Inside Pulse DVD Review – The Complete Thin Man Collection



W.S. Van Dyke


William Powell……….Nick Charles
Myrna Loy……….Nora Charles
Asta……….Himself (dog)
Maureen O’Sullivan……….Dorothy Wynant
Nat Pendleton……….Police Lt. John Guild
Edward Ellis……….Clyde Wynant (The Thin Man)

Warner Bros. Home Video presents The Complete Thin Man Collection. Based on stories and characters created by Dashiell Hammett.

The movies:

In 2002, Warner Bros. released The Thin Man on DVD to much of the delight of Nick and Nora Charles enthusiasts. Upon its release, though, fans of the husband-and-wife pair wondered when the five other films in the series would be released. They got their answer in 2005 when Warner Bros. released The Complete Thin Man Collection. All six films – The Thin Man (1934), After the Thin Man (1936), Another Thin Man (1939), Shadow of the Thin Man (1941), The Thin Man Goes Home (1945), and The Song of the Thin Man (1947) – in one box set. Special to this collection is a bonus disc with documentaries of the two stars, William Powell and Myrna Loy. To go along with these special features the seven-disc set has theatrical trailers, cartoons, a radio broadcast and various musical and comedy shorts.

By 1934 Hollywood had had enough of William Powell, and he felt the same way about Hollywood. A minor star in several Philo Vance Murder Case pictures, Powell was considered washed-up at the age of 42. When offered the role of Nick Charles, lover of anything involving money or alcohol, he passed. But after some cajoling from director W.S. Van Dyke, who was enamored by Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man, Powell signed on to play the private eye.

When visualizing a classic private eye yarn, it’s easy to think of the conventional. A man sits alone at his desk in a poorly lit office. Near the desk is a coat rack holding his fedora hat and overcoat. A woman then enters the office and asks for help. Or so the story goes.

We have mystery novelists such as Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett to thank for this. To this day Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade are two creations that are well recognized — both in print and on screen. This may be, but it is the adventures of Hammett’s retired private eye Nick Charles and his rich, beautiful wife, Nora that established a recipe for success. Skeptical? Check out the imitators in TV shows like Moonlighting and McMillan and Wife.

Nick: How’d you like Grant’s tomb?
Nora: It’s lovely. I’m having a copy made for you. (The Thin Man)

Almost seventy years after its Hollywood premiere, The Thin Man remains an excellent blend of screwball comedy and mystery. William Powell chews the scenery with a drink in one hand and his blue-blood wife Nora in the other. He has a laissez-faire attitude when it comes to detective work. Nick Charles enjoys the fruits of his labor. And by “fruits” I mean scotch. Even when Nora is persistent about him taking a case, he responds with, “I haven’t the time. I’m much too busy seeing that you don’t lose any of the money I married you for.” Touché.

This bantering between Powell and Loy is no accident. In fact, director Van Dyke noticed the chemistry the two had on-screen as well as the playful bickering they did away from the camera. Like her co-star, Loy was never an upper tier A-list actor. Stuck playing villainous roles, she was ecstatic to learn that Nora Charles was not a ditzy dame. Instead, she was cultured, refined.

With a minuscule budget and a short shooting schedule (about two weeks), Van Dyke and company churned out a film that both critics and audiences adored. The result is five more sequels, Academy Award nominations and Powell and Loy basking in the Hollywood limelight.

For The Thin Man, when an inventor (Edward Ellis) who may have committed a number of murders goes missing, Nick sits his drink down long enough to take the case. He does this more to appease his wife than to console the inventor’s teary-eyed daughter (Maureen O’Sullivan). No need to worry about plot, since the interaction between Nick and assorted ex-cons and thuggish types he and Nora meet is each film’s trademark. Chasing down clues with their terrier Asta in tow, the couple drink, dance and bicker their way to a resolution.

Nick: Come on. Let’s get something to eat. I’m thirsty. (After the Thin Man)

To those who have never heard of The Thin Man, it should be noted that Nick Charles is not “the” Thin Man. The real Thin Man was a murder victim in the first film. But the moniker, as catchy as it may be, is used to identify Nick and Nora as “Mr. and Mrs. Thin Man” – a compliment paid to their first case together.

