Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2022) on… Murder By Death (1976)

-Sidney Wang (Peter Sellers) – “Never consider murder to be business, Mr. Diamond”

And yet, for the Fall 2022 blogathon from the Classic Movie Blog Association (CMBA), that is the business, as the theme is “Movies Are Murder!” On that note, I decided to go with a murder comedy I’ve enjoyed for a long time (but haven’t gotten around to writing about yet), 1976’s Murder By Death, starring Eileen Brennan, Truman Capote, James Coco, Peter Falk, Alec Guinness, Elsa Lanchester, David Niven, Peter Sellers, Maggie Smith, Nancy Walker and Estelle Winwood!

Five famous detectives and their associates have received an invitation to “dinner and a murder” at the mansion of Lionel Twain (Truman Capote). This group includes Dick Charleston (David Niven) and his wife, Dora (Maggie Smith); Inspector Sidney Wang (Peter Sellers) and his adopted son Willie (Richard Narita); Milo Perrier (James Coco) and his chauffeur, Marcel Cassette (James Cromwell); Sam Diamond (Peter Falk) and his secretary, Tess Skeffington (Eileen Brennan); and Jessica Marbles (Elsa Lanchester) with her nurse, Miss Withers (Estelle Winwood). In the leadup to the dinner, there are various attempts on their lives, which all fail. During the dinner, their host (who had previously kept to himself) appears, and explains why he brought them all there. Every one of those detectives had a reputation for solving every one of their cases, and Mr. Twain wanted to bet them all that he could solve a murder before them. He predicted that one person sitting at that table would be murdered at midnight, and another would be the murderer. While he disappears, everyone else vows to stay together, although at various times, they leave the room to investigate some of the goings-on in the house. At midnight, Mr. Twain himself appears, dead (and murdered exactly as he had predicted). So, the detectives and their associates all set out to figure out who indeed murdered Twain. But will they succeed, or will Mr. Twain get the upper hand (even though he’s dead)?

Ah, the murder mystery. The genre has long been a favorite with readers and moviegoers alike. Of course, with good murder mysteries come various detectives, who become famous for their wit and their ingenuity in solving these crimes. Some authors were able to create memorable detectives that audiences loved and followed through entire series, both on the big screen and in the written word. Murder By Death was writer Neil Simon’s spoof of the detective genre. In particular, he parodied detectives from Agatha Christie (Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple), Dashiell Hammett (Nick and Nora Charles, Sam Spade) and Earl Derr Biggers (Charlie Chan). A number of big stars were offered roles (including original Thin Man actress Myrna Loy), but they turned them down. Those that did decide to take part in the film enjoyed themselves. Alec Guinness in particular thoroughly enjoyed himself, as he made the trip to Hollywood to make the film (not something he was prone to doing). In fact, he had to reassure author Neil Simon that he was having fun with it (since the author liked him so much that he offered to rewrite anything to suit him). Admittedly, some of the cast didn’t exactly have a lot of faith in the film, as Peter Sellers sold his share of the percentage back to the producers of the film, and the company that David Niven’s son was working for (and which had invested in the film) believed they would be writing it off as a tax loss. And yet, the movie ended up being the eighth biggest hit of 1976.

I first saw this film when it was given to me on DVD along with two other Peter Falk films (this film’s 1978 “sequel”, The Cheap Detective as well as the 1979 film The In-Laws). Even though I had no experience with any of the detectives that the film was spoofing (outside of Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon), I took to the film right away! The movie has a lot of twists and turns as we see the murder occur and then get solved (if you can call it that) by the film’s end. Admittedly, the film’s ending does leave you with a number of rather big plot-holes, but, at the same time, it’s so fun that I can easily forgive the movie as I get swept up in the proceedings! In general, I think all of the cast do quite well, from Peter Falk’s excellent imitation of Humphrey Bogart, to David Niven and Maggie Smith, who come off quite similarly to William Powell and Myrna Loy’s Nick and Nora Charles from the Thin Man films. Personally, I think that Alec Guinness’ role as the blind butler Jamessir Bensonmum is one of his best, as he is quite funny (especially with that name!). I have to throw in a SPOILER ALERT to say this, but he is at his absolute best when we see him at the end of the film, revealed as the culprits by the various detectives, and he changes his manner and character so well every time that one of the detectives comes in and accuses him of being somebody different. END SPOILER ALERT

Besides Alec Guinness, I also really like Peter Sellers here. Normally, I don’t care for him at all, but his performance as Sydney Wang is a real delight (even if it isn’t exactly politically correct, since he’s wearing yellowface to appear Asian). Quite frankly, he’s one of the most quotable characters in the film for me, with this line being a personal favorite:

-Sidney Wang (Peter Sellers) – “Conversation like television set on honeymoon. Unnecessary!”

But aside from some of his sayings (or “stories” as he calls them), I most enjoy his interactions with Truman Capote’s Lionel Twain, who is almost a grammar Nazi with regards to Wang’s ability to speak English, as exemplified by this exchange:

-Sidney Wang (Peter Sellers) – “What meaning of this, Mr. Twain?”

-Lionel Twain (Truman Capote) – “I will tell you, Mr. Wang, if you can tell me why a man who possesses one of the most brilliant minds of this century can’t say his prepositions or articles. ‘The,’ Mr. Wang, ‘What is the meaning of this?”

-Sidney Wang (Peter Sellers) – “That’s what I said. What meaning of this?”

