Two very entertaining detective-film series are on display tomorrow on Turner Classic Movies. The day starts with the best Sherlock Holmes of the cinema (in my view), Basil Rathbone, starring in four Universal Sherlock Holmes films broadcast on TCM tomorrow morning from 6:00 EST until 11:00.
Co-starring Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson, most of the Universal Sherlock Holmes films were set during then-contemporary times—during and just after World War II—and often included aspects of the war in their plots, as in Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon,which TCM will show at 6 a.m. tomorrow. The films also had about the same amount of melodramatic action as the original Conan Doyle stories typically provided.
The puzzles aren’t exactly scintillating and perfectly fair-play, but the movies go along at a nice, snappy pace, and the actors give the central characters and their adversaries strong and even charismatic performances.
Speaking of charisma, Nick and Nora Charles, the central characters of MGM’s Thin Man series of films (based on the novel The Thin Man, by Dashiell Hammett) have tons of it, as do the actors who portray them. The wealthy, sophisticated, glamorous, charming, hard-drinking, wisecracking Charles couple, played by William Powell and Myrna Loy, are classic movie characters, and the series lasted through six installments and more than a dozen years, from 1934 to 1947. Their dog, a wirehaired fox terrier named Asta, is an important character as well.
The first three installments in the series were written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, two very good writers, and the story lines for the second and third films in the series, After the Thin Man (1936) and Another Thin Man (1939), were written by Hammett, in addition to the first installment being based on his novel. The first four films in the series were directed by W. S. Van Dyke, who was known for his excellent pacing and ability to secure good performances from his actors. These films amply demonstrate those skills.
Turner Classic Movies has the first five Thin Man films scheduled for tomorrow, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. EDT.
Nick and Nora Charles are known for their high-spirited, good-natured attitude toward life and for the cheerful way they approach marriage. Neither seems to find their union to be any kind of a burden, in contrast to common attitudes today. For years, in fact, Nick and Nora were characterized as an ideal married couple, and one can easily see why: they know each other’s faults and accept them, but they also expect the best of each other and want to give the best they have. In addition, each of them has a strong (and sometimes wicked) sense of humor.
Most of the films in the series had surprisingly complex mysteries, and for a viewer to solve them in the course of these fast-paced films is probably all but impossible. But the strong mysteries help keep the plots going, very much in the manner of Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason novels (and not so much iin the Perry Mason TV series).
The book and the success of the films inspired a popular radio series and a 1950s TV series starring Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk—plus countless imitators over the years. The Thin Man films are terrifically charming and a lot of fun. My favorites in the series are the first installment, The Thin Man (1934), its follow-up, After the Thin Man (1936), and The Thin Man Goes Home (1944).
By the way, Nick Charles is not the Thin Man of the film’s titles, at least for the first two installments of the series.
Here’s the TCM schedule for these two series tomorrow:
|6:00 AM||Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1942)|
|Sherlock Holmes fights to keep a new bombsite design from the Nazis. Cast: Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Lionel Atwill. Dir: Roy William Neill. BW-68 mins, TV-G|
|7:15 AM||Woman in Green, The (1945)|
|Sherlock Holmes investigates a series of seemingly unrelated murders. Cast: Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Hillary Brooke. Dir: Roy William Neill. BW-67 mins, TV-G|
|8:30 AM||Sherlock Holmes in Terror by Night (1946)|
|Sherlock Holmes signs on to protect a priceless diamond from jewel thieves. Cast: Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Alan Mowbray. Dir: Roy William Neill. BW-63 mins, TV-G|
|9:45 AM||Sherlock Holmes in Dressed to Kill (1946)|
|Sherlock Holmes sets out to find why people are killing each other over a seemingly inexpensive music box. Cast: Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Patricia Morison. Dir: Roy William Neill. BW-71 mins, TV-G|
|11:00 AM||Thin Man, The (1934)|
|A husband-and-wife detective team takes on the search for a missing inventor and almost get killed for their efforts. Cast: William Powell, Myrna Loy, Maureen O’Sullivan. Dir: W.S. Van Dyke II. BW-91 mins, TV-G, CC, DVS|
|12:45 PM||After The Thin Man (1936)|
|Married sleuths Nick and Nora Charles try to clear Nora’s cousin of a murder charge. Cast: William Powell, Myrna Loy, James Stewart. Dir: W.S. Van Dyke II. BW-112 mins, TV-G, CC|
|2:45 PM||Another Thin Man (1939)|
|Not even the joys of parenthood can stop married sleuths Nick and Nora Charles from investigating a murder on a Long Island estate. Cast: William Powell, Myrna Loy, C. Aubrey Smith. Dir: W. S. Van Dyke II. BW-103 mins, TV-G, CC|
|4:30 PM||Shadow Of The Thin Man (1941)|
|High society sleuths Nick and Nora Charles r
un into a variety of shady characters while investigating a race-track murder. Cast: William Powell, Myrna Loy, Donna Reed. Dir: W.S. Van Dyke II. BW-97 mins, TV-G, CC
|6:15 PM||Thin Man Goes Home, The (1945)|
|On a trip to visit his parents, detective Nick Charles gets mixed up in a murder investigation. Cast: William Powell, Myrna Loy, Lucile Watson. Dir: Richard Thorpe. BW-101 mins, TV-G, CC|