31 July 2013

Day 31: The "Perfect" Film

Day 31 of the 31 day film challenge: The “perfect” film.

On day one of this challenge I chose Casablanca as my favourite film. For the last day I’m going with another film that I love.

The Thin Man (1934) is the epitome of the perfect film. Directed in just two weeks by the efficient W.S. "One-Take Woody" Van Dyke and with cinematography by the great James Wong Howe, the film is witty, fast paced, funny, and filled with wonderful characters dressed in the latest style by Dolly Tree, and a script that’s just spot on.

Based on the Dashiell Hammett novel, The Thin Man became a screwball mystery on screen. Retired detective Nick Charles (William Powell) and his wealthy wife, Nora (Myrna Loy), are in New York for the holidays when Nick is dragged, reluctantly, into the case of a missing inventor, Clyde Wynant (Edward Ellis). Soon bodies start turning up and it's left to Nick, with Nora and their trusted canine companion, Asta, by his side to solve the mystery.

Powell and Loy exhibit some of the best screen chemistry in film history. Watching the affectionate, easy banter between the two is like watching a ballet. They are perfectly in sync with each other, and you really believe this is a couple in love, sometime usually relegated to non-married couples in film.

I don't know who created this .gif (apologies) but it's just perfect.

Their comic timing is perfect from their delivery of punch lines to their non-verbal reactions to each other (see above). Much of the humour centres around drinking, primarily Nick's. No film has ever made being drunk look more glorious. Nick is either tipsy or drunk for most of the film and his ability to retain his urbane air and way with words is something that most drunks can only dream of accomplishing.

And then there’s Asta. The greatest film dog of all time (in my books), this Wirehaired Fox Terrier (real name Skippy) steals every scene he’s in and sometimes even steals the evidence. Asta also provides a lot of the comedy in the film: when there's danger, like a man pointing a gun at the Charles, he is found hiding under the bed. And when Nick decides to share a berth with Nora on the train home, Asta covers his eyes. 

The duo are surrounded by a strong cast of supporting characters including Maureen O’Sullivan as Wynant’s daughter Dorothy; Minna Gombell as her mother Mimi; a young Cesar Romero as Mimi’s second husband Chris; William Henry as Wynant’s strange son Gilbert; Porter Hall as Wynant's attorney Herbert MacCaulay; Nat Pendleton as the police inspector trying to solve the case; Harold Huber as a crook named Nunheim (what a name!); and two actors with the most amazing Brooklyn accents—Edward Brophy as repeat offender Joe Morelli and Gertrude Short as Marion, Nunheim's no-nonsense blonde girlfriend.

Another reason The Thin Man is perfect is its script filled with witty zingers. 

Nick: I'm a hero. I was shot twice in the Tribune.
Nora: I read where you were shot five times in the tabloids.
Nick: It's not true. He didn't come anywhere near my tabloids.

Inspector Guild: You got a pistol permit?
Nick: No.
Inspector Guild: Ever heard of the Sullivan Act?
Nora: Oh, that's all right, we're married.

Reporter: Say listen, is he working on a case?
Nora: Yes, he is.
Reporter: What case?
Nora: A case of scotch. Pitch in and help him.

If you've never seen The Thin Man you should watch it immediately, like tonight. I have the box set along with the other five Thin Man films but it's also available for streaming on Amazon. And if you've seen the film but didn't like it then you might just want to make an appointment  to see your doctor and get your head checked. 

That’s it, 31 films for the month of July. I’m happy I accomplished this challenge (and that it's done) and hope you enjoyed my picks. Back to regular posting soon.

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