The Thin Man (W.S. Van Dyke / U.S., 1934):

"The important thing is the rhythm." Nick Charles is introduced shaking a dry martini to the pulse of the cocktail-lounge waltz, Nora is first seen negotiating an avalanche of yuletide packages: Not the Nick and Nora from Dashiell Hammett’s typewriter, but those of the svelte MGM sensualism of William Powell and Myrna Loy. He’s a retired shamus who turns the slur in his voice into a lilt but can spring into action while still in his pajamas, she’s a pert heiress who can match him drink for drink and wisecrack for wisecrack and throw off a double-entendre about... sodomy? Their marriage is the union of the ideal and the real Goethe wrote about, as long as it stays at a sardonic distance -- the key shot is Loy’s inimitable, lingering sideways glance of wifely resignation as Powell tries out his new pellet gun on their Christmas tree’s baubles. The interplay between the two frisky swells provides the serene center in a whirlwind of mugs, flatfoots, stiffs, high-society Oedipuses, and the ingénue’s (Maureen O’Sullivan) fall from grace, all done in a style of pure ebullience. Who’s the culprit? The avaricious widow (Mina Gombell)? The slick gigolo (Cesar Romero)? The underworld cannonball (Edward Brophy)? The mamma-fixated smarty-parts (William Henry)? "Can you tell us anything about the case?" "Yes, it’s putting me way behind in my drinking." W.S. Van Dyke hurries everything along like a traffic cop, signaling characters this way and that and frequently unfurling the action in single, mid-distance blocks -- a tactic to save time and setups, sure, but the effect on James Wong Howe’s cinematography is at times unaccountably Rossellinian. It boils down to the link between studio sophistication and screwball comedy, a pair of good-natured sharpshooters ribbing and drinking and enjoying each other while the most talented terrier in the history of cinema plays silent witness. Screenplay by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich. With Nat Pendleton, Porter Hall, Henry Wadsworth, Harold Huber, Natalie Moorhead, and Edward Ellis. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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