William PowellOK, forgive me for being a little late with this, but Turner Classic Movies is showing films featuring the great William Powell all day today, including two entries in the delightful Thin Man series.

Powell was a witty, urbane leading man in 1930s Hollywood who starred in numerous films, some of which are true classics of their forms. The Thin Man films and his performances as detective Philo Vance (whom he manages to make quite likeable, as opposed to the obnoxiously smug Vance of the S. S. Van Dine novels on which the movies are based) are fun mysteries; Libeled Lady, My Man Godfrey, Love Crazy, and I Love You Again are among the greatest screwball comedies; The Great Ziegfield is a splendid biography with music, Manhattan Melodrama iPublicity still from The Thin Mans a superb crime and morality drama, and his performances in Life with Father and Mister Roberts are standouts.

Powell was born in Pittsburgh and raised in Kansas, and as the photos here indicate, he was not a conventionally handsome movie-star type by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, he started out in films by playing villains in silent movies. However, his class, sophistication, and innate gentility soon became evident with the rise of sound films, and he became one of the greatest stars of Hollywood’s Golden Era. He was often paired with Myrna Loy, whose pert wit played well against Powell’s charming affability. Throughout his career, Powell showed how good character and fine manners could make a person much more appealing than physical characteristics ever could.

Powell was one of the greats, and the films on TCM today (which include two in the Thin Man series) provide a good overview of his 1930s work.