Throughout the Thin Man series of films, Nick Charles (William Powell) is constantly swigging booze, whether it be Scotch, bourbon or cocktails and he makes it seem like the greatest thing in the world to do. In Shadow Of The Thin Man, however, he doesn't drink quite as much - maybe a sign of why this film doesn't sparkle quite as much as the three films that preceded it.That's not to say that it's a poor relation, far from it. The first five minutes are one of the funniest opening five minutes you can imagine opening with a great sight gag about Nick taking faithful pooch, Asta, for a walk; to some delightful verbal tomfoolery with Nick passing the racing papers off as a fairytale to Nick Jr and ending with another priceless sight gag as we cut from Nick sniffing the air suspiciously to Norah (Myrna Loy) shaking a mixer of cocktail vigorously. This high-spirited opening continues to a delightful dinner table scene with Nick Jr forcing his father to swap his booze for something more...white.
It's probably the funniest 20 minutes in the entire Thin Man series, but at the leanest running time of them all so far (just over 90 minutes), there's less time spent on social gabbing and merry making, and more time spent on the central mystery of the film, the murder of a crooked jockey at a racecourse. Also, it's the fourth film in a row that climaxes with Nick and the police sitting all the potential culprits down in a room while Nick explains who the murderer is and how he worked it out. It's not so much that any of this is bad, more that the formula is becoming a little predictable.
But these are mere blemishes to what is still a rousing and fun film. The mystery is clever and involving, it's still got a couple of great comic incidents in it from an insistent waiter to a brawl in a restaurant that you only seem to get in the black and white era of Hollywood (I'm always tickled by the concept that all it takes for a riot to start is for one punch to be thrown between two men, causing a Pavlovian response to start fighting between every other person around), and the script gleams with wit (I particularly love Norah's cry towards the end of the film when Nick grandly announces that the murderer has revealed himself/herself).
And of course, there's Powell and Loy at the centre of it all. Check out the other Thin Man reviews for how great they were as it tends to get repetitive, praising them in the same way over and over again, but needless to say that Loy is wonderful and Powell demonstrates tremendous dexterity in working up a comic rapport with a bunch of kids, a dog and every single actor around him.To criticise Shadow of the Thin Man as being the weakest in the series so far, is barely a criticism at all. Other film franchises would kill to have a fourth entry as great as this, so by the time the fifth one comes round I'll be happily waiting at the bar - let's just hope that Nick remembers to bring his drinking shoes.