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

This must be my fourth time watching, and I still can’t remember who’s the killer (it’s the dead scientist’s lawyer!). Don’t think this counts as screwball comedy despite the fast-paced, often racy, comedic dialogue – it’s a detective comedy with screwball tendencies. Came out the same year as Twentieth Century and The Gay Divorcee – I think I like this one best of the three.

The titular thin man wasn’t meant to refer to detective William Powell (retired since marrying rich socialite Myrna Loy), but the missing, turns-out-to-be-murdered old scientist Wynant (Edward Ellis, sheriff in Fury). Nobody mentions this in the dialogue, hence all the Looney Tunes caricatures of Powell as a paper-thin man, and the carrying of the Thin Man title across the sequels.

Movie is a light joy to watch, so I won’t weigh it down by fussing over plot for three pages – there’s certainly enough of it. Powell (recently in Double Harness, not yet in My Man Godfrey) and Loy (post-Love Me Tonight, pre-Great Ziegfeld) don’t appear for a while but make up for lost time. Wynant’s death and the lawyer’s guilt aren’t revealed until the last minute at a grand suspects’ dinner party with cops as waiters (Katy thought the lawyer-as-killer was unjustified). Two older blonde women seem interchangeable until one is killed (the dead man’s girlfriend, Natalie Moorhead, no relation to Agnes). Dead man’s daughter (Maureen O’Sullivan of Devil Doll, The Big Clock, Song o’My Heart) and ex-wife Mimi (Minna Gombell, the law-breaking aunt in Wild Boys of the Road) and some other fools (including Cesar Romero, The Joker in TV’s Batman, and Porter Hall, a newsman in both Ace in the Hole and His Girl Friday) run around lying to each other for ninety minutes. All those actors, and the only one I recognize from other films is the dog, Asta, a main character in The Awful Truth and Bringing Up Baby.

Van Dyke directed three of the five sequels before dying of cancer. Prior to this, he made MGM’s first sound picture, White Shadows in the South Seas, which somehow involved Robert Flaherty.