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3.0 out of 5 stars Of historical interest only, October 2, 2012
This review is from: Return of the Thin Man: Two never-before-published novellas featuring Nick & Nora Charles (Hardcover)
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Once upon a time it was common practice for there to be novelizations of movies. Maybe they still do those; I haven't seen one in a long time. This current collection of two and a half stories by Dashiell Hammett has that feel to it. But oddly enough, it's the reverse.

Apparently Hammett was contracted by MGM to write stories for the first and second sequels to his immensely popular THE THIN MAN, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy, these being AFTER THE THIN MAN and ANOTHER THIN MAN. The stories he wrote were then turned into screenplays by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, who had already done the first film. Hammett was richly rewarded for these "treatments," though he apparently hated writing them. The diminishing interest is obvious, as the treatments dwindle in depth and detail, to the point that a third one, simply titled "Sequel to The Thin Man," is a bare-bones, quite disjointed and confusing hodge-podge. (Further evidence of his not wanting the series to dribble on is giving Nick and Nora a child in the second sequel, thinking, apparently, that there's no way the producers would continue the film series with our two footloose and fancy free, semi-alcoholic protagonists burdened with family. Ha! They did anyway!)

As stories go, the mysteries are typically intriguing: many characters and the guilty one being the least likely of the bunch. In fact, there are probably too many characters, but this, too, is typical of these whodunits. Your average Agatha Christie novel is swamped with hordes of extraneous characters, all of whom could have "dunit"...and frequently WOULD have "dunit," given the chance.

The major interest here is historical, I think. Dashiell Hammett was certainly a major player in his field. His two most lasting creations are Nick and Nora Charles of THE THIN MAN, and Sam Spade of THE MALTESE FALCON. So to be given a chance to read something heretofore unpublished is certainly welcome. But as reading matter, it falls short. Dialogue is presented in script format, with the speaker's name followed by a colon and then the speech. Prose in many cases is simply glorified stage direction. I don't know what it would be like to read these without ever having seen the films. In my case, I have the boxed set of complete Thin Man movies on DVD and by coincidence had just watched them in sequence about a month before I read this book, so I couldn't be a judge of this book's value apart from the films. I did find it entertaining, however, and informative as a companion piece to the films.

Incidentally, for those of you who have never seen the films or read the original book, the titular Thin Man is not Nick Charles. That was a description of the victim of the first story. But the title phrase stuck and was used with less and less logic with each successive film (much like "Frankenstein" in that series of films). Okay, "after the Thin Man" works, since the story takes place "after" the Thin Man is dead; but even by a stretch, "another Thin Man" doesn't really work if you consider that "other" thin man is Nick and Nora's baby, Nick, Jr. In the remaining three films -- SHADOW OF THE THIN MAN, THE THIN MAN GOES HOME and SONG OF THE THIN MAN -- there is little to no reason.

But to recap, this book is interesting primarily as an historical find. On its own, I don't think it stands up.
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