The Long And The Short (Series) Of It on… The “Thin Man” Series

Well, now that we’ve looked into all six of the individual movies, it’s time to take a look at the Thin Man series as a whole!

Famous for his detective stories, Dashiell Hammett finished off his novel-writing career with his late 1933/1934 novel The Thin Man. MGM bought the film rights, much to the happiness of director W. S. “Woody” Van Dyke, who wanted to take on the project himself. However, the studio really didn’t think the property would be that popular with audiences, figuring they were tired of all the various sleuthing movies that had been made about that time. They really only let Van Dyke take a whack at the property due to his reputation for getting movies done quickly and under budget. Van Dyke wanted William Powell for the role of Nick Charles, much to the objections of the studio executives, since he was already known for playing the detective Philo Vance (but, the director obviously got him). Having seen the way that William Powell had gotten along with actress Myrna Loy both on- and off-screen when he directed them in Manhattan Melodrama (1934), Van Dyke made a pitch to get her for The Thin Man. The studio executives were reluctant to cast her as well, and only relented on the condition that all her scenes be shot within three weeks so that she could start shooting Stamboul Quest (1934). Of course, Van Dyke managed to get not only all of her scenes shot within that time, but also the rest of the film, too. He also had convinced married couple Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett to help adapt the novel for the big screen, and pushed them to focus more on Nick and Nora’s relationship than on the mystery (which wasn’t too hard for them, as their own marriage was quite similar to Nick and Nora’s). Of course, the results on The Thin Man (1934) at the box office spoke for themselves, with audiences making the film a big hit (with Powell even getting nominated for an Oscar).

Of course, being such a big hit meant that the MGM executives were eager to follow it up with even more! So, they gave the filmmakers a bigger budget to work with (and weren’t quite so stingy as to their requirements about how quickly the film had to be made). With the bigger budget, they were able to do some location shooting in San Francisco itself. Van Dyke and his screenwriters from the first film were brought back, with original author Dashiell Hammett brought in to write an all-new story for the film. The new film was intended to take place on the train almost immediately after the first film (albeit without the couple portrayed by Maureen O’Sullivan and Henry Wadsworth). That was their aim when they decided to give it the title After The Thin Man (1936), but, even though the “Thin Man” of the title was the murder victim in the first film, audiences came to associate it with William Powell’s Nick Charles, and “Thin Man” was retained as part of the title for the remainder of the series.

However, in spite of the series’ success at the box office, trouble was starting to creep in behind-the-scenes. The success of the second film meant the MGM executives wanted another film, but William Powell was hit with a double-whammy when his fiancée, Jean Harlow, passed away unexpectedly in 1937, followed quickly by his diagnosis of rectal cancer, which he underwent an experimental treatment for. The treatment was successful, but he had to take it easy while he recovered. In between his grief and his recovery, he didn’t take on too many projects for a few years, mainly working on the Thin Man series and a few other films with Myrna Loy. After they wrote the third film, Another Thin Man (1939) (based on another Dashiell Hammett story), Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett had had enough, and refused to come back for another series entry, so the screenwriting duties for the fourth film were passed along to Harry Kurnitz (who wrote the story) and Irving Brecher. After Shadow Of The Thin Man (1941), Myrna Loy left Hollywood, first to spend time with her then-new husband (John Hertz, Jr.) and then, when that marriage fizzled, she spent her time helping with the war effort. Tragedy struck when series director Woody Van Dyke became ill from cancer and a bad heart, and later committed suicide (since, as a devout Christian Scientist, he refused medical care). So, for The Thin Man Goes Home (1945) and Song Of The Thin Man (1947), they had two different directors. The Thin Man Goes Home did well enough at the box office, but Song Of The Thin Man lost money and effectively ended the series (not to mention Myrna Loy’s contract with MGM).

