|Myrna Loy, William Powell, and Asta in The Thin Man|
|Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk|
The first story in this book, After the Thin Man, finds the couple returning home to San Francisco from New York by train, hoping to enjoy a quiet New Year's Eve at home. As Nick attempts to shave at the mirror on the back of the door, Nora slams into the compartment, calling for him. She looks around to see Nick, eyes bulging, "with his razor at his throat, smiling the sickly sweet grin of a man who has just escaped death." They dodge the reporters wanting to hear about Nick's New York murder case and arrive home to find a surprise welcome home party, thrown by Nick's disreputable friends, already well under way. They even know some of the guests, all of whom disappear rapidly when a man Nora recognizes as an old family gardener is shot dead on their doorstep. After dealing with the police, an imperious and urgent call from Nora's Aunt Katherine summons them to a Nob Hill formal dinner party with all of her stuffy relatives. Robert, husband of Nora's cousin Selma, has gone missing, and the collective family wants the despised Nick to find the philanderer.
I had forgotten just how relentlessly funny and outrageous these stories are; blink and you may have missed a wonderful sight gag, sneeze and you have lost a wonderful line. Hammett had a gift for witty, rapid-fire dialogue that has rarely been equaled, and he really let it rip in these stories. Reading the book, I could clearly imagine Loy and Powell in their respective roles. While I wish Hammett had written actual novels for the later stories, these beefed-up screenplays are a very acceptable substitute. And I never realized until just this minute how much William Powell resembled Dashiell Hammett! Hmmm.
In her introduction to The Big Knockover, a reissue of Hammett's Continental Ops stories, Hellman says he wrote her from prison that "[h]e was cleaning bathrooms better than she had ever done" and that he had "learned to take pride in the work." He came out of prison very ill, partly as a result of the tuberculosis he had contracted in World War I. In 1953, he was again called before a Senate subcommittee, and again refused to implicate others. As a result he was blacklisted, unable to work in films for the rest of his life.
|Johnny Depp as Nick Charles? Maybe...|
Note: Return of the Thin Man was published by Mysterious Press and will be released on November 6, 2012. I received a free review copy of this book, and similar reviews may appear on other review sites under my user names there.