Even Powell and Loy's legendary act was bound to get tired eventually.
There's nice Roger Soubie art on this French poster for Song of the Thin Man, the last of six movies in the Thin Man series, which premiered in the U.S. in 1947 and reached France today in 1948. After six sessions the concept might seem a little worn to some viewers, but it still has William Powell and Myrna Loy as the leads. The mystery involves the death of an orchestra musician and the search for a missing bandleader, which leads to Powell and Loy exploring New York City's jazz underground. It's an all-white underground spread across various clubs, gambling boats, and parties, populated by at least fifty musicians, none of them of color. Of all the sight gags in the movie, the barring of black musicians from a film revolving around the art form they invented is the most notable one of all, but that's mid-century moviemaking for you.
The jazz gimmick is useful anyway, because it gives the filmmakers the opportunity to have Powell—as upper class supersleuth Nick Charles—play the role of a fish out of water. He understands neither the hipster jazzcats nor their customs and slang, and in about half a decade probably turns into the white-haired bartender from The Wild One. Even so, he needs to find and unmask a murderer in order to free a wrongly accused acquaintance from police custody. In true Thin Man fashion, he quips his way through the proceedings, plays cagey with femmes fatales Marie Windsor and Gloria Grahame, and finally unveils the killer in a nightclub populated by all the suspects. Loy is reliable as always in the sidekick role, and even amusingly picks up a few words of hep lingo.
While Dashiell Hammett originated the two characters of Nick and Nora Charles, he didn't touch Song of the Thin Man. Instead it was written by veteran crime novelist Steve Fisher and comedy writer Nat Perrin. Their union, unlike Nick and Nora's marriage, is an uneasy pairing, though it's hard to put a finger on what exactly is wrong. The mystery has an interesting backdrop, but is never compelling, while the humor seems clunkier than in the past. Powell and Loy do their best, but the movie failed to earn back its production budget, and the franchise came to an end. There were screenwriting and production issues, but we suspect that the real culprit was simple boredom—slayer of movie series and marriages alike. Audiences had simply moved on. World War, generational cynicism, and the emergence of grittier cinema will tend to cause that. Song of the Thin Man premiered today in 1947.
Cocktails, comedy, and crime make a mix that'll go right to your head.
Above, a fantastic Czech poster for the 1934 romantic comedy-murder mystery The Thin Man, which there was titled Detektiv Nick v New Yorku. This is a photo-illustration, rather than the paintings we love, but it's still, in our book, as good as promo art gets. As far as the film goes, like Casablanca or Chinatown, there's no way to overrate it. Some of the humor is so modern that you'll have trouble believing it was made almost a century ago and wasn't cribbed from an episode of Friends or Seinfeld. Just goes to show that in the infinity of time we don't change as quickly as we think.
We adore the boozing party animals at the center of this tour de force—Nick and Nora Charles, played by William Powell and Myrna Loy—whose drunken interactions could easily be the inspiration for Jim and Jules of the hilarious television show Brockmire. Credit the director, actors, editors, and everyone else for this masterpiece, but give the biggest nod to Dashiell Hammett, who wrote the excellent source novel. There's no release date for Detektiv Nick v New Yorku in Czechoslovakia, but figure spring or early summer of 1935.
Nick and Nora Charles—never shaken, never stirred, and almost never sober.
1934's The Thin Man is what we like to think of as a palate cleanser. After reading a few less accomplished authors you grab a Hammett because you know he's great. It's pure fun following functional alcoholic Nick Charles and his equally hard drinking young wife Nora as they navigate deception and murder. How much do Nick and Nora Charles drink? At one point Nick wakes up feeling terrible and realizes it's because he'd gone to bed sober. Several cocktail sessions a day is about average. Maybe that's why danger doesn't faze them. Even being shot at is reason for a libation and a quip.
This edition of The Thin Man is a rare one. It's the Pocket Books paperback from 1945, with the type of art that was prevalent on paperbacks during the heyday of pulp. We can't tell you much about the book that hasn't already been written, including the fact that it's less a mystery than a comedy of manners, but there is one aspect that's rarely commented upon. Nick Charles is of Greek descent. His full last name is Charalambides. This was the ’30s, when there was open racism in the U.S. against Greeks. James M. Cain delves into this in The Postman Always Rings Twice, in which the Greek character Nick Papadakis is insulted behind his back and set apart as a non-white inferior.
So in The Thin Man Hammett was portraying Nick Charles not as the upper crust dilettante William Powell made famous in the film version, but as a tough guy outsider. People are a bit afraid of him. Filmgoers were definitely not afraid of pencil mustached William Powell. Hammett wanted the written Charles to possess street cred, to be a person who had been places and seen things others had not. Hammett was going for a different type of detective in more ways than merely his drinking habits. Charles' maverick role is just a little extra flavor in an already entertaining novel. The actual mystery is difficult to follow, but even so we highly recommend this if you haven't read it.