Of course, the series’ legacy is hard to deny. As Hollywood has always done, the success of the first film spawned a group of imitations all trying to cash in on the concept, with varying degrees of success. In fact, William Powell starred in two of these clones (Star Of Midnight from 1935 and The Ex-Mrs. Bradford from 1936) before he signed a new contract with MGM (and did the first sequel, After The Thin Man). Even with the Thin Man film series finally ending in the late 1940s, the franchise still enjoyed some popularity, resulting in a half hour TV series (1957-1959) starring Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk (with one episode included as an extra on the Blu-ray for the first film). The characters would continue to be referenced and spoofed, including in the 1976 comedy Murder By Death (with Myrna Loy reportedly being offered the chance to play Dora Charleston, although she declined).

As I’ve essentially indicated in each of my reviews, these films were all quite new for me when I first got the chance to see them in preparation for writing those reviews. As you can see from those reviews, I enjoyed the entire series. As I indicated in my review of the second film, I do really prefer the first film, not only for its mystery, but also for some of the pre-Code humor they were still able to get away with in that film. That being said, the first three are all really enjoyable, and when the series was at its best. I think that, within the last three films, The Thin Man Goes Home manages to come the closest to recapturing the magic of the first three, if only because it feels like it knows that the series has gotten formulaic, and is able to make fun of that. Admittedly, the last three films do seem to lose their way a bit, particularly with regard to the character of Nick, Jr., since he seems to disappear partway through the fourth film (and, outside of a brief mention as to why he isn’t there, he is completely out of the picture for the fifth film), and returns for the sixth film (albeit with a different child actor taking over the role), which just leaves me with the feeling that they didn’t really know what to do with him past the third film. Regardless, it’s still a very enjoyable series from start to finish (particularly if you’re smart enough not to binge-watch the whole series in short order). For that reason, I have no problem recommending this series for those who love a group of good mysteries/ screwball comedies (especially since they all look fantastic now with their new restorations for Blu-ray)!

All six movies are available individually on Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection.

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The Thin Man (1934)

Film Length: 1 hour, 31 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

After The Thin Man (1936)

Film Length: 1 hour, 52 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

Another Thin Man (1939)

Film Length: 1 hour, 43 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

Shadow Of The Thin Man (1941)

Film Length: 1 hour, 37 minutes

My Rating: 9/10

The Thin Man Goes Home (1944)

Film Length: 1 hour, 41 minutes

My Rating: 9/10

Song Of The Thin Man (1947)

Film Length: 1 hour, 27 minutes

My Rating: 8/10

Top 10 Disc Releases Of 2021

By now, I think it’s safe to say that most of you know that I enjoy watching classic movies via physical media like Blu-ray and DVD (I’m not trying to knock streaming necessarily, it’s just that most of what I like is more readily available on disc).  2021 has been another really good year for seeing fantastic movies given the bump up to Blu-ray, so here’s my list of what I personally think are the best releases of the year!  As usual, I must remind everyone that I do NOT receive screeners of any kind (nor, quite frankly, would I want to, as I prefer to support the movies I like in the hopes of more of them being made available), so I can only work with what I have seen.  I am making this list from all the 2021 releases I have seen as of 12/1/2021.  Much like my list for 2020, I am working mainly from movies released on disc through October 2021 (due to my own constraints of budget and time, plus the fact that, without being given screeners, I have no way to comment on December releases ahead of time). So, this list is what it is (but, I will give a shout-out to some other releases afterwards).  I’m experimenting by changing the format a little this year, so if any of these appeal to you, be sure to click on the movie on the left side to use my affiliate links to go to Amazon and buy them (or, if you want to read the reviews, click on the movie titles to go there)!!

