17 April 2001 | bigpurplebear
The first, and the best, in a very good series
There's a story, perhaps apocryphal, that when Ian Fleming was first introduced to the actor who would bring his 007 to life in "Dr. No," his immediate reaction was a loud and emphatic, "Oh, NO! Anybody but HIM!" Luckily, of course, no one paid him any attention, and a largely unknown actor and former bodybuilder named Sean Connery was off and running toward stardom. Likely enough, had anyone thought to run the idea of William Powell as Nick Charles past Dashiell Hammett -- always assuming, somewhat blithely, that the author would have been sober at the moment -- his reaction would have been identical to Fleming's years later. Powell, insouciantly dapper and suave, almost as slender as the silly mustache he affected, was virtually the complete antithesis of Hammett's concept of Charles, the hard-drinking, two-fisted former New York detective who married an heiress much younger than he and yet somehow managed to remain uncorrupted by his good fortune. Yet Powell -- as would Humphrey Bogart several years later, when similarly physically miscast as Sam Spade in the third film version of "The Maltese Falcon" -- went on to make the character of Nick Charles so totally his own that even today, six films and almost sixty years later, it is well-nigh impossible to envision anyone else in the role. Powell was always at his best when playing opposite a strong leading lady -- i.e., Rosalind Russell, Carole Lombard, Irene Dunne -- yet he was never better than when paired with Myrna Loy as Nora in the six "Thin Man" films. Every bit his equal at the backchat and martini-tossing, Loy proved the perfect collaborator in making the Charleses lovely people to visit (but you wouldn't want their livers) time and time and time again. Particularly in this, the adaptation of Hammett's novel, which created the audience demand for the ensuing series. And which also shows that, even if you do consult the writer, it's not necessarily wise to give him/her final approval over casting.