Never try to copy the uncopyable.
U.S. born actress Barbara Lang was one of many actresses promoted as a Marilyn Monroe type, but it was wishful thinking. She only looked like Monroe in shots like this upnose angle from a 1957 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer promo. However, Lang was beautiful and talented in her own right and went on to star mainly on television, including on series such as 77 Sunset Strip and The Thin Man. After a short career and a turbulent personal life she died in Los Angeles in 1982 aged fifty-four.
San Fran film fest once again celebrates the best and brightest of mid-century crime cinema.
Today, once again, the U.S.’s premier film noir festival begins in San Francisco. Well, we aren’t impartial—we used to live in Berkeley, just across the Bay, and San Fran was our nocturnal playground—but we think the Noir City Film Festival is the best, that its locale the Castro Theatre is awesome, and that San Francisco, with its iconic hills, clanking cable cars, and rogue fogs, is the also the best possible host city. This year the art produced for the festival in its thirteenth year references worn pulp paperbacks, which we can appreciate, and we also love the festival line-up.
The extravaganza opens with Woman on the Run, a film we discussed recently. Apparently the last known print burned in a fire, and this year’s showing represents the culmination of years of restoration work. Since the film was in the public domain, we imagine some secondary sources existed and needed to be tracked down and cobbled together. Other classics to be screened include Clash By Night, The Thin Man, Shockproof, Cry Terror!, and twenty others. Hopefully a few of our Bay Area friends will attend the festival and report back. And to Pulp Intl. readers in that part of the world, this is your official reminder—any chance to see film noir on a big screen is an opportunity not to be wasted.
She wore an off-the-shoulder organza, neatly accessorized with a .38.
There have been many covers for Dashiell Hammett’s great novel The Thin Man. This is one of the best..
Update: A reader sent in an email not long after we posted the above pointing out that the artist copied Robert Maguire's cover art for Jack Webb's The Brass Halo. Though not completely identical, it's fair to say the second artist more or less just changed the colors and reversed the image. In fact, maybe he just changed the colors, since the reversal could have been done during the pre-press process. There are many examples of copying out there. We even dedicated a previous post to it. We also shared a collection that featured one copy in a group of eight covers. With this third example we have a mind to dig into the phenomenon a bit more. We're really curious now who the copycats are. We'll get back to you later on it, assuming we find out anything. Thanks to Miga for writing in and locating the below image.
Previously unknown Dashiell Hammett works to appear in crime fiction magazine The Strand.
In an announcement bound to excite and intrigue pulp and literature fans the world over, magazine editor Andrew Gulli has slated for publication fifteen previously unknown Dashiell Hammett short stories. Gulli found the writings in the archives of the Harry Ransom Centre, a literary memorabilia storehouse based at the University of Texas, in Austin.
Gulli says he has no idea why the works ended up at the Ransom Centre, and he can offer no historical context for the works, since all are undated. He plans to publish the first of these new stories, entitled “So I Shot Him,” in his crime fiction magazine The Strand, with the others possibly to appear later as a book-length collection.
Hammett’s many works include classics such as The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man, and as a stylist he established many techniques that later became foundational in pulp writing. As far as the quality of the new works goes, Gulli has said in an interview with The Guardian newspaper that, “There are some very, very good pieces of fiction here. Some of them are classic Hammett and fit in with the style we know and others are very different and go off to places that were a different direction for him.”
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1966—LSD Declared Illegal in U.S.
LSD, which was originally synthesized by a Swiss doctor and was later secretly used by the CIA on military personnel, prostitutes, the mentally ill, and members of the general public in a project code named MKULTRA, is designated a controlled substance in the United States.
1945—Hollywood Black Friday
A six month strike by Hollywood set decorators becomes a riot at the gates of Warner Brothers Studios when strikers and replacement workers clash. The event helps bring about the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act, which, among other things, prohibits unions from contributing to political campaigns and requires union leaders to affirm they are not supporters of the Communist Party.
1957—Sputnik Circles Earth
The Soviet Union launches the satellite Sputnik I, which becomes the first artificial object to orbit the Earth. It orbits for two months and provides valuable information about the density of the upper atmosphere. It also panics the United States into a space race that eventually culminates in the U.S. moon landing.
1970—Janis Joplin Overdoses
American blues singer Janis Joplin is found dead on the floor of her motel room in Los Angeles. The cause of death is determined to be an overdose of heroin, possibly combined with the effects of alcohol.
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