  1. Broadway Melody Of 1940 (1940) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • Fred Astaire, Eleanor Powell and George Murphy star in this last entry of the Broadway Melody series. A case of mistaken identity results in the wrong member of a dance team getting his big chance on the Broadway stage (but, when the team is two men and Fred Astaire was the other partner, you KNOW that he’ll get his chance as well). Working from a 4K scan of nitrate preservation elements, the good people at Warner Archive have given us a new and improved transfer that shows off this film’s detail and really allows us to enjoy these spectacular dancers looking better than they have in a long time! Great movie, great transfer!
  1. San Francisco (1936) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • In this film that teams up Clark Gable, Jeanette MacDonald and Spencer Tracy, we have a nightclub owner (Gable) who runs for town supervisor to help the people on the Barbary Coast, while falling for his new singer (MacDonald) (and all ahead of the infamous 1906 San Francisco earthquake). Another Warner Archive release, making use of a French-dubbed nitrate fine grain second generation element (and some domestic elements as well), which amounts to this movie looking better than it has in a long time! Throw in the original 1936 ending (with the 1948 reissue ending as an extra), and this is one release that is well worth it!
  1. Show Boat (1951) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • In 2020, we got the 1936 version of Show Boat (from Criterion Collection). For 2021, we got the 1951 version with Kathryn Grayson, Ava Gardner and Howard Keel. Kathryn Grayson stars as the daughter of showboat owner Cap’n Andy (Joe E. Brown), who falls for riverboat gambler Gaylord Ravenal (Howard Keel). Long in need of restoration (as much as the film relies on its Technicolor imagery), Warner Archive created a new 4K master from the original three-strip Technicolor negatives, and it looks SUPERB!! Compared to how it has looked before, I still think this is the restoration of the year, making the Blu-ray well worth it for fans of the film!
  1. Take Me Out To The Ball Game (1949) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • Frank Sinatra, Esther Williams and Gene Kelly star in this classic musical! The returning baseball champs find themselves with a new owner (Williams), with two of the players falling for her. Warner Archive has given this movie a new restoration, and it looks to be one of the best-looking examples of the three-strip Technicolor process, as the color just pops, revealing all the wonderful details of the picture!
  1. A Night At The Opera (1935) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • In the first Marx Brothers film from MGM, the trio find themselves helping a couple of operatic singers to make it big in America. The film was cut for re-release during World War II (removing references to Italy), with the deleted scenes supposedly destroyed. Warner Archive haven’t located any of those deleted scenes, but they’ve given us a 4K scan of the best surviving preservation elements, and this film looks great! Until any of the deleted scenes are found in any usable form (if that ever happens), this is the best release one can hope for on this film!
  1. In The Good Old Summertime (1949) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • Judy Garland and Van Johnson star in this musical remake of The Shop Around The Corner. They play the bickering co-workers who are unknowingly falling for each other as pen pals. Another Yuletide classic featuring Judy singing the holiday tune “Merry Christmas!” Working from 4K scans of the original nitrate Technicolor negatives and preservation separations, this film looks great, and is a wonderful movie to watch around the holidays (or during the summer, too, I suppose 😉 )!
  1. Annie Get Your Gun (1950) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • Betty Hutton and Howard Keel star in this film version of the Broadway show (with music by Irving Berlin)! In this movie, Annie Oakley (Hutton) rises from a nobody to being an internationally renowned sharpshooter! This release features a 4K scan of most of the original nitrate Technicolor negatives (with two reels’ worth coming from positive safety separations due to those reels being burned in the infamous Eastman house fire), which brings out the color and detail!
  1. Bringing Up Baby (1938) (Criterion Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • In 2021, one of the biggest and best-known screwball comedies FINALLY made it to Blu-ray! In this movie, Cary Grant is an engaged paleontologist who accidentally gets mixed up with a flighty young woman (Katharine Hepburn). Madcap adventures ensue, including panthers, buried dinosaur bones, and jail time! The original camera negative may be long gone, but this transfer came from 4K scans of a 35 mm nitrate duplicate negative (from the British Film Institute) and a 35 mm safety fine-grain positive, resulting in a better transfer than what’s been available for a long time (and is certainly worth recommending)!
  1. Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • Screen legends Cary Grant and Myrna Loy are paired up for the third and final time, with Melvyn Douglas joining. Grant plays an advertising executive who wants a full-sized house for his family (instead of a cramped apartment), but when he remodels his new place, the costs start to skyrocket! Working from a 4K scan of the original camera negative, Warner Archive has another superlative release on their hands with a fantastic transfer!
  1. After The Thin Man (1936) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • After releasing the first film in the Thin Man series on Blu-ray in 2019, Warner Archive has finally continued the series, starting with that film’s (kinda-sorta) direct sequel! William Powell and Myrna Loy return as Nick and Nora Charles, who have arrived in San Francisco, only to find themselves trying to solve the murder of Nora’s cousin’s husband! Warner Archive made use of a 4K scan of safety fine grain film elements for this transfer, and it looks quite good! Certainly a worthy follow-up release after the first film was treated so well on Blu-ray!