Of course, I just love how Wang refers to a moose head mounted on the wall (which Twain is using to watch them) as a “cow on wall.” Quite frankly, my only really serious complaint about this movie is that these two don’t interact enough.

Apart from that, I do know that this movie isn’t for everyone. Aside from Peter Sellers being made up to look Asian, the movie has a number of other things going on that keep it from being politically correct. In general, there are a handful of racist comments (usually directed towards Peter Seller’s Wang or his Japanese son, played by Richard Narita). There are definitely some issues with sexism going on, and a number of homophobic comments as well. Plain and simple, it’s not a perfect film. But, it’s one I have enjoyed seeing on an almost yearly basis (especially around the Halloween season) ever since I first saw it, and it’s one that I highly recommend (at least, for those who can get past its issues). And with that, I leave with a quote that admittedly needs another spoiler warning (since it comes from the end of the film, and hints enough at the film’s ending), but it’s one that feels apropos for the whole “Movies Are Murder!” blogathon (not to mention, it’s certainly how things sometimes feel when things don’t go our way). So thank you all for reading (and don’t let the “murder” referred to in this quote be the situation for you this weekend, either 😉 )!

SPOILER ALERT

-Willie Wang (Richard Narita) – “I don’t understand, Pop. Was there a murder or wasn’t there?”

-Sidney Wang (Peter Sellers) – “Yes. Killed good weekend.”

What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2018) with… Murder By Death (1976)

This movie is available on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory. The transfer seems to be using an HD scan. For the most part, it looks pretty good. There is some damage in the form of specks and dirt, but it’s really only visible on bigger and better TVs. Overall, it’s the way that I would recommend seeing the movie.

Film Length: 1 hour, 35 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

*ranked #9 in Top 10 Movies Watched In 2022

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Robin And The 7 Hoods (1964) – Peter Falk

Naughty Marietta (1935) – Elsa Lanchester

Magnificent Doll (1946) – David Niven

The Notorious Landlady (1962) – Estelle Winwood

As an Amazon Affiliate, this site gets a small percentage for every purchase made upon using one of the Amazon links, even if it’s not the movie I linked to (and it’s at no extra cost to you). If you like what I’m doing with the blog, please consider using them so that I can continue to do more!

What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2022) with… Song Of The Thin Man (1947)

We’re back for not only one final go-round with William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles, but one final (for now) individual review in my “What’s Old Is A New Release Again” series, as I switch to a roundup of quick blurbs about a group of movies (hopefully within the next few weeks). But enough about that, we’re here for the 1947 mystery comedy Song Of The Thin Man!

Coming Up Shorts! with… Free Wheeling (1932)

(available on Blu-ray as part of The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 3 (1932-1933) from ClassicFlix)

(Length: 19 minutes, 49 seconds)

Young Dickie (Dickie Moore) has a stiff neck which requires a neck brace, but the doctors say that he can and should take it off (although his mother disagrees with them). Dickie ends up joining Stymie (Matthew Beard) and the Gang in their makeshift taxi. This one was another entertaining short, with quite a few humorous moments. I know I enjoyed Dickie’s attempt to avoid taking castor oil (and his subsequent revenge on his nurse). Then there is the taxi (pushed by a mule) and all the various devices to simulate a real taxi ride. The final ride through the countryside is less than convincing due to the rather obvious rear screen projection, but that’s a rare complaint about an otherwise very enjoyable short with the Gang!

Coming Up Shorts! with… A Really Important Person (1947)

(Available as an extra on the Song Of The Thin Man Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection)

(Length: 10 minutes, 50 seconds)

Young Billy Reilly (Dean Stockwell) wants to write an essay on an important person for a contest, but he can’t think of anybody. It isn’t until he accidentally breaks a window during a baseball game and is pushed by his father to help repair it that he is able to come up with a subject. This short, part of John Nesbit’s Passing Parade series, was a good one. It has a good message of not always needing to look for heroes among the big names and celebrities, but also within your own neighborhood (and even your own home when applicable). It was well-acted, and very heartfelt. It’s the only short I’ve seen from that series so far, and, while not enough of a ringing endorsement for me to seek out more, it was at least an entertaining one.

Coming Up Shorts! with… Slap Happy Lion (1947)

(Available as an extra on the Song Of The Thin Man Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection)

(Length: 7 minutes, 26 seconds)

The lion is the king of the jungle and afraid of nobody. That is, until a mouse keeps picking on him. This Tex Avery short is quite funny, especially with the various lion roars (and the reactions of the different animals when they run in fear). Of course, the fight between the mouse and the lion (which is the majority of the short) is nothing new in and of itself. The main humor there is doing things Tex Avery’s way (which is certainly entertaining). It’s an overall fun cartoon (especially with that ending), and it’s one I don’t mind revisiting!

