Follow TV Tropes


Film / Shadow of the Thin Man

Go To

Shadow of the Thin Man is a 1941 mystery film directed by W. S. Van Dyke. It is the fourth of six films in the "Thin Man" series that started with The Thin Man in 1934.

Nick and Nora Charles (William Powell and Myrna Loy) are off to a racetrack for a leisurely afternoon when the races are interrupted by the mysterious death of a jockey. The jockey is believed to have been murdered because he was about to reveal that the mob had pressured him into throwing a race. Nick is pressed into service again as a detective, and he is asked by a do-gooder state assemblyman, Major Sculley (Henry O'Neill), to help investigate the mobsters who are fixing horse races. Things get even better when Whitey Barrow (Alan Baxter), a reporter who is in deep with the mob, is murdered. Nick's friend Paul Clarke (Barry Nelson), a much more honest reporter, is accused of the crime, but Nick hunts for the real murderer.

The fourth and last of the Thin Man films directed by Van Dyke, who killed himself in 1943 after falling ill with cancer. Donna Reed appears as Paul's supportive girlfriend Molly, in one of her first big roles. Stella Adler appears as Claire, the mob boss's girl, in one of the only three film roles of her career; she would go on to found tremendously influential acting schools in New York and Los Angeles.


  • The Alcoholic: Nick is utterly horrified when Nick Jr. insists he drink milk. When guests arrive, Nick desperately grabs at a martini and refers to it as "the antidote."
  • Artifact Title: As with all Thin Man films after the first two. (The "thin man" was a supporting character in the first film.)
  • Bar Brawl: Started by Asta, believe it or not, when he trips a man while zipping through a restaurant.
  • Busman's Holiday: As usual in the Thin Man series, but Nick actually doesn't resist the call to action in this one as much as he does in earlier films.
  • Calling Parents by Their Name: Nick Jr. calls his father "Nick". This is meant to signal that Nick is a Cool Old Guy.
  • The Cameo: Tor Johnson, who would later be made famous by Ed Wood, is one of the wrestlers.
  • Cool Old Lady: Whitey's landlady is an elderly woman who listens to gruesome radio serials, carries around a magazine about murder stories, and uses slang like "case the joint". She couldn't care less that Barrow's dead because he owed two months rent and "The slug he got saved me the trouble of tossing him out on his ear".
  • The Dog Was the Mastermind: As usual in Thin Man films—see Villain with Good Publicity below.
  • Exact Words: Nick bets Abrams five dollars that "there was only one murderer" in the case of two seemingly unrelated shootings. Abrams can see no connection between the two and takes the bet. They're both right; the two deaths are unrelated, but Nick has already deduced that the first was an accident, so there was only one murderer.
  • Flanderization: The recurring police detective Lt. Abrams. In his first film, After, he came across as a competent cop who may be wrong in who he suspects for murder, but had good reasons for thinking he was right. Now he's more of a clumsy bumbler.
  • Follow That Car: A bad guy zips away in a cab. Nora tells the cabbie "Follow that car!" The cabbie roars off after the car—without Nora.
  • Framing the Guilty Party: A throwaway gag has one of Nick's hoodlum buddies admitting that "The DA framed me, not knowing I was guilty."
  • Hired to Hunt Yourself: Major Sculley, the state legislator charged with busting the rackets, is the head racketeer.
  • Impairment Shot: Nick gets dizzy when cajoled into riding a carousel with Nick Jr.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Paul, who is a crusader determined to bring the rackets down. Inverted with Whitey, who is owned by the mob.
  • It Works Better with Bullets: After the climactic 'whodunnit' reveal, the Big Bad grabs the gun from Nick's waist holster and threatens to shoot him. Nora jumps on him to keep him from being able to pull the trigger, but when the Lieutenant picks it up he says 'Nick, this gun isn't loaded!' Turns out, Nick had kept it unloaded for the sake of his son to prevent any accidents.
  • Kayfabe: Nick and Nora attend a wrestling match. When the man running it says that they are in for a great match, Nick quips "How do you know? Were you at the rehearsal?". Later on they leave while the fight is still going on, with one wrestler in a painful looking hold and groaning with discomfort. As she passes the ring, Nora tells him that she hopes he gets out of it okay. The wrestler stops groaning and thanks her for her concern in a perfectly normal tone of voice.
  • Kids Are Cruel: The other children on the merry-go-round give Nick and Nick Jr. a hard time, with the former receiving the brunt of it, being accused of being a coward.
  • Loyal Animal Companion: As usual, Nick takes Asta when he goes out investigating. Asta winds up finding a diamond bracelet hidden in Claire's room.
  • Mama Bear: Seeing the villain about to shoot Nick, Nora throws herself straight onto the guy and wrestles him into submission with a choke-hold, all the while screaming for Nick to run for it (keep in mind; the man had a gun which he was pointing straight at Nick and Nora). Granted, she then passed out and had no memory of it, and it turns out the gun was empty, but it's still pretty impressive.
  • Never Suicide: Subverted, sort of—the jockey was going to kill himself, but he dropped the gun, which fell into a drain and went off, killing him.
  • Never One Murder: As per the Thin Man formula. Rainbow Benny the hoodlum is murdered in his room.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: High-class prostitute Claire Peters usually spoke with a pronounced "posh" British accent (or at least what sounded like one to Americans). But when frightened or angry, she would slip into a lower-class New Yorker accent. Nick catches her at this in one scene. ("Don't look now, but your accent's showing.")
  • Police Are Useless: A trope throughout the Thin Man series, but maybe never worse than here, when the cops completely miss the gun lying in the shower drain pipe directly underneath the jockey's body.
  • Psychic Link: Nick Charles and alcohol. He's sitting in a park with Nick Jr. when he perks up and says "Something tells me that something important is happening somewhere." It's Nora, back at home, shaking a martini mixture.
  • Take Me Out at the Ball Game: Nick and Nora Charles are looking forward to a relaxing day at a racetrack, but when a jockey accused of throwing a race is found shot to death, Police Lieutenant Abrams requests Nick's help.
  • Throwing the Fight: The victim whose death starts the plot is a jockey who was forced by gangsters to throw a horse race.
  • TV Telephone Etiquette: After receiving a vital piece of information over the phone during the Summation Gathering, Nick slams the phone down without saying goodbye.
  • Uncle Tomfoolery: Depressing racist humor in the person of the Charles' family maid who confuses "telescope" with "telepathy", says "ain't" a lot, etc.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: The murderer is revealed to be Major Sculley, the deputy from the state assembly charged with busting the mob rackets. Sculley turns out to be neck-deep in the rackets himself.