Special Honorable Mention:

  • The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3
    • For the most part, my list tends towards movie releases, as those are the vast majority of what I buy. However, as you may have seen, I also enjoy looking into various theatrical short collections. In 2020, ClassicFlix announced (via crowdfunding campaign) their desire to restore the Hal Roach-owned Little Rascals shorts. While their campaign fell short, they went through with their plans anyway. They now have three volumes of Little Rascals shorts available on Blu-ray, uncut and fully restored. I’ve seen the first two volumes, which each contain eleven shorts starting with their first talkie, and continuing on from there. The shorts in these first two volumes look absolutely fantastic, and while I haven’t gotten around to the third volume yet, I’ve heard it looks just as good (if not even better)! With more on the way, I have a hard time not wanting to call these sets the releases of the year!

Honorable Mentions: Another Thin Man (1939) (Warner Archive, Blu-ray), Dinner At Eight (1933) (Warner Archive, Blu-ray), (tie) Mad About Music (1938) (Universal Studios, Blu-ray), (tie) Nice Girl? (1941) (Universal Studios, Blu-ray)

While the pandemic has still been raging on in places throughout 2021, physical media enthusiasts have had quite a good year! I would have to say that, once again, Warner Archive has won the year amongst the various labels. They continued to release a slew of musicals (with actress Doris Day getting well-represented), three-strip Technicolor films and various other classics, finally digging into more of Errol Flynn’s filmography (including the public domain Santa Fe Trail from 1940) and continuing the Thin Man series! Like I already said, I haven’t gotten any farther than their October releases, but November releases include the second-to-last film in the Thin Man series (The Thin Man Goes Home), another Doris Day musical (Lullaby Of Broadway), a Barbara Stanwyck pre-Code (Ladies They Talk About), a Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin film (Some Came Running), National Velvet and several others, with December seeing the long-awaited Angels With Dirty Faces (previously held back from being released because of right issues that popped up within the last decade) and Ivanhoe. Personally, I’m thrilled with their musical output for the year (especially with TWO Fred Astaire musicals represented). Honestly, the only complaint I have is that there was a rumor that at least one of the Astaire-Rogers films would be coming (but nothing showed up). I know, I know, internet rumors and all that, but when the source of that rumor claimed that there would be some Arthur Freed musicals (there were), some Val Lewtons (again, there were) and some Marx Brothers (and we got one), it’s disappointing that what I wanted most of the bunch was what DIDN’T come out (but, hopefully 2022 will bring at least one of them out on Blu-ray). Like last year, I want to throw in a plug for a film that, while I personally am not interested in it due to its genre, certainly is appealing for others: the 1932 horror film Dr. X, which, like 2020’s release of The Mystery Of The Wax Museum, was filmed in the Two-Color Technicolor process, with those elements nearly gone. But, in collaboration with UCLA Film & Television Archive and the Film Foundation, the film has been restored in the process (and the black-and-white version is included as well) for the Blu-ray release, which, from what I have heard, is highly recommended for those interested in that aspect of film history!

