Shadow of the Thin Man has a healthy mix of comedy and mystery. The resolution to mystery is a little lacking at the end, but the film moves so smoothly until then it’s easily forgivable. And there is one amusing final twist (along with a good final joke).
Most of the comedy comes from William Powell playing responsible parent. Myrna Loy doesn’t have any scenes alone with their son, Richard Hall; instead, she has scenes commenting on Powell’s behavior around Hall. Thanks to Van Dyke’s direction–he excels in the oddest set pieces in Shadow, with a comedic merry-go-round sequence being a standout–the film always implies Loy’s active parenting without ever having to show it.
Why not show it? Because it’s nowhere near as funny as Powell’s.
As for the mystery, Powell and Loy keep stumbling into murder investigations. Eventually they take a more enterprising role. There are a lot of suspects and suspicious characters, ranging from the likable Barry Nelson and Donna Reed to Loring Smith and Joseph Anthony’s racketeers. None of the suspects, save Stella Adler, are particularly good but they’re all decent. The script doesn’t do the actors any favors. Anthony in particularly doesn’t get enough screen time.
Instead, Irving Brecher and Harry Kurnitz’s script concentrates on the investigation and how Powell and Loy make discoveries. The mystery’s resolution isn’t spectacular, but the journey to it is rather good. Van Dyke’s pacing, both for tension and comedy, is outstanding.
Shadow is a fine time.
Directed by W.S. Van Dyke; screenplay by Irving Brecher and Harry Kurnitz, based on a story by Kurnitz and characters created by Dashiell Hammett; director of photography, William H. Daniels; edited by Robert Kern; music by David Snell; produced by Hunt Stromberg; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Starring William Powell (Nick Charles), Myrna Loy (Nora Charles), Barry Nelson (Paul Clarke), Donna Reed (Molly Ford), Sam Levene (Lieutenant Abrams), Alan Baxter (‘Whitey’ Barrow), Henry O’Neill (Major Jason I. Sculley), Stella Adler (Claire Porter), Loring Smith (‘Link’ Stephens), Joseph Anthony (Fred Macy), Lou Lubin (‘Rainbow’ Benny Loomis), Louise Beavers (Stella) and Richard Hall (Nick Charles Jr.).