Another Thin Man [1939]

Almost as welcome as a shaker full of martinis, The Complete Thin Man Collection represents an eagerly awaited DVD milestone for fans of the fizzy MGM movie series. The best film in the series came first: The Thin Man (1934), W.S. Van Dyke's marvelous adaptation of a Dashiell Hammet novel. The movie gods were in a generous mood when they paired William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles, the upper-class sophisticates whose sleuthing escapades somehow joined the classic form of the whodunit with the giddyup of screwball comedy. Among the series' many attributes, one of its most radical notions was the idea that a married couple might find each other delightful and view life as a goofy adventure together. It is common wisdom that the Thin Man sequels adhere to the law of diminishing returns, and while none of the follow-ups reach the diamond level of the first film, all afford pleasures. There's the cocktail-swilling chemistry of Powell and Loy, for one thing, as well as the considerable satisfaction of average movies made during the studio system: the craftsmanship of studio hands, and a gallery of terrific character actors filling in supporting roles. First sequel After the Thin Man (1936) is very good, with the couple in San Francisco and a supporting part for rising player James Stewart. The scenery moves again, to Long Island, for the rather impudently-titled Another Thin Man (1939), which adds baby Nick, Jr., to the mix (a "bad idea," thought Pauline Kael, perhaps a sign of the domestication of the series). Shadow of the Thin Man (1941) sets the action around a racetrack, and is the last of the series to be directed by the fast-working Van Dyke. The Thin Man Goes Home (1944) finds Nick escorting family to his parents' house for a visit. Song of the Thin Man (1947) engagingly adds a jazz milieu to the Charles's detective work; at this point, Nick, Jr. was played by child star Dean Stockwell. The series stuck with certain staples: the unveiling of the guilty party, a wirehaired terrier named Asta (who became a star in its own right), and booze. When Nick opines, in the first film, that a dry martini should always be shaken to "waltz time," you know why audiences fell in love with these guilt-free comedies. --Robert Horton

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