Personally, I would say that, apart from Warner Archives, I have mixed feelings about this year. Kino Lorber has been continuing to make deals with Universal and MGM, bringing out a lot of films (some of which they have remastered/restored themselves). I’m thrilled to see more W. C. Fields movies (four this year) that came from them (especially after having seen their Insider talking on multiple forums in the past about how their previous W. C. Field releases weren’t great sellers), with three more being worked on for next year (plus a few other non-W. C. Fields titles that were announced but are getting new 2K or 4K remasters that have pushed them into next year). We also got more Bob Hope from Kino, although I’m disappointed that their release of Nothing But The Truth was missing some of the film’s footage that had previously been included on Universal’s DVD, and the missing stereo sound on Thoroughly Modern Millie (for its overture, entr’acte and exit music) is also disappointing (and there have been a handful of other releases from them with a few mistakes this year as far as I’ve heard). And while I’m disappointed that Kino’s three-film set of Deanna Durbin films from the previous year was a poor seller (enough so that they dropped the other six films of hers that they had licensed, which I can’t say as I blame them for doing), I was thrilled to see Universal step up with their own MOD Blu-ray releases and release all six of those films (plus one more that I didn’t see coming!), along with the likes of State Of The Union and a Woody Woodpecker Screwball Collection in what was their most appealing lineup (to me) since their first year of releasing anything on Blu-ray via that line! Criterion has finally gotten into the UHD game, but (since I haven’t upgraded to that technology yet), they’ve really only had two releases this year that appealed to me (Bringing Up Baby and High Sierra). To be fair, with their higher prices, I don’t mind, given how much Warner Archive and others have been releasing. ClassicFlix has mainly been focusing a lot of their time, money and effort in their restorations of the Our Gang/Little Rascals shorts, but they’ve also finished out their DVD-only run of Hal Roach streamliners, along with a few other DVD-only films (due to lack of decent film elements), along with their Blu-ray and DVD of International Lady (they also announced a Blu-ray and DVD release for the 1949 Black Magic that was originally scheduled to come out this fall, but has since been delayed into next year). Overall, I think that 2021 has been filled with a great many releases on disc (too many in my book, both in terms of budget and time to watch everything), and what I’m hearing/seeing coming in 2022 looks to be just as good (if not better)!

Previous years:

2020

2019

2018

What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2021) with… After The Thin Man (1936)

Today, we’re going back to the Thin Man franchise with the second film in the series, After The Thin Man (1936), once again starring William Powell and Myrna Loy! But first, let’s get through the two shorts included on the disc, and then it’s on with the show!

Coming Up Shorts! with… How To Be A Detective (1936)

(available as an extra on the After The Thin Man Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection)

(Length: 8 minutes, 49 seconds)

Robert Benchley lectures on how to be a detective. The short has several sections, with him taking part in the gags as he tries to “demonstrate” what’s he teaching. It’s not a short that will have you completely busting a gut, but it has its moments of good humor. I’ve enjoyed Robert Benchley in the various movies I’ve seen him in, and he’s still good here, too!

Coming Up Shorts! with… The Early Bird And The Worm (1936)

(available as an extra on the After The Thin Man Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection)

(Length: 9 minutes, 14 seconds)

The Early Bird chases the worm, although a “rattle” snake joins in, looking for a meal of its own. Another entry in the “Happy Harmonies” series of cartoons from MGM, this one is a bit of fun. While it starts out in a more musical style, it quickly gives way to the old “predator vs. prey” type, as the bird chases the worm. Of course, the two “enemies” become friends to save each other from the snake. The animation is fun here (although the two crows in the short are rather dated stereotypes, similar to the crows from the Disney animated classic Dumbo). A very enjoyable cartoon overall!