And Now For The Main Feature…

Phil Orval Brant (Bruce Cowling) is hosting a society benefit on his ship, the S. S. Fortune, and Nick (William Powell) and Nora Charles (Myrna Loy) are there hobnobbing with the rest of them. There is a jazz orchestra playing there, under the leadership of Tommy Edlon Drake (Phillip Reed). However, Tommy is getting into trouble in various ways, and, after the event is over, he is shot. The police think that Phil is the guilty party, but, when Phil and his new wife, Janet Thayar (Jayne Meadows), show up the next day to visit the Charles, Nick and Nora at first assume that’s it’s because of their new marital status (until Phil and Janet explain to them what has happened). They are shot at by some unknown assailant, and Nick decides to turn Phil in to the police for safety (since he thinks the shot was intended for Phil). Later, Nick sneaks onto the Fortune (which is being guarded by the police), where he meets the members of the jazz orchestra. He learns how none of them liked Tommy, particularly clarinet player, Buddy Hollis (Don Taylor) (who isn’t there with the rest of the group). Nick convinces another clarinet player, Clarence “Clinker” Krause (Keenan Wynn), to help him locate Buddy, but they have no luck. Nick later has an idea, and, with the aid of Nora, questions Janet and her father, David I. Thayar (Ralph Morgan) (who did not approve of Janet’s marriage to Phil) about an antique gun (since David has a collection of them). During their conversation, Janet gets a mysterious telephone call, and the whole interrogation ends abruptly. Nick and Nora follow Janet to an apartment, where they find the dead body of the band’s singer, Fran Ledue Page (Gloria Grahame). They find a clue that leads them to a rest home, where they find Buddy (who has been staying there after his alcoholism broke his mind). By all appearances, it almost looks like Buddy is the murderer, but Nick isn’t sure. Working with the police, he manages to gather all the suspects on the Fortune, where he hopes everything will be revealed. But will his plan work?

With Myrna Loy returning to Hollywood (after her failed marriage to John Hertz, Jr. and all her work for the war effort), The Thin Man Goes Home continued the success of the Thin Man series. However, things had changed enough that the series no longer had the guaranteed success it had previously known. With the death of W. S. “Woody” Van Dyke (who had directed the first four films), and different writers behind the scenes, only the onscreen talent remained the same. Song Of The Thin Man brought back actor Leon Ames from The Thin Man Goes Home (the original plan was to have him be the same character, except his onscreen wife from the previous film was unavailable, so he was instead given a different character to work with). The role of Nickie, Jr. (played in Shadow Of The Thin Man by Richard “Dickie” Hall) was recast with Dean Stockwell for Song Of The Thin Man. The presence of William Powell and Myrna Loy wasn’t enough to save the film this time for audiences, as the movie ended up losing money at the box office. In the process, it not only ended the series, it also ended up being the last full movie pairing William Powell and Myrna Loy (with her making a cameo appearance in another 1947 outing for William Powell, The Senator Was Indiscreet), as well as being Myrna’s last film at MGM.

Like all the previous entries in the series, this one was new to me. I will be very quick to admit that I still enjoyed this one, but, at the same time, it is indeed easy to see it was not as well done as the earlier films. The humor overall wasn’t as memorable, with the main comedy bits that stuck with me being the “Jive talk” that Keenan Wynn’s Clinker frequently engages in, to the particular confusion of Nick and Nora (and probably modern audiences who may not be as used to the slang). The mystery itself is decent here, but, at the same time, the final reveal wasn’t handled as well as the earlier films, lacking all the frequent misdirections (or at least, they were poorly handled here). My opinion may not be as favorable, but I can’t deny that the movie is still entertaining, and worth it for more time with William Powell and Myrna Loy’s Nick and Nora, who still have the same chemistry that had held all the series together. So, for them alone, this movie is still worth recommending (but, again, I don’t recommend binge-watching the whole series, as this film looks worse when compared directly against the earlier films).

This movie is available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection, featuring a new 4K scan of the best preservation elements. Quite simply stated, the movie looks as good as all the earlier films, with a good image that has been cleaned up of dirt and debris. I certainly recommend this release as the best way to see and enjoy this movie!

Film Length: 1 hour, 27 minutes

My Rating: 8/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Ziegfeld Follies (1945) – William Powell – Mister Roberts (1955)

The Thin Man Goes Home (1945) – Myrna Loy – Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948)

As an Amazon Affiliate, this site gets a small percentage for every purchase made upon using one of the Amazon links, even if it’s not the movie I linked to (and it’s at no extra cost to you). If you like what I’m doing with the blog, please consider using them so that I can continue to do more!

What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2021) with… Shadow Of The Thin Man (1941)

We’re back again for more adventures with Nick and Nora Charles (William Powell and Myrna Loy, respectively) in a film that is only a Shadow Of The Thin Man (1941)! 😉

Coming Up Shorts! with… Choo-Choo! (1932)

(available on Blu-ray as part of The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 3 (1932-1933) from ClassicFlix)

(Length: 20 minutes, 42 seconds)

When a group of orphans come through on a train, a few of them who are trying to run away decide to switch places with some of the Gang.  Mr. Henderson (Dell Henderson) is stuck trying to bring the “orphans” back to where they belong.  This one was quite entertaining, what with all the antics as the kids keep causing trouble on the train.  In between getting into fights with each other (and some of the other passengers), plus keeping everybody awake by being noisy and letting some animals and fireworks loose, this one is full of laughs (although the gag of Spanky punching everybody quickly grows old).  Oliver Hardy even makes an appearance in this one, encouraging the kids in their mischief!  Overall, quite fun, and one I would definitely look forward to coming back to!

Coming Up Shorts! with… The Tell-Tale Heart (1941)

(Available as an extra on the Shadow Of The Thin Man Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection)

(Length: 19 minutes, 45 seconds)

An assistant to an old weaver suffers great mental and physical abuse from his master, and decides to kill him.  However, his conscience gets the better of him, as he is haunted by the sounds of his late master’s heartbeat.  This short is based on the Edgar Allen Poe story, and really does it justice.  Joseph Schildkraut plays the young man, as he slowly goes insane, particularly when questioned by the authorities on the whereabouts of his master.  Roman Bohnen as the Old Man with a milky eye manages to prove nasty and creepy in a short time.  Overall, this short is very well-acted and very effective in showing how one’s conscience can get the better of you when you do wrong.

