Synopsis: At a charity gambling benefit aboard the S.S. Fortune, the tables are hot, the jazz is hotter and before you know it, a bandleader’s body is growing cold. They’re playing your song, Nick and Nora Charles!
William Powell and Myrna Loy return as the married sleuths, rousting suspects out of bed for 4 AM interrogations while trying to fathom the bebop argot of ’40s jazz jive. Speaking of their renowned screen chemistry, Loy once said: “It wasn’t a conscious thing. If you heard us talking in a room, you’d hear the same thing. He’d tease me, and there was a sort of blending which seemed to please people.” Decades later, people are still pleased. The melody of Song Of The Thin Man and the entire beloved series lingers on.
‘The Song of the Thin Man’ is the sixth and final instalment in the beloved ‘Thin Man’ series. Unlike the previous one, ‘The Thin Man Goes Home‘, it actually attempts to return Nick and Nora Charles to form by immersing them in a murder mystery from the get-go – after positioning all the key players and setting up the plot, of course.
In that sense, it’s much more akin to the original: it eschews the sitcom-y openings of most of the sequels and, in trade, takes the time to put the details, the characters, the red herrings and clues together before introducing the Charles to the mix. That’s a huge plus, because, although the couple is a fine pair, leaning on them so heavily was taking its toll on the series.
Part of the problem is that the dynamic had changed from how it was in the beginning, becoming gradually more wholesome – trading in the delicious twinkles in the Charles’ eyes for run-of-the-mill pleasantries. We still got the sense that they were a great partnership, but began to see the heat between them cool, transforming them into something more akin to long-time couples everywhere – when really, what we craved was the exciting freshness that existed at the onset.
That’s partly the reason why, despite more concerted attempts to return to its roots, ‘The Song of the Thin Man’ still doesn’t match the original: the couple had been so watered down and sanitized by then that breathing life into them was nigh impossible. In fact, at this point they are wholesome enough to make decent role-models for parents everywhere – something one could hardly have imagined 13 years prior, when they were so busy flirting and drinking each other under the table!
As well, while the repartee is still fast and droll, it is no longer nearly as witty or edgy as it had been. Gone too is the sexual innuendo and the slightly sarcastic tone. Nick and Nora continued to challenge each other to duels of wit, but there never appears to be anything at stake – it is all innocuous and lacking in tension. It’s natural, I suppose, given that the Charles are meant to have aged along with their audience and, thus, have been married for well over a dozen years; things got cushy between them, they softened the edges over time. Granted, it’s realistic – but it’s not nearly as enjoyable.
The most amusing part of the film is the fish-out-of-water element of the couple mixing it up with a series of jazz musicians, who have their own lingo and make it nearly impossible for the Charles to understand what is going on. Nick gets it eventually, or at least gives the impression that he does, but Norah takes a little longer, remaining dumb-founded for a while. I enjoyed it both because it was well-thought out, but also because the jazz world, which was still frowned upon by traditionalists at the time, was an interesting setting for the picture.
Another nice part of this film is that Myrna Loy gets to show off her character’s smarts, as she attempt to pick up all the jazz lingo bit by bit. She eventually masters it, of course, and well before Nick ever does. That was a nice touch, especially given the era, which only began to show women in direct competition with men. Strong female roles are always a plus, in my mind – it helps make up for the endless stream of poorly written ones. Sadly, Loy seemed tired by this instalment in the series, as though she had run her course.
But she and Powell retain their effortless charm throughout the picture. If not for them, and this unmistakable allure that they had when put together, the series would never had existed – there would have been one picture, perhaps, and it likely would have been relegated to film history. But it is their natural congeniality, that disarming quality of theirs, and their quasi-magical rapport that made the duo such a success – they would pair up for 14 films in total, including the ‘Thin Man’ series.
They graced the screen together for a total of six ‘Thin Man’ movies, and, while they weren’t all classics, as a whole they proved thoroughly entertaining and are worth repeat viewings. ‘Song of the Thin Man’, meanwhile, may not be the best of the series, but, in bringing back some key elements that were essential to the first film’s success, the filmmakers managed to provide us with a fitting swan song for the series. W.S. Van Dyke, director of the first four films, and the brainchild of the series, would no doubt have approved.