Shadow of the Thin Man was the last Thin Man movie before World War II hit. In that sense, MGM rushing against the deadlines to get the movie done makes sense. Unfortunately, this meant that series originator Dashiell Hammett had to sit this one out. This movie was more sports themed, as the crimes begin with a jockey being found shot to death. It turns out that he was getting paid to throw races and Nick discovers how this crime ties to a local wrestling arena. Honestly, there are shades of Beverly Hills Cop 2 at play…minus the gun club.
Thin Man Sequels were nearing the beginning of the end. World War II helped spur this along, as Myrna Loy would leave Hollywood to become a Red Cross nurse. William Powell would keep working, but on films that were nowhere near as big as the Thin Man. Shadow of the Thin Man also didn’t match perfectly what had came before. Nick and Nora were parents and audiences wanted to see Nick Jr better incorporated into the movie series.
There’s this giant Carousel piece that goes nowhere. Hell, you have the restaurant fight in the film as well. But, that plays visually as something to grab attention. When we’re not dealing with the horse racing or the wrestling, the central mystery takes a back seat. Sure, Shadow of the Thin Man made nearly three times its budget back, but the cracks were showing. How can you make a movie about detectives now parents having the same kind of adventures?
Racetrack movies are a hard sell for most audiences. Mainly because the thrill of horse racing depends on those fleeting moments of the race. It’s why when Bond movies used them onscreen, it was for quick pieces and not entire plot driven purposes. Well, except for A View to a Kill. That being said, it got me thinking about what went wrong for Shadow of the Thin Man.
As a franchise goes on, the series gets further away from the initial ideas that make it great. Rarely does it work, but more often than not…the films outgrow the audience. This is usually met with financial and critical derision. The Thin Man series took two black eyes following this movie. The delay in a sequel due to World War II and the the maturing of the plots got old. After our culture changed when the soldiers came back home, people didn’t want these movies.
But, I’m not sure if everyone wanted Best Years of Our Lives either. Shadow of the Thin Man is the compromise bigger movies make to be appealing but carry on. Fandom in the early 1940s is alien to what we see now. People saw Thin Man movies because they liked what they saw years prior. There were no Team Nick or Team Nora or tie-in product. It was just who wants to drop a nickel and see some rich people solve crimes? America was much simpler back then, but they also had polio. So, it shakes out.
Warner Archive brings Shadow of the Thin Man to Blu-ray with a decent amount of special features. You get a vintage short, classic cartoon and trailer. The A/V Quality is true for its age. While I spotted a minor amount of print damage at points, it’s still better than any other time I’ve seen the movie. If that sounds like your sort of thing, then pick it up. Otherwise, wait for the latest of steelbook of the latest blockbuster.