Coming Up Shorts! with… The Goose Goes South (1941)

(Available as an extra on the Shadow Of The Thin Man Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection)

(Length: 6 minutes, 12 seconds)

It’s that time of the year when all the geese fly south for the winter.  All but one, that is, as he decides to try and hitchhike his way down there.  This short was fairly entertaining, especially with the recurring gag of one driver who speaks in double-talk as to why he can’t give the goose a ride.  Some gags are questionable, especially those that don’t really have anything to do with the plot of the goose trying to make his way south (and there are several of those moments).  It’s not the greatest short, but it provided a few laughs, which made it worth at least one viewing, anyways!

And Now For The Main Feature…

Nick Charles (William Powell) is enjoying his “retirement” from detective work with his wife Nora (Nyrna Loy) and their young son Nick, Jr. (Richard “Dickie” Hall).  However, on a trip to the racetrack, Nick and Nora find the place crawling with cops.  Apparently, one of the jockeys had been shot, and the police, led by Nick’s friend Lieutenant Abrams (Sam Levene), are trying to figure out who did it.  The police and the reporters all ask Nick if he is there to work on that case, but, interested though he may be, he denies being involved with it.  Later, reporter Paul Clarke (Barry Nelson) and Major Jason I. Sculley (Henry O’Neill), a special deputy to the State Legislature, stop by the Charles’ home.  They explain that they both have been trying to work on taking down a gambling syndicate. Apparently, that jockey was supposed to be their best (and only) witness, and so they ask Nick’s help in trying to find out what happened (but he declines again, stating that he promised to take Nora to a wrestling match that night).  While Nick and Nora are watching the wrestling match at the arena (which is run by members of the gambling syndicate), “Whitey” Barrow (Alan Baxter), another reporter (who has been helping keep the syndicate out of trouble), has decided that he wants out, and blackmails the leaders in exchange for his silence.  Paul borrows a key to one of the leader’s offices from his girlfriend, Molly Ford (Donna Reed), and looks for evidence.  When he finds a ledger that could do the trick, Whitey walks in, and a fight ensues. Whitey manages to knock out Paul and take the ledger, but someone else shoots him with his own gun before he can get out of there. The police show up (right as Nick and Nora are getting ready to leave the arena), and they end up arresting Paul for Whitey’s murder. Nick believes him to be innocent, and looks back over the jockey’s locker room the next day. He realizes that the jockey accidentally shot himself, but he convinces Lieutenant Abrams to keep going with the story that both the jockey and Whitey were killed by the same person to help root out the real killer. As he keeps investigating, Nick finds several suspects, and one more body. When everybody is gathered together, he hopes to reveal everything. But will he get the right killer, or will they get away with it?

With Another Thin Man (1939) continuing to be profitable for MGM, it was a given that they would keep the series going with a fourth entry. However, it wasn’t that simple behind the scenes. The husband-and-wife writing team behind the scripts for the first three films, Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, had tired of doing the series, and refused to do another. Instead, Harry Kurnitz and Irving Brecher wrote the script (which was based on a story by Harry Kurnitz himself, as opposed to author Dashiell Hammett, who was at least partly involved on the first three films in the series, but not at all for the last three). William Powell, meanwhile, had been reluctant to do much acting work for the last few years, in between his health as he recovered from rectal cancer and the death of his fiancée, Jean Harlow, in 1937. The only films he had done since his recovery were a few opposite Myrna Loy (including Another Thin Man, I Love You Again and Love Crazy). Still, even with all those problems going on behind the scenes, audiences still went to see the movie, making it profitable for MGM (and encouraging them to keep making more).

Like with the earlier entries in the series, this was my first time seeing this movie as well. Plain and simple, I did like this one! The humor still worked well for me, from Nick Jr. pushing his father to drink milk instead of his favorite beverage (in a moment that made me think of W. C. Fields and how he would have potentially reacted in the same situation), to the way Nora started really getting into the wrestling match they were watching (with Nick getting stuck in a hold), to Nick being stuck on the merry-go-round (and so many more hilarious moments)! I will admit, I can see the series starting to lose steam with this film, as it did seem to be more of the same (you just knew that all the suspects would be gathered at the end for the reveal of the killer, with many of them looking very guilty for a brief moment), and the mystery itself didn’t seem to be any great shakes. Still, it was entertaining, especially for more time with William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora! Definitely still good enough to recommend (just don’t binge-watch the whole series, or it won’t be as enjoyable)!

This movie is available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection featuring a new 4K scan of the best surviving preservation elements. Once again, the transfer is top-notch (it’s from the Warner Archive Collection, after all), with a crisp image and all the dust and dirt cleaned up. Very easy to recommend, along with all the earlier entries in the series!

Film Length: 1 hour, 37 minutes

My Rating: 9/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Another Thin Man (1939) – William Powell – The Thin Man Goes Home (1945)

Another Thin Man (1939) – Myrna Loy – The Thin Man Goes Home (1945)

As an Amazon Affiliate, this site gets a small percentage for every purchase made upon using one of the Amazon links, even if it’s not the movie I linked to (and it’s at no extra cost to you).  If you like what I’m doing with the blog, please consider using them so that I can continue to do more!

