Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the sixth and final entry into the Thin Man series. If you’re just now tuning in, I’ve been running through the Thin Man Box Set, one film a day, leading up until next Monday’s kick-off of my all new column: A Movie A Week, which will be HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE, starring Marilyn Monroe and THIN MAN’s William Powell.
As I’m sure some of you noticed, yesterday’s write-up of THE THIN MAN GOES HOME was a little half-assed. I just couldn’t drum up any fire one way or the other about that entry. It’s certainly not a bad movie, but after watching two or three Thin Man films that really work on all the different levels (comedy and mystery being the two mains) feeling “meh” about THE THIN MAN GOES HOME wasn’t very exciting for me and I was searching for thing to say.
So, apologies for that. I liked the final installment SONG OF THE THIN MAN a bit more, so hopefully I’ll have a bit more to talk about.
One of the first things that struck me as this one started was that it almost felt like a bridge between movie eras. The early Thin Man films had the kind of crazy ‘30s comedy vibe you get from the Busby Berkeley films of that era, but melded with the Cagney-ish crime films from that decade, creating a whole new Reeses Peanut Butter Cup of a series (two great tastes that taste great together, you know?).
But as the films evolved crime film was changing. SONG OF THE THIN MAN now doesn’t feel like a Cagney-era crime flick mixed with a slapstick comedy, but rather a film noir crime film mixed with that same kind of comedy filled with sharp and fast banter.
I think it was Gloria Grahame opening the movie singing on a gambling boat that really makes the transition apparent. She’s got femme fatale written all over her.
Although her role in the film isn’t exactly that of a femme fatale, it’s almost like the first baby steps the series was taking into that direction. She’s not a crazy mastermind, but Grahame is a huge piece of the puzzle of a murder on that boat. And she’s also the impetus of the crime.
More than any other Thin Man flick this one is filled to the brim with red herrings. In the first 15 minutes we’re introduced to a ton of new people and every single one of them has a good reason to kill Phillip Reed’s sleazy band leader Tommy Drake.
He’s a bit of a playboy, having stolen Grahame’s heart and forcing her to break up with a young clarinet player named Buddy Hollis (Don Taylor), causing a nervous breakdown. Tommy Drake dumps Grahame on the eve of a big, $100,000 tour he just signed on for, causing all sorts of drama. The boat’s owner, Bruce Cowling, cuts him off (I guess for being a dick) and won’t pay him, which puts Drake in a bind as he owes $12,000 to the local mob boss (William Bishop).
Drake ends up dead and we know half a dozen people who could have pulled the trigger.
Now, Nick and Nora do everything they can to keep from being pulled into the case, but when Cowling and his new bride Bess Flowers show up at their door things change. Cowling is the prime suspect and had to elope with Flowers because her rich daddy didn’t approve. When Nick tries to turn him down, someone take a shot at Cowling, almost hitting him.
So, Nick does the sensible thing… turns Cowling in to keep him safe. But that puts Nick and Nora on the spot to solve the case or else Cowling take the rap.
It seems Powell and Loy are much more in the groove this time out than in THE THIN MAN GOES HOME. The writing by Steve Fisher and Nat Perrin isn’t nearly as good as Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, especially when it comes to the back and forths with Nick and Nora, but Fisher and Perrin do a solid job on the whole.
There are some really bizarre moments in this movie, my favorite of which is a series of flashbacks that come out of Dean Stockwell’s ass. I’m not exaggerating. There’s a scene where Nora insists on punishing little Nicky Jr. and forces Nick to do the spanking. With Stockwell over his knee he stares at his ass, hand raised… and a series of flashbacks play out over Dean Stockwell’s 10 year old ass! Nick sees how happy he was at Nick Jr. birth and hesitates. Then he sees them playing around… then he sees himself trying to teach Nick Jr. how to ride a bicycle. This last flashback results in Nick falling and Nick Jr. pointing and laughing, which gives Powell all the reason he needs to start the spanking.
And then there’s Keenan Wynn’s Jazz musician and semi-sidekick character, who leads Nick and Nora through the swinging nightlife. I can only imagine how much this stood out in its time… with all the jazz slang going over the “square” Nick and Nora’s heads. It’d be like them doing a movie where a pair of middle aged white detectives have to explore a murder and has to be taken around the rap scene, mangling slang and standing out like a sore thumb today. I like Wynn in the film, but even by today’s standards Nick and Nora around the hip Jazz scene felt awkward.
Final Thoughts: Is SONG OF THE THIN MAN the best of the series? No, it isn’t. Looking back on all six my ranking, in order, would be The Thin Man, Another Thin Man, Shadow of the Thin Man, After The Thin Man, Song of the Thin Man and The Thin Man Goes Home.
Is it a fitting farewell to Nick and Nora? Well, it’s a good flick, but not what I’d call the perfect final outing. There’s certainly not any real closure to the series, no feeling that things are where they need to be or even any sense of there being a continuing series of adventures we don’t get to see. In short, it’s a stand-alone movie, and a good stand alone movie, but I don’t know if I could call it a good farewell to the series.
I don’t know the history behind it, so I couldn’t tell you why there weren’t any more made. Perhaps they ran out of Dashiell Hammett stories. Powell seemed to have quit acting in 1955, but neither he nor Myrna Loy passed away until they were elderly. Maybe some answers can be found in the 7th disc in the box set, two documentaries… one focusing on Powell, the other on Loy. But as of this writing, I can only say that I’ve greatly enjoyed this series. Even the lows weren’t too hard to get through and the highs have shown me a new movie pair that will live throughout the ages, always bringing me a smile when I think on them.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the AMAD-like look at the Thin Man series. Now I have to set my sights on A Movie A Week. Coming up on Monday we have the very first AMAW. Here’s a list of the first month of titles so you can get ready to follow along if you’re up for it!
Monday, April 27th: HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE (1953)
Monday, May 4th: PHONE CALL FROM A STRANGER (1952)
Monday, May 11th: HUSH… HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE (1964)
Monday, May 18th: TOO LATE THE HERO (1970)
There’s the first four weeks for ya’. See you folks on Monday for HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE!
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April 20th: The Thin Man
April 21st: After The Thin Man
April 22nd: Another Thin Man
April 23rd: Shadow of the Thin Man
April 24th: The Thin Man Goes Home