Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Overlooked Films: The Thin Man TV series (1958-59)


While digging through boxes in my storage unit the other day, I came across tapes of a few old episodes of The Thin Man TV series. I remember recording these ten or so years ago, when TNT occasionally showed one in the middle of the night. Well, being in a Hammett frame of mind, I naturally hauled them home for another look-see.

After watching three episodes, all from early in the first season, I was ready to write them off as terrible. As Nick, Peter Lawford displayed all the humor and charm of a clothes dummy. He seemed to be sleep-walking through the part, delivering his lines in a dull monotone and never cracking a smile. Phyllis Kirk (whom I remember best as TV's first Lois Lane - Oops, my mistake. See comments.) seemed to be at least trying to display a personality, but she too fell flat. The only comic relief came from the antics of Asta, by far the best actor of the three.

But I had several more episodes, so I tried one more. And struck gold. (Well, maybe not gold, but at least silver.) The episode is called “The Cat Kicker,” and came from late in the second - and final - season, in 1959.

Somehow, Lawford and Kirk have grown personalities. They smile, they tell jokes, they make faces at each other, and Lawford ever does some William Powell-like physical gags. It’s as if the director forced them to watch one of the Powell-Loy Thin Man movies and said, “Now, do that!”

Lawford and Kirk are nowhere near as good as Powell and Loy, of course, but in this episode they’re trying hard, and for the first time I could actually think of them as Nick and Nora. It didn’t hurt that Don Rickles was one of the guest stars, playing a cabbie, but there was enough comedy without him. And I don’t remember Asta appearing at all.

As for the story, no cats are kicked. Rickles the cabbie delivers a babe wearing nothing but a nightgown and fur coat to the Charles’ apartment because she’s lost her memory, and he thinks Nick can help her (or at least pay the cab fee). She, naturally, gets flirty with Nick, and Nora gets jealous. A sub-plot, which of course dovetails with the amnesiac plot, involves Nick and Nora auctioning off a day of their services for charity.

So. I now know the entire series didn’t suck, and I’ll be watching the rest of my episodes hoping for another gem. What I want to know now is - why isn’t this series available on DVD? It ran for 72 episodes, and even at it’s worst, it’s good as some of the dreck now being reissued.

More Overlooked Films at SWEET FREEDOM.

A fan visits the Thin Man set.

20 comments:

pattinase (abbott) said...

I don't remember this. Must have been after my bedtime.

Jerry House said...

I enjoyed this series when I was a kid -- long before I knew of the movie series or the book. We were all naive once.

Anonymous said...

Phyllis Coates was rhe first Lois Lane on tv. Phyllis Kirk starred in HOUSE OF WAX.

Evan Lewis said...

Oops. That's right.

Cap'n Bob said...

Having recently read Max Allan Collins' book about the death of Marilyn Montoe, the idea of Peter Lawford is repellent. He seems to be one of those people of whom you can truly say even his friends hate him. But I'd still like to see some of the shows, if only for Plyllis and Asta.

Yvette said...

I remember watching this series the first time around. I liked it. Didn't know any better I guess.

I too find Peter Lawford repellent, in retrospect.

Taylor401306 said...

there is one episode of "The Thin Man" that still sticks in my memory. It guest-starred Robbie The Robot from "Forbidden Planet". The Robot was accused of killing its inventor & Nick & Nora were hired to defend it.

SteveHL said...

What I remember best about this are the occasional guest appearances of Nita Talbot. If the name means nothing to you, picture Lizabeth Scott, but with more talent and a sense of humor.

Charles Gramlich said...

Never knew there was a Thin man TV series. Definitely overlooked by me.

Richard R. said...

I don't remember it either. Can't say I have any particular dislike for Lawford.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand what most of you are talking about. The thin man tv show was the best. The movies were lame. Merna Loy was an air head. Powell was ok I guess. Phyllis Kirk had more class, and Peter Lawford was sooo suave . The tv show had more substance , and the chemistry between Kirk and Lawford was amazing. Sure would like to know what you all think is good tv. Just saying. Patti

Anonymous said...

Do not judge Peter Lawford any of you. You don't know what truly happened. All you know is
what you read and you know how that goes. Patti

Anonymous said...

Hey where did everybody go?

Anonymous said...

Hey where did everybody go?

Anonymous said...

Evan how many episodes do you have ? Want to share?

Olivethethinman said...

WOW, I am a huge Thin Man Fan, and wondering how in the world this TV series slipped by me too? I just found out about it tonight! Even though I was born in 59' I began watching the TM movies on TV in 1984. I purchased them on video cassette in 1985 and still have them and they still play great though we have now purchased them on DVD too. I married in 85' and our first two dogs were Wire Fox Terriers, named ASTA and ASTA TOO. As for the movies the lines in the movies which I have seen 100 times are priceless. The "special effects" in those days were very creative writers. Like the line in "After the TM", when Nick Charles asks several of the suspects to spell the word "married" and Polly Byrns spells it very carefully "M-A-R-R- uh, Y-E-D" then Nick explains how an educated person to throw off suspicion, might misspell only the hard words, but an illiterate person, when Dancer's girl Polly pipes up "hey wait a minute, my mother and father were married right here in the court house"! Or Lum's line "no play trick on him, no catch em" We have used the lines from those movie's in our home for years, they are so funny. I now have two chihuahua's, male and female, and guess what they are named??? Yep, Nick and Nora. Thanks for this site lots of fun talking Thin Man. I would love to see the TV shows, if anyone has them to share :)

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