W.S. Van Dyke, 1941
Starring: William Powell, Myrna Loy, Donna Reed
Though it is not one of my favorite entries in the six film Thin Man series, the fourth is still a strong effort and marks the final involvement of director W.S. Van Dyke. Back home in San Francisco, Nick and Nora plan to take the afternoon off and visit the racetrack, where Nick enjoys gambling, but they soon find themselves caught up in a case when a jockey is murdered. The police ask him to assist in finding the murderer and he soon uncovers a gambling ring, a framed man, more murders, and all kinds of other nonsense.
Their young son, Nick Jr. (Dickie Hall) is featured more prominently in this film and is involved in some comic scenes with Nick. He’s not too annoying (I generally dislike children in movies.) There’s a great opening scene where Nick pretends to read to his son in the park, but he really has a racing guide hidden inside the children’s book. He is also tricked by Nick Jr. into drinking a glass of milk, instead of his preferred alcohol. Though the drinking is still relatively toned down in this film, Nora summons Nick by waving a cocktail shaker and wins over 250 martinis from him while gambling (on a turtle race). Overall this is a very action packed entry in the series and some hilarity results from a crowded wrestling match (keep an eye peeled for Tor Johnston, an Ed Wood regular) and a very funny restaurant fight accidentally started by their terrier, Asta.
Powell and Loy are just as charismatic, though the dialogue is not quite up the level of the first three films. Nora is not in this film as much as the first three, which is probably why it suffers, though there are some nice performances from the supporting actors. A very young Donna Reed appears as the girlfriend of a man who was framed and famed acting coach Stella Adler makes a scene-stealing appearance as a gangster’s sweetheart.
This is the first film not written by married team Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett. Instead, Harry Kurnitz and Irving Brecher took up writing duties. Kurnitz was responsible for classics like the Audrey Hepburn romantic comedy How the Steal a Million and Brecher penned Meet in St. Louis. While they do a decent job, this is certainly less witty than the previous three films and involves a lot more spectacle. Fortunately it manages to rise above the slapstick, physical comedy that nearly drowns the fifth film. The plot is needlessly complicated, more so than the earlier films, and ends with the traditional scene where Nick rounds up all the main characters and suspects to reveal the killer.
After this film, Myrna Loy took a break for three years to volunteer with the Red Cross in New York during WWII, but Shadow of the Thin Man was followed by two more, sadly inferior films. Shadow of the Thin Man is recommended for fans of Nick and Nora or anyone who loves classics comedies from the ‘30s and ‘40s. You can find this film in The Complete Thin Man Collection DVD box set.