What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2021) with.. Another Thin Man (1939)

Wouldn’t you know it, it’s time for yet ANOTHER Thin Man review (or is that a review of Another Thin Man 😉 ). This 1939 entry in the Thin Man series as usual features William Powell as Nick Charles and Myrna Loy as Nora Charles!

Coming Up Shorts! with… The First Seven Years (1930)

(available on Blu-ray as part of The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 1 (1929-1930) from ClassicFlix)

(Length: 20 minutes, 10 seconds)

Jackie (Jackie Cooper) wants Mary Ann (Mary Ann Jackson) to be his “wife,” but has to fight Speck (Donald Haines) for her affections. This one was rather hilarious, with Edgar Kennedy again returning as Kennedy the cop (and giving Jackie advice about girls). Of course, when all is said and done, Mary Ann pushes Jackie and Speck to duel over her like the knights of old (to hilarious effect)! A lot of fun, good humor, and a “swordfight” to boot!

Coming Up Shorts! with… Love On Tap (1939)

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

(Length: 10 minutes, 47 seconds)

Penny (Mary Howard), the manager of the Abbott Dancers, keeps getting distracted by them when she tries to get married to her fiancé, Tommy (Truman Bradley). This is an, at best, average short, with a less-than-likable lead who keeps putting off getting married without caring how her actions are hurting her long-suffering fiancé. Some of the dancing from the Abbott Dancers is fun, with all the tricks they pull off, although the music itself is forgettable. Probably not one that I would necessarily plan on revisiting that much.

Coming Up Shorts! with… The Bookworm (1939)

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

(Length: 8 minutes, 24 seconds)

The witches from MacBeth require a worm for their potion, so they send a raven after the bookworm. There’s some amusement here, with the ways that the little bookworm gets around the raven. However, it’s hard to develop much interest here, as it’s another in a long line of animated shorts from that era featuring characters from different books all interacting with each other. The animation is pretty good, and there are a few good gags, but, overall, this one is rather easy to forget.

And Now For The Main Feature…

Nick (William Powell) and Nora Charles (Myrna Loy) have come back to New York City with their one-year-old son Nicky, hoping for a quiet weekend. That hope is short-lived, however, when they hear from Colonel MacFay (C. Aubrey Smith), a former business partner of Nora’s father (and who is also handling her estate). The colonel is adamant that they come out to see him, so they reluctantly pack up to go to the colonel’s estate. They think it’s only about business (which is why they were reluctant to go in the first place), but they quickly find that the colonel’s estate is heavily guarded. When they finally get to the house, they find out that a former employee of his, Phil Church (Sheldon Leonard), had done prison time, and was now trying to extort money from the colonel, mostly by claiming that he is dreaming that the colonel will be murdered (and Church claims that when he dreams the same thing three times, it usually comes true). Nick tries to see Church and his girlfriend, Smitty (Muriel Hutchison), but Church refuses to take back his “dreams” (although he “promises” to leave). Nick returns to the colonel’s estate, where they stay the night. During the night, they are visited by the colonel’s adopted daughter, Lois MacFay (Virginia Grey), when they hear a gunshot go off. Rushing to the colonel’s room, they find him, dead. When the police arrive, they question everybody, including Nick and Nora. While everybody is outside looking for a knife that Nick and Nora’s dog Asta was carrying around, Lois comes running, claiming her fiancé Dudley Horn (Patric Knowles) is gunning for Nick. Before he can do anything, Dudley is shot (and killed) by the police. Nick and Nora return to the city (with everyone else in tow), where the two of them try to pick up any clues they can as to the whereabouts of Church. As the clues (and the suspects) mount, can they solve the crime, or will the colonel’s murder go unsolved?

After the success of both The Thin Man and After The Thin Man, MGM made plans to do another film. However, those plans for a third film were delayed, as, before filming could commence, star William Powell was diagnosed with cancer in 1938 (resulting in him taking time off while he underwent several operations). After a time, he recovered, and came back to work. Of course, care was taken so as to keep him from overdoing things. Director Woody Van Dyke insisted on only filming for about six hours a day, and working on four soundstages with a larger crew than usual to help keep things as efficient as possible. For the story, they went back to the well of Dashiell Hammett (author of the original novel), and used his story “The Farewell Murder.” Of course, the film was still a hit, resulting in the series continuing a few years later with Shadow Of the Thin Man!

As you can no doubt guess, based off my previous reviews of the first two films, this was my first time seeing this film, too. Of course, also like the other two, it was one that I enjoyed very much! While we’re still getting further from the pre-Code days, there’s still some fun to be had (and they certainly can’t keep William Powell’s Nick out of the booze, either 😉 )! The relationship between Nick and Myrna Loy’s Nora is still at the forefront, with her trying to get involved in solving the crime (sometimes to hilarious effect)! I enjoyed the scene at the nightclub, where they both ended up there separately, while still finding stuff out, but the scene when they were checking out the room of a suspect at an apartment building was quite hilarious! It was also made more memorable by the presence of Marjorie Main in one of her earlier roles (while still having some of the persona that she would be known for), as she shows Nick the room (while trying not to let Nora know anything, as they “claimed” to be separate, with her “looking” for a room to rent). Of course, throw in a brief appearance by an uncredited Shemp Howard in this movie, and it’s golden! I still think the first film is the best, but I’ll take this one (especially since Nat Pendelton returned to reprise his role as Lieutenant Guild from the first film)! I know I still look forward to trying the rest of the series, whenever I can get that far! Highly recommended!

