Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Overlooked Films: Almost the Thin Man: Star of Midnight (1935)

As you might guess, I’m a big fan of Nick and Nora Charles in all their various incarnations. I’ve read the novel at least three times and listened to audio version twice. I’ve seen all six films numerous times, and even enjoy the comparatively bland TV series and blander radio series. I’ve read the Charles-free chapters of Hammett’s earlier attempt at the story, and the recent Return of the Thin Man book containing two screen treatments (not novellas, as advertised). I have yet to name a dog Asta, but there’s still time.

So I was mighty pleased to plug this DVD into my player and encounter more of that Thin Man magic. In Star of Midnight, released a year after the first official Thin Man film, William Powell is pretending to be an attorney named “Dal” Dalzell, and Ginger Rogers is pretending to be his younger, richer, wannabe fiancé. We’re not fooled, of course. We know they’re really Nick and Nora, with the names changed to protect the studio from lawsuits. The Thin Man was a huge hit for MGM, and it’s not surprising RKO wanted to slurp up some of the gravy.

The story follows the Thin Man formula - an affectionate, hard-drinking, wise-cracking couple encounter both gangsters and society folk as they solve a mystery that baffles the relatively dimwitted police. Powell, of course, is perfect in the role. The shocking thing is how well Ginger Rogers does as an almost-Nora. She’s smart, funny, quirky, and determined to out-do Nick (uh, I mean “Dal”) in uncovering the clues. And the two have great chemistry.

The result is thoroughly enjoyable entertainment.

Of course, the story and screenplay are not quite up to the standard of The Thin Man, or even After The Thin Man. But I’d say this film reaches the level of Another Thin Man, and surpasses Shadow of the Thin Man, The Thin Man Goes Home and Song of The Thin Man. And Ginger Rogers, good as she is, is not quite as good as Myrna Loy in those early films. And the supporting cast (except for Paul Kelly as the gangster) is nothing to shout about. And there’s no Asta.

Still, it’s almost The Thin Man. And that’s pretty damn good.

Here's a sample:

More Overlooked Films at SWEET FREEDOM.


Anonymous said...

RKO's "The Ex-Mrs. Bradford" (1936), with Powell and Jean Arthur, was yet another imitation Thin Man movie.

Evan Lewis said...

Ooo. Now I want to see that too.

Erich Kuersten said...

you forgot the main difference which is that Nora Charles was an awesome babe, and they were married already and she never criticized his drinking or lifestyle... both the Ex-Mrs. bradford and Ginger Rogers' nag both wrinkle their noses at anything over the smallest splash of Scotch.

The worst is that after being shot, Rogers wants to force William Powell to take a hot bath! A hot bath! for a gunshot wound? you may as well just pour bacteria right in the hole and get it over with.

Plus, all either of the women really want to do is trick him back into marriage -- to these post-code broads getting married so they can nag the poor guy to death without any worry he'll escape--is far more important than solving some dumb old 'crime.'

(more of my ranting on this topic here)

pattinase (abbott) said...

Love William Powell but not a big Ginger Rogers fan. I don't think I have ever seen this.

Evan Lewis said...

I've never paid much attention to Ginger, but she wowed me in this.

Cap'n Bob said...

Young Ginger was gorgeous, and a magnificent dancer. I have a thing for her.

Anonymous said...

In musicals, Ginger had to do the same moves as Fred Astaire, but she had to do it backwards and in high heels.