And Now For The Main Feature…

Following closely on the heels of The Thin Man (not really a spoiler, as it only acknowledges that the previous mystery was solved, but doesn’t say who did it), detective Nick Charles (William Powell) and his wealthy wife Nora (Myrna Loy) return to their home in San Francisco via train on New Year’s Eve. Hoping to be alone, they find a party going on at their home (supposedly a surprise party for them, but the guest list includes people they don’t even know). They are quickly invited to dinner with some of Nora’s family. They are both reluctant to go (Nick in particular), but Nora’s cousin, Selma Landis (Elissa Landi), pleads with them to come, so they do. Arriving at the home of Nora’s aunt Katherine Forrest (Jessie Ralph), they soon find Selma all worked up about something. They quickly discover that her husband has disappeared for a few days, and she wants them to find him. Nick quickly goes to a Chinese nightclub, which is run by “Dancer” (Joesph Calleia) and his partner Lum Kee (William Law). There, they discover Selma’s husband Robert Landis (Alan Marshal), drunk and waiting for his girlfriend, singer Polly Byrnes (who is played by Dorothy McNulty, or as her later stage name would be, Penny Singleton). Robert expresses no desire to go back to his wife, and leaves the nightclub with Polly. Later, he meets alone with Selma’s former boyfriend, David Graham (James Stewart), who gives Robert $25,000 worth of bonds to go away and never return. Robert takes the money, stopping off at his house to grab a few things before he goes. However, as he leaves, he is fatally shot, with it looking like Selma shot him. With Nick on the case to help prove Selma’s innocence, and the aid of police lieutenant Abrams (Sam Levene), will they be able to discover the truth, or will Selma be hanged for the murder of her husband?

The first Thin Man was a minor film, one that MGM had low expectations for, and only got made because director W. S. Van Dyke was able to film it in a very short period of time. The movie turned out to be more successful than MGM imagined, and they got the gang (Powell, Loy and director Van Dyke) back together for another go-round. Thin Man author Dashiell Hammett was brought in to write the story for the film sequel. Of course, they continued to use the “Thin Man” for the title (trying to imply that it took place after the first film), even though the reference was originally to a character in the first film (but audiences associated the phrase with William Powell’s Nick Charles, so the title stuck for the remainder of the series). They had a much bigger budget for the sequel, and more time to work with for filming, and they made use of the opportunity to do some filming in San Francisco itself. The film was another hit (and one of three films in 1936 pairing William Powell and Myrna Loy, with the other two being Libeled Lady and The Great Ziegfeld), and so the series continued on with another entry a few years later.

Much like when I watched and reviewed the first Thin Man a few years back, this was my first time seeing this movie. Of course, being a bit more familiar with the first film now (having watched it again right before seeing this sequel), the exact style of the movie isn’t as much of a surprise (nor was the idea that I would like it). I thought the first film focused more on the comedy than the mystery, but the comedy was increased even more here! As with the first film, the booze was flowing freely for Nick and Nora, and their banter continues to add to the fun! James Stewart is also interesting in one of his early roles, as a previously spurned lover. I think I prefer the first film for its mystery and the innuendoes that got through (since it was a pre-Code), but this one is still good fun, and leaves me looking forward to seeing the rest of the series!

This movie is available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection, featuring a 4K scan of the best surviving preservation elements (which in this case was a safety fine grain made back in the 1960s, before the original camera negative was gone). As I already said, I hadn’t seen this movie previously, so I have no past experience with how it looked. But, I can say with enough confidence that this transfer is fantastic (but, it’s from Warner Archive, so that’s nothing new)! The detail and clarity is there, with all the dirt and debris removed. I can think of no better way to be introduced to this classic mystery comedy, and I can only hope that the rest of the series (including the already announced for Blu-ray Another Thin Man) can get this kind of treatment!

Film Length: 1 hour, 52 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

*ranked #10 in Top 10 Disc Releases Of 2021

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Libeled Lady (1936) – William Powell – Another Thin Man (1939)

Libeled Lady (1936) – Myrna Loy – Another Thin Man (1939)

Born To Dance (1936) – James Stewart – Vivacious Lady (1938)

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