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Nick and Nora are off to the races in Shadow of the Thin Man (1941) the fourth film in the popular Thin Man series. This entry has Nick investigating the shooting death of a jockey accused of throwing a race and exposing a gambling racket. As always, there are a handful of suspects, all of whom are assembled by Nick for the big whodunit finale. But the plot is secondary to the delightful verbal sparring and sexual chemistry between Myrna Loy and William Powell. Shadow of the Thin Man also pokes fun at Nick's adjustment to child-rearing which includes a ride on a merry-go-round with Nick Jr., a milk cocktail for the little tyke and a bedtime story that sounds suspiciously like the daily horse track odds.
Yet, despite the on-screen frivolity, this was not a particularly happy period for Loy or Powell off the set. The stars and the country were due for some rough days ahead. Shadow of the Thin Man was released on November 21, 1941. Two weeks later, Pearl Harbor was attacked. Loy took the U.S. entry into the war to heart. She dropped out of Hollywood to join the war effort. It would be three years before she made another picture -- The Thin Man Goes Home (1945). A vocal anti-fascist, Loy was reportedly at the top of Hitler's hate list for condemning the earlier invasion of Czechoslovakia. Her wartime was spent in New York, volunteering with the Red Cross. For Loy, it was a time of personal difficulties as well. She sought a Mexican divorce from husband Arthur Hornblow, Jr. and married rental car entrepreneur John Hertz, Jr. It would be the first of four subsequent Loy divorces - but at the time, the move was at odds with her perfect wife screen persona and brought fears of an audience backlash.
Powell was likewise suffering through real life hardships. He had been engaged to Jean Harlow when she died just a few years earlier in 1937. And since that time, Powell had been reluctant to work, appearing mainly opposite Loy in films like Another Thin Man (1939) and I Love You Again (1940). Then, in 1942, he lost two other important women in his life. First, ex-wife Carole Lombard was killed in a plane crash. Then his first wife, Eileen Wilson (the love of Powell's youth and mother of his only son), died unexpectedly. Luckily, Powell had support from third wife, actress Diana Lewis, who he had married in 1940. This marriage lasted until Powell's death in 1984.
Tragedy would soon strike another member of the Thin Man team - director W.S. Van Dyke II. He had helmed the first three Thin Man films (as well as Tarzan, the Ape Man (1932) and several Jeanette MacDonald-Nelson Eddy vehicles like 1936's Rose Marie), but Shadow of the Thin Man would be Van Dyke's last picture in the series. After directing just four more films, Van Dyke died in 1943. Loy recalls feeling the void, both of a director and friend, saying that "[Van Dyke] seems to be neglected now. He was one of Hollywood's best, most versatile directors."
Worth noting in Shadow of the Thin Man is the appearance of future method acting guru Stella Adler. She plays Claire, a gambler's hoity-toity girlfriend. Adler appeared in only two other films -- Love on Toast (1937) and My Girl Tisa (1948) before switching to a new career as a teacher. Also look for a young Donna Reed in a supporting part; Shadow of the Thin Man was only Reed's second major screen role.
Producer: Hunt Stromberg
Director: W.S. Van Dyke II
Screenplay: Harry Kurnitz, Irving Brecher
Cinematography: William Daniels
Film Editing: Robert Kern
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Music: David Snell
Cast: William Powell (Nick Charles), Myrna Loy (Nora Charles), Barry Nelson (Paul Clark), Donna Reed (Molly), Sam Levene (Lieutenant Abrams), Alan Baxter (Whitey Barrow).
BW-97m. Closed captioning.
by Stephanie Thames