When director W.S. Van Dyke commissioned a screenplay from Dashiell Hammett’s last novel, The Thin Man, a throw-away story about a retired gumshoe drawn back into the business to investigate a series of murders in NYC, he asked for a comic script. He got an enjoyable if innocuous screwball comedy playing on the dick, Nick Charles, being married to a wealthy dame, both of them being lushes, and having an eccentric mutt.
The casting is perfect with William Powell as Nick and the saucy Myrna Loy playing Nora his better-half. The mutt is played by a wire fox terrier called Asta – think ‘Eddie’ from TV’s Frasier. A frothy mix of mystery, sleuthing, and wry banter delivers a diverting movie which has you smiling if not laughing.
DP James Wong Howe is integral to sustaining interest. While the comic antics are fun and add spritz to a weak story, and true both leads are delightful, it is the darkly lit mystery scenes set-up by Howe that impress cinematically. It is of course hard to delineate where the DP’s contribution starts and ends, though I would venture to say that with a less talented DP I doubt there would have been the same fluid camera work and darkly expressionist counterpoint that sustains the narrative.
Some additional frames from the movie to support my case: