Thursday, November 14, 2019

The Thin Man series

 Never watched any of the Thin Man series when they were often available on tv.  Some of the clever dialogue would probably have passed over my head.  Each of us have missed hidden treasures and for me this one of them.
The story revolved around a reluctant detective who had dazzled Myrna  Loy who married him and he lived off her money shamelessly smoking, drinking, gambling and watching sports events.

The resolution of the mystery is with a group of interested people sometimes at a dinner table.  Nick doesn't necessarily know who committed the murder, but does know someone at the gathering did it and others will confirm details.  Of course there are many red herrings and dead ends, but it all makes satisfying sense in the end.   Along the way is much clever dialogue and amusing situations, but of course there is always a murder to spice things up.

The Thin Man turned into a series of movies and later for a television series.  My research revealed a lot of interesting people who contributed to its success.  

Clever dialogue flows from the writers.  Nowadays dialogue is loaded with four letter words and is laughed at, but even before the Code more effort is put into getting a laugh.  Double entendre jokes are a little more difficult and really more satisfying when done well.

Dashiell Hammett wrote the book that inspired the series. Near as I can tell he provided the character and some strands of plot especially for the first one, but to some extent for the rest of the series.  His credentials are impressive as he had worked for the Pinkerton Detective Agency at different times from Baltimore, Seattle and San Francisco.  He wrote "The Maltese Falcon," which was made into two movies.  He also wrote "Watch on The Rhine," which in movie format won an Oscar.  He lived off and on with another famous writer, Lillian Hellman.

Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, a married couple were told to use a Dashiell Hammett book only as a guideline and to include lots of snappy dialogue.  The initial release came out just before the Code was enacted allowing a lot more freedom that was subsequently squelched.  Although supposedly sophisticated the later films showed them in twin beds.  The thin man of the title was actually referring to someone being searched for, but so many people thought the protagonist played by William Powell was the Thin Man, so that misunderstanding was adopted.

Albert had been a child actor, including in 1919, Anne of Green Gables.  His last acting was in 1940 in "Mr & Mrs. North" on Broadway.  He had been involved in writing in Broadway and hooked up with Frances a Broadway writer, marrying and moving to Hollywood.  Their first film was "Up Pops the Devil."  As a team they were nominated for four Oscars, "The Thin Man," "After The Thin Man," "Father of the Bride" and "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers."  Also won award for "the Diary of Anne Frank."  Wrote the perennial Christmas favorite, "It's a Wonderful Life."

Irving Brecher wrote the screenplay for "Shadow of the Thin Man."  An early start was with radio that gave him the opportunity to write for Milton Berle and Groucho Marx.  He got an Oscar nomination for "Meet me in St Louis."  As a baby boomer I remember "The Life of Riley," and "Bye Bye Birdie."  He also was a producer for tv.

A co-writer for "Shadow of the Thin Man" was Harvey Kurnitz who at one time had been a reporter.  He wrote a book, "Fast Company" and was given the opportunity to write the screenplay which led to many other scripts.  Some of his other film writing included, "Witness for the Prosecution," "Hatari" and "A Shot in the Dark."  He also contributed to "The Thin Man Goes Home."

"For "The Thin Man Goes Home" had two writers of interest.  Robert Riskin had an original story used for the script and worked on the screenplay.  He won an Oscar for "It Happened One Night."  He worked a lot with Frank Capra on such films at "Mr Deeds Goes to Town."  Altogether films he wrote won 2 Oscars and had three other nominations.  Perhaps his best known film was "Top Hat."  He also wrote three episodes of the tv. version of "The Thin Man."

 For "Song of the Thin Man," used at least three writers.  Steve Fisher is perhaps best known today for "Destination Tokyo" and several tv series including "Fantasy Island," "McMillan and  Wife" and "Ripcord."  Nat Perrin was a lawyer who never practiced, but instead worked for Warner Brothers in their publicity department and from there he got some support from Groucho Marx and was hired as a gag writer.  Later he too wrote for tv. shows and also became a director and a producer.  Harry Crane was a stand up comic at age 19 and wrote for Laurel and Hardy and later wrote for tv series including Dean Martin and Joey Bishop.

W.S (Woodbridge Strong) Van Dyke directed the first "The Thin Man in 1934 and went onto direct another three sequels.  In 1916 he had been hired as one of many assistants to D. W. Griffith making "Intolerance."  By 1917 he was directing his own films.  In 1920 he earned the nickname "One Take Woody" while filming Jack Dempsey who tended to knock opponents out with one punch making it difficult to repeat.  He developed the reputation of filming quickly and cheaply.  He worked with Myrna Loy and William Powell in their first film together, "Manhattan Melodrama" in 1934, a movie made famous because it was watched by John Dillinger just before he was shot to death.  The same year Dyke filmed "The Thin Man" in 16 days.   He did a variety of interesting movies, including , "San Francisco" "Tarzan the Ape Man" and 'Rose-Marie."   He worked closely with Jeanette McDonald and Nelson Eddy.  At the time of Nelson Eddy's marriage he stopped Jeanette's attempted suicide.  In 1961 he suffered from a heart condition and cancer and decided to commit suicide.

Richard Thorpe directed "The Thin Man Goes Home" and was also noted for efficient shootings.  He had come up from vaudeville and then silent films as both writer and actor.  He was one of five uncredited directors for "The Wizard of Oz."  Directed Johnny Weismueller in Tarzan movies and Elvis Presley in "Fun in Acapulco."

Edward Buzzell directed the last of the Thin Man movies, "Song of the Thin Man."  He had been a musical comedy star on Broadway and came to Hollywood for the film version of "Little Johnny Jones."  He did a number of shorts and got into directing through that format.  He directed a number of Marx Brothers films.

William Powell for me is a big reason for the success of The Thin Man.  He started on the New York stage in 1912 and moved to Hollywood for the silent film era and encountered marginal success, but unlike many others, sound boosted his career.  He had great comedic timing and his stage training gave him an edge.  He never gets too excited and usually has a sarcastic remark after surprises.  In 1934 he switched to MGM studios and his first film was "Manhattan Melodrama" with Myrna Loy (the first of 14 films they appeared in together).  His next film was "The Thin Man" and over the next 13 years added 5 more sequels.  He had 3 Oscar nominations including "The Thin Man."  In 1936 he was the star of "The Great Ziegfield" when it won the Oscar for Best Picture.  He had a two year relationship with Jean Harlow, but after they became engaged she died.  Later he married Carole Lombard who he had appeared with in "My Man Godfrey," but they divorced after two years.  His third marriage was after knowing Diana Lewis for only three weeks, but this one lasted 44 years until his death in 1984.

Myrna Loy in 1934, had been declared "Queen of Hollywood" while Clark Gable (they had been paired in 7 movies) was declared the "King of Hollywood."  In my experience Myrna Loy seemed to always play an understanding wife, but in fact in the silent era was type cast in vamp roles.  An early break came when she was spotted by Mrs. Rudolph Valentino on stage and she was able to get a role in a motion picture.  Myrna was in the first feature film with synchronized sound,  "Don Juan" in 1926 soon followed by an appearance in the first movie with audible sound, "The Jazz Singer" in 1927.  It was a smooth transition to sound films for her and she was noted for good comic timing.  She was awarded an honorary Oscar in 1985.  She once appeared in black face in a movie and proclaimed her shame for that role.  She was Co-Chairman of the Advisory Council of the National Committee against Discrimination in Housing which exposed segregation in federal funded projects.

There is a wonderful world of black and white films where the story is more of a king that is the case today.

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