This movie is available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection, working from a 4K scan of the best surviving preservation elements. Considering it’s from Warner Archive, there’s no mystery here about the transfer. It looks GREAT!!! Seriously, they’ve done a great job with the elements they had to work with, and the picture looks as sharp and detailed as one could hope for! Easily a highly recommended release!

Film Length: 1 hour, 43 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

After The Thin Man (1936) – William Powell – Shadow Of The Thin Man (1941)

After The Thin Man (1936) – Myrna Loy – Shadow Of The Thin Man (1941)

Marjorie Main – Meet Me In St. Louis (1944)

Shemp Howard – Buck Privates (1941)

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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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What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2020) with… Murder In Greenwich Village (1937)

As the old saying goes, “you can’t judge a book by its cover,” so you can’t judge this next movie by its film title (or its original poster art, which was used for the recent Blu-ray release, for that matter). It’s the 1937 screwball mystery Murder In Greenwich Village, starring Richard Arlen and Fay Wray!

One evening, photographer Steve Havens Jackson Jr. (Richard Arlen) spies Kay “Lucky” Cabot (Fay Wray) climbing down a fire escape in someone else’s pajamas. He brings her back to his apartment, where he introduces her to his friends (and models) Flo Melville (Wyn Cahoon), Larry Foster (Scott Colton), “Angel Annie” (Mary Russell) and the Senator (Raymond Walburn). Steve takes a picture of Kay for one of his advertising ideas in exchange for some clothes for her to wear home. The next day, it is revealed that another photographer, Philip Morgan, had been murdered, and that it was his apartment Kay had been leaving the night before. Kay comes back to Steve, hoping to have him pose as her fiance in the hopes of providing herself an alibi. He is reluctant, but he does so when the police arrive. However, the two find themselves hounded by Philip’s brother, racketeer Rusty Morgan (Marc Lawrence), who wants to find his brother’s murderer. In return for Steve’s help, Kay turns to her friend Rodney Hunter (Leon Ames) to help get Steve a job in the advertising department at International Chromium Corporation. She helps Steve try to take some photos to help him get the job, but he loses out when one of his models, Larry Foster, is found murdered, and the police question Steve about it. While they have been falling for each other, Kay and Steve still find themselves at odds. Can they come together and see the murder solved?

As I said in my quick intro, this is a movie that, upon seeing its title or original poster, you would be thinking it would be a murder mystery or a film noir, but it isn’t. Now, before the recent Blu-ray release, I hadn’t even heard of this movie, so when it was announced, I looked it up to read a little about it. The moment I saw it described as being a “screwball” movie, I knew I wanted to see it! Especially now, during this pandemic, comedies appeal SOOOO much more to me than dramas (although not as much as musicals, but I’ll still take a good comedy when given the opportunity). So, in that regard, this movie did its job. It’s not going to be remembered for its mystery, which is barely there, with its main connection being the constantly intruding (or maybe I should borrow his mis-pronunciation and say “pro-truding”) detective Henderson (played by Gene Morgan). I mean, the murder does get solved, but it almost seems to come from nowhere, especially since the two main characters are not actively trying to solve it.

Like I said, though, the comedy worked. I know I enjoyed watching Raymond Walburn as the Senator (so-named because of his eloquence and not because of an actual job title). Richard Arlen’s character’s habit of dramatizing for his photographs (and when the police are snooping around) is also a lot of fun. And I guarantee that I’m going to remember the scene in the department store for quite a while! So, again, watching this movie is all about managing your expectations. If you’re looking for a film noir or a good murder mystery, based on the title, you will be disappointed. However, if you’re looking for a good comedy,then the possibility of enjoying it is there. I liked it, and for that reason I would indeed recommend it!

This movie is available on Blu-ray from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment through their manufacture-on-demand (MOD) line. As far as the transfer goes, this movie looks and sounds fantastic! On that regard, I couldn’t ask for better! This release is bare-bones, with no extras or menu (which is fine). The only complaint I have (and it’s a minor one) is lack of subtitles. As I said, the audio is good, and I can understand everything clearly. But, I am young yet, and not all their audience for this release will still have the ability to hear clearly. I understand that to have subtitles certainly costs money, especially for a movie like this one that has no prior release on home video (like DVD) where they would have been done. But I know that Warner Archive Collection (Warner’s MOD division) has subtitles on all their Blu-ray releases, whether they are upgrades of titles put out on DVD by their retail division (Warner Home Video) that had subtitles, upgrades of WAC DVD releases (which didn’t any) or titles that made the jump straight to Blu-ray (and all their releases cost less, too). If Sony’s MOD division can change that, then they are heading in the right direction (and I still recommend this release if this movie appeals to you)! The movie is one hour, eight minutes in length.

My Rating: 8/10

Audience Rating:

Coming Up Shorts! with… Lumberjack And Jill (1949)

(available on Blu-ray and DVD as part of Popeye The Sailor: The 1940s Volume 3 from Warner Archive Collection)

Disclaimer: On the disc case, it is noted that the set is intended for the adult collector, which is because these shorts were made at a time when a lot of racist and sexist stereotypes were prevalent. All I’m trying to say is, parents, be careful about just sticking these on for your kids.

Welcome to my new feature on various theatrical shorts! Sometimes my comments will be on shorts included as extras on a disc set I am reviewing, and other times, they will be completely unrelated to the movie being reviewed (and I will try to indicate which). Hope you enjoy!