Score: 8/10

The DVD:

VIDEO: How does it look?

The six features in this collection vary in picture quality. Most notable is The Thin Man. At times the picture is very good, but near the end of the film the quality is lackluster. There are specks and scratches on the print, but given the age of the film, it still looks good on DVD. Each film is presented in its original aspect ratio (1.33:1).

Score: 6/10

AUDIO: How does it sound?

The Dolby Digital mono audio is adequate, especially when you consider the sound equipment used in early talkies. The bantering between the two lovebirds is crisp and clear. As for audio tacks, The Thin Man offers mono in both English and French, with subtitle options in English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. Only the first three Thin Man films offer both English and French audio options. And the remaining titles do not have Portuguese subtitles.

Score: 6.5/10

SPECIAL FEATURES: theatrical trailers, vintage cartoons and shorts, and two documentaries.

The Thin Man, when compared to the other features, is short on extras. It includes trailers for all six mysteries. After the Thin Man is laden with special features like How to Be a Detective (1936), an eight-minute comedy short with Robert Benchley. The morale to this short is that crime does not pay; and neither does this short film. The Early Bird and the Worm is a Harman-Ising cartoon where a bird chases a baby worm across the forest only to encounter a snake. Also included is a 59-minute Lux Radio Theater Broadcast of After the Thin Man from June 17, 1940, a Leo is on the Air radio promo, and the original theatrical trailer.

Another Thin Man has Love on Tap (1939), with the Merriel Abbot Dancers and musical arrangements by Lou Halmy. Talk about rotten luck. Tommy (Truman Bradley) has been trying to marry his girl Penny (Mary Howard) for quite a while, but when it comes time to see the minister, Penny’s managerial duties of the Abbot dancers take precedence. The Bookworm, a Hugh Harman cartoon, has Edgar Allan Poe’s “Raven” trying to catch a bookworm for the witches of Shakespeare’s MacBeth. The disc also has the film’s trailer.

Shadow of the Thin Man features an adaptation of Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart by Jules Dassin. You know, the story of the unhappy son who murders his father, only to be haunted by the beating of the dead man’s heart. This atmospheric tale is paired together with The Goose Goes South, a Hanna-Barbera cartoon. As the goose heads south, it encounters the “Songbird of the South,” and a crazy farmer with a shotgun causing the goose to run across Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia lickity split.

Comedian Robert Benchley makes another appearance in Why Daddy? on the Thin Man Goes Home disc. Who Wants to be a Millionaire is nothing compared to the battle of wits Benchley endures as he faces a child on a quiz show. Screwball Squirrel, a Tex Avery cartoon, predates the Bugs Bunny/Elmer Fudd cartoons as a dog, nicknamed “meathead”, keeps chasing after a squirrel.

Quantum Leap‘s Dean Stockwell pulls double duty as Nick and Nora Charles’ son in Song of the Thin Man and again in the short film entitled A Really Important Person. It plays like afternoon school special with young Dean having problems writing an essay about “a really important person.” The person with the best essay gets awarded a new baseball fielder’s mitt. He thinks John Paul Jones is a really important person, but, in actuality, his most important person is closer to him than he thinks. Besides this short, we get another Tex Avery cartoon called Slaphappy Lion. In this cartoon, the King of the Jungle is scared of a little mouse.

Not enough Thin Man entertainment for you; how about another disc of extras? Though, looking at the special features, none focus on the series specifically. There’s an episode of The Thin Man: Darling I Loathe You, a TV series that ran from 1957-59 with Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk playing Nick and Nora. Not much of Hammett’s Mr. and Mrs. Charles are conveyed in the TV serial. They act more like traditional TV crime-solvers a la Hart to Hart.

William Powell: A True Gentleman and Myrna Loy: So Nice to Come Home To are documentaries with interesting stories. However, Powell’s 30-minute feature relies too much on film clips; and Loy’s 46-minute affair has former femme fatale in Kathleen Turner doing narration. It should also be noted that Richard Schickel, the same man who reconstructed The Big Red One, directed the documentary about Myrna Loy.

Despite these two features about the stars, it would have been swell if the people behind this collection did a documentary about The Thin Man. Have mystery novelists share thoughts regarding the story as well as author Dashiell Hammett.

Score: 7/10