16 July 2007 | ackstasis
"And I haven't killed a jockey in weeks - really."
When the creators of the original 'The Thin Man' film released their hilarious movie back in 1934, they could never have realised what a successful formula they were using! Produced seven years later, using basically the same ingredients as the original, the fourth edition to the six-part series 'Shadow of the Thin Man' still feels as fresh and witty as ever, even surpassing its direct predecessor in terms of wit and mystery. Just as in'Another Thin Man,' there is perhaps a little more murder-mystery and a little less comedy in this installment, but this was a necessary decision in order to reach a fine balance, since, as we know from most comedic sequels, some jokes can get old pretty fast. Fortunately, of course, this is not the case for these movies, and 'Shadow of the Thin Man' still packs a deadly punch, perhaps due to the flawless chemistry of its leads and the return, once again, of the original director, W.S. Van Dyke (credited here as Maj. W.S. Van Dyke II), just two years before his suicide.
A few years after the previous film left off, Nick and Nora Charles (William Powell and Myrna Loy) are living happily with their growing son, Nick Jr. (young Richard "Dickie" Hall, in his debut). Nick suddenly becomes involved in a murder investigation when the dead body of a corrupt jockey is found in the showers at the racetrack. The murders don't stop there, either, and there is a range of suspicious and nefarious characters who could have orchestrated the deaths. With his ultra-enthusiastic wife at his heels, and the playful Asta the dog by his side, Nick must get to the root of the mystery before a good friend of his, newspaper reporter, Paul (Barry Nelson, also in his debut), is convicted of murder. Rounding out a decent supporting cast are Donna Reed (in only her second film, and five years prior to Frank Capra's 'It's A Wonderful Life'), Sam Levene (reprising his role as the incompetent Lieutenant Abrams), Alan Baxter, Henry O'Neill, Stella Adler, Loring Smith, Joseph Anthony and Lou Lubin.
It is Nick Charles' philosophy that if you lock a bunch of murder suspects in the same room, eventually somebody like slip up and give themselves away. Once again, this law proves the villain's ultimate undoing, and I'll confess that never in a million years would I have suspected the actual murderer! The screenplay was written by Irving Brecher and Harry Kurnitz, both new to the franchise, and the murder-plot is noticeably less twisted and convoluted than previously, allowing for enjoyable viewing that doesn't require the viewer to strain their mind quite so much. Nonetheless, it is always fascinating to see how all the pieces fall neatly into place, and how one seemingly-minor clue can prove the most significant evidence of all.
Though present only during the early part of the film, young Nick Jr. at about four years of age allows for some excellent comedic gags. The film opens with Nick Charles and his son walking through the park, with the former offering to recite a fantastic fairy-tale that's never been heard before, only to clumsily make one up based on the horse-racing schedule he's reading. In order to coax Nick back to the house for a meal, Myrna begins using the cocktail shaker, prompting her husband far, far away to suddenly decide: "Nicky, something tells me that something important is happening somewhere and I think we should be there." Another particularly entertaining sequence involves Asta the dog, and how he single-handedly initiates a heated brawl between every single patron of a restaurant. Despite this being their fourth "Thin Man" mystery together, the chemistry between the two leads remains incredibly potent, and I can't help looking forward to their next great adventure.