(Length: 6 minutes, 30 seconds)

Lumberjacks Popeye and Bluto fight over the new camp cook, Olive. While still formulaic, it’s nice to find another cartoon where Popeye and Bluto don’t start out as enemies. A few fun gags here and there making use of the lumberjack setting. Nothing big that’s new for the series, but it’s still worth a few laughs!

And stay tuned for more of Coming Up Shorts! featuring more of Popeye (and the eventual post on the entire 1940s Volume 3 set), along with other shorts!

Film Legends Of Yesteryear (2019): 1939 on… The Hound Of The Baskervilles (1939)

Up for a good mystery? Then let’s get into The Hound Of The Baskervilles from 1939, starring Richard Greene, Basil Rathbone, Wendy Barrie and Nigel Bruce.

Upon the death of Sir Charles Baskerville (Ian MacLaren), his nephew Sir Henry Baskerville (Richard Greene) comes from Canada to take over the estate. Among some of the late Sir Charles’ friends is Dr. James Mortimer (Lionel Atwill), who comes to see Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) in hopes that the famous detective might be able to convince Sir Henry to stay away from Baskerville Hall. When Sir Henry arrives, Sherlock instead wants to encourage him to go on. He ends up foiling an assassination attempt before Sir Henry leaves London, but sends Dr. Watson (Nigel Bruce) with Sir Henry, electing to stay behind to work on something else. After they arrive at Baskerville Hall, they meet Beryl Stapleton (Wendy Barrie) and her brother John Stapleton (Morton Lowry), along with a few of their other neighbors. The howling of a hound at night bothers them, considering the legend of a hound that had killed one of Sir Henry’s ancestors, but it is the convict brother of Sir Henry’s butler’s wife that ends up killed (because he was wearing some of Sir Henry’s clothes). Sherlock, meanwhile, has been lurking in the background, trying to figure things out. After revealing himself, he decides to pretend to leave, in order to allow the potential murder of Sir Henry so that he could catch the killer. But can he get back in time and prevent the murder?

Based on the classic story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the 1939 film is probably the best-known version of the tale. Of course, at the time, they had no idea that it would be so successful, spawning thirteen more films as well as a radio series with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce continuing in their roles. But for this movie, Basil Rathbone as Sherlock was the second-billed actor, behind Richard Greene’s Sir Henry Baskerville (although, to be fair, Basil’s Sherlock disappears for a good part of the movie). But one remarkable point about this movie, according to TCM, is that it was the first Sherlock Holmes movie done as a period piece, being set firmly in the past as opposed to being done in then-modern times. The movie’s success resulted in another film being produced by Fox that same year (also a period film, based on a play), before the series moved to Universal a few years later, who brought the series back to modern times.

Having seen all of the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce series, I will say that this is the best of the bunch. While it is definitely an introduction, I do like Basil’s portrayal of the character. It may not be based on the original stories, although I really don’t know myself, as I am going off what others have said plus other big and small screen versions of the character, but I like his way best. To me, he brings out the character’s humanity without maintaining the arrogance that I have seen in other portrayals. To me, he cares, and that alone makes his version more fun to watch. The fact that Basil and Nigel were friends offscreen just heightens the dynamic here. This is a wonderful movie, and one I would highly recommend! The first movie in this series is definitely the best place to start (at least, if you want to start with a high point instead of a low one, anyways)!

This movie is available on Blu-ray as part of the fourteen film Basil Rathbone In The Complete Sherlock Holmes Collection from MPI Home Video.

Film Length: 1 hour, 20 minutes

My Rating: 9/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

The Adventures Of Robin Hood (1938) – Basil Rathbone – The Mark Of Zorro (1940)

Nigel Bruce – The Chocolate Soldier (1941)

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Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… Star Of Midnight (1935)

Now we’re back for The Thin Man starring William Powell and Ginger Rogers. Wait, Ginger Rogers? Oh, that’s right, this is the 1935 film Star Of Midnight.

When Alice Markham disappears from Chicago, her boyfriend Tim Winthrop (Leslie Fenton) comes to New York to ask his lawyer friend Clay “Dal” Dalzell (William Powell) to help him find her. Dal is reluctant at first, but the two of them and Dal’s marriage-minded girlfriend Donna Mantin (Ginger Rogers) go to see the show Midnight, which features the big star Mary Smith, who always wears a mask in public. Before he can see the show, Dal is called away to see gangster Jimmy Kinland (Paul Kelly) to negotiate for some letters Donna wants back. After doing so, Dal returns to his apartment to hear that Mary Smith had disappeared, and newspaperman Tommy Tennant (Russell Hopton) comes to tell him what he found out about Mary Smith. However, before Tennant can tell Dal anything, he is shot and killed, and the killer tosses the gun at Dal. Having handled the gun, he is suspected by the police, so he decides to try and solve the case, with the aid of Donna (whether he wants her help or not). As he gets further into the situation, he learns why Alice had disappeared from Chicago, and tries to set a trap for the murderer, who is hunting her down, too.

In one of those examples of how Hollywood hasn’t changed in many years, with the success of The Thin Man came a number of copycat movies, as the studios tried to cash in on the idea. Thin Man star William Powell was in the process of signing a contract with MGM afterwards, but signed a quick deal with RKO, which allowed him to star in two similar films, the 1936 film The Ex-Mrs. Bradford and this one. Co-starring with him was Ginger Rogers, who was enjoying her own success co-starring with Fred Astaire in their own series of films. She did Star Of Midnight in between filming Roberta and Top Hat with Fred Astaire.

