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.
It's incredible what the Southern California sun can do to your skin.
Myrna Loy goes for sultry and inscrutable in this promo photo from her pre-Code silent movie Across the Pacific, in which she plays a half-Filipina girl named Roma. Yeah, it's a stretch, but she does look quite sexy with frizzed out hair and dark skin. All prints of Across the Pacific (not to be confused with the later Humphrey Bogart movie) are considered lost, but Loy was at the beginning of a long career that would encompass scores of movies and span a remarkable seven decades, so there's no shortage of opportunities to see her work. This image is from 1926.
Your big debut, like a dream come true.
The famous Hollywood sign hovers over Los Angeles like a heat mirage, its white lettering visible all the way from the west side on a clear day. And like a mirage, it seems closer than it really is. Success can be that way too—tantalizingly near, yet never within reach. Maybe that’s what Peg Entwistle was thinking when she climbed a workman’s ladder to the top of the letter H in the big sign, and cast herself into oblivion.
Entwistle, who you see above in an early publicity shot, was desperate to be a movie star. She’d acted on stage in New York and done well, but the bright lights of Hollywood beckoned. She plied the L.A. party circuit, met a few big shots, and scored a one-picture deal with the prestigious studio RKO. They cast her in Thirteen Women with Irene Dunn and Myrna Loy, who were both stars. The movie premiered September 16, 1932, and the critics yawned. Two nights later a heartbroken Entwistle scaled the big sign—which back then read Hollywoodland after the hillside subdivision it had been erected to promote.
The H was fifty feet tall and Entwistle wasn’t fooling around. She dove headfirst into the ravine below, the impact killing her instantly. She lay there for two days until cops finally got an anonymous tip about a body in the brush. Entwistle was designated Jane Doe at the morgue, but had left behind a suicide note signed with her initials. So the police went to the press for help. Entwistle’s uncle read the resulting story, saw the initials,and realized his niece Peg might be the body in question. She’d been missing for two days. He contacted the police and was brought in to identify the body.
Entwistle’s suicide note was short and to the point: “I am afraid, I am a coward. I am sorry for everything. If I had done this a long time ago, it would have saved a lot of pain. P.E.” Her funeral was held in Hollywood, and her body was cremated, but she would never be forgotten. She remains a symbol of broken dreams, and a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of show business. That was today, in 1932.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1933—King Kong Opens
The first version of King Kong
, starring Bruce Cabot, Robert Armstrong and Fay Wray, and with the giant ape Kong brought to life