This fourth entry of the Thin Man series is the second in which Nick and Nora are parents. Their little Nicky is adorably picking up all of Daddy’s bad habits. It’s no surprise given that in the last film he was a giggling infant in the middle of a murderous country house melee. I recently revisited this enjoyable, if minor entry in the Charles saga on a newly-released Warner Archive Blu-ray.
While Shadow of the Thin Man (1941) isn’t among the best of the series, the quality is so consistent that any entry is a good time. Here Nick works to solve a murder at the race track, which ends up leading him all over San Francisco with Nora and sometimes little Nicky in tow.
Like always, the spice is between the lines in the Thin Man series. The running joke of their open marriage is this time referred to in the many instances where Nora is mistaken for Nick’s down low girlfriend. It’s a neat trick: readers of the novel get their wink, while those not in the know can take it as a comment on Mrs. Charles being an especially dishy wife.
And she is, and they are a remarkably happy screen couple, for the most part because they understand each other so well. Nora brings her husband home with the shake of a cocktail shaker and she knows that showing up in macho spaces like a crime scene or a wrestling match will strengthen her bond with Nick. He on the other hand is aware that his wife should never be excluded if she feels she should be present.
As usual, the cast has some lively characters, though not quite the bizarre roster as in past entries. As the Charles’ domestic, Louise Beavers demonstrates how she made more of an essentially thankless maid role than anyone; it makes you pine for the comedy series she could have had on her own. In an early role Donna Reed is fresh and young, but plenty wise and lacking the primness of many starlets in a similar role. Sam Levene has a great stink face and excellent comic timing as the often flustered, but always competent Lieutenant Abrams.
There’s always that one memorable scene in a Thin Man movie, this time there’s two. One is a raucous wrestling match where Nora remains adorably elegant and polite. The other is a much weirder set-up in a seafood restaurant where the waiter insists that everyone order sea bass, before the Charles pooch Asta starts a wild brawl.
It’s a fun flick. If you’ve enjoyed one Thin Man movie, it’s well worth seeing all of them.
Special features on the disc include a trailer, the cartoon The Goose Goes South, and the vintage short The Tell-Tale Heart.
Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review.
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