Personally, having finally seen The Thin Man, it is easy for me to say that that is the better movie. The overall film is fun, made better by the chemistry between William Powell and Myrna Loy. That being said, Star Of Midnight comes awfully close, for me! Ginger’s not Myrna Loy, but she certainly brings her own brand of sass to the role, which is still just as fun in my book! While the relationship is an unmarried one, there is still enough history shown between the two, and I enjoy watching it a lot! I’ll admit, William Powell’s Clay Dalzell is very similar to Nick Charles, including a fondness for drinking, but while similar, it still works well with this movie! While I would say the right film ended up starting a franchise, I know I can’t help but wish that Star Of Midnight had been the start of a series for its two leads as well! It’s just a wonderful movie that I would easily recommend for fans of either star (or fans of The Thin Man, for that matter)!

This movie is available on DVD from Warner Archive Collection.

Film Length: 1 hour, 30 minutes

My Rating: 9/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

The Thin Man (1934) – William Powell – My Man Godfrey (1936)

Upper World (1934)Ginger RogersTop Hat (1935)

Gene Lockhart – Wedding Present (1936)

As an Amazon Affiliate, this site gets a small percentage for every purchase made upon using one of the Amazon links, even if it’s not the movie I linked to (and it’s at no extra cost to you). If you like what I’m doing with the blog, please consider using them so that I can continue to do more!

An Old-Fashioned Christmas Movie On The Farm (2019) with… The Thin Man (1934)

If you’re ready for mystery mixed in with a bit of screwball comedy (not to mention one that works at Christmastime, too), then look no further than The Thin Man from 1934, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy!

Dorothy Wynant (Maureen O’Sullivan) announces to her inventor father Clyde Wynant (Edward Ellis) that she plans to marry her boyfriend Tommy (Henry Wadsworth) just after Christmas. Clyde says he has a business trip (which he refuses to discuss), but he promises to return before Christmas. However, when he doesn’t show up by Christmas Eve, Dorothy begins to worry. At a party, she runs into an old family friend, former detective Nick Charles (William Powell), who is in New York for the holidays with his wife, Nora (Myrna Loy), and their dog Asta. She tries to convince him to look for her father, but he doesn’t want to become involved. After Clyde’s mistress Julia Wolf (Natalie Moorhead) is discovered murdered, Nick can’t help but get dragged into the case, pushed along by his wife. After a thug is murdered and another body is discovered in Clyde’s laboratory, Nick and Nora gather all the suspects together at a dinner party, where the murderer is revealed.

Ah, yes, the movie that was the beginning of a franchise (and yet, in making it, who knew that would be the case). MGM had gotten the rights to the novel, written by Dashiell Hammett (who had also written The Maltese Falcon, amongst other novels). Director W.S. Van Dyke, himself a fan of detective novels, wanted to do it. And he wanted William Powell and Myrna Loy to do it, after working with them on the 1934 film Manhattan Melodrama and seeing how well they had gotten along on that film behind the scenes. However, the MGM executives were against the idea. At most, they were willing to let William Powell do it, since he had already portrayed some other detectives, but they weren’t as thrilled with Myrna Loy, supposedly only giving in if the movie could be done within three weeks so she could start her next film. Of course, Van Dyke (known to some as “One-Take Woody”) ran with it, getting the movie finished within twelve to eighteen days, and the movie became a big classic, spawning five sequels, many copycats and a two season TV series in the late fifties starring Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk, not to mention seven more films (besides the already mentioned Manhattan Melodrama) that paired up William Powell and Myrna Loy.

Going into the recent Blu-ray release, this was my first time seeing this movie. It turned out to be a wonderful and very enjoyable surprise! While the mystery itself was fun, it was very much secondary in this movie. Instead, the focus was on the relationship of William Powell’s Nick Charles and Myrna Loy’s Nora. For a film that was shot in a very short period of time, they give us such a rich relationship! Their banter alone makes the film fun (with some lines definitely showing the movie to be a pre-Code).  And, of course, they clearly make good use of the then-recent repeal of Prohibition, considering how much they imbibe martinis and other alcoholic drinks. But the comedy works, and for that alone, I have absolutely no trouble whatsoever with recommending this movie to anybody!

What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2019) with… The Thin Man (1934)

As with a lot of older movies, being a popular film proves to be just as much a curse as it is a blessing. Due to its popularity, the studio made so many release prints off the original camera negative that it was in bad shape, and was essentially destroyed back in the late 1960s. Partly because of that, this movie has apparently never looked that great on home video. But in preparing this movie for Blu-ray, the good people working for the Warner Archive Collection made use of a safety fine grain film stock (made before the original camera negative was gone) and a dupe negative in place of some sections that were in bad shape to restore this movie. All I can say is that, in my opinion, their hard work has paid off, resulting in one of this year’s best film restorations (so far)! So I would definitely recommend WAC’s recent Blu-ray release of this great film!

Film Length: 1 hour, 31 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

*ranked #3 in Top 10 Disc Releases Of 2019

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Man Of The World (1931) – William Powell – Star Of Midnight (1935)

Love Me Tonight (1932) – Myrna Loy – Libeled Lady (1936)

As an Amazon Affiliate, this site gets a small percentage for every purchase made upon using one of the Amazon links, even if it’s not the movie I linked to (and it’s at no extra cost to you). If you like what I’m doing with the blog, please consider using them so that I can continue to do more!