especially in her New Years Eve dress) and a very young Jimmy Stewart in a role you may not expect. Another adult moment comes when a microphone is discovered in the one-room apartment of a woman seeing several men. When she realizes the eavesdropper could hear “everything,” the camera goes close-up on her wide-eyed face as she gasps, “Golly!”

I once heard that the 1930s could have been the 1960s in permissiveness if the depression, followed by World War II, had not happened. People tend to go conservative when the world goes out of control. I have no idea how accurate this is, but watching some of these early 1930s movies causes one to wonder.

I will review the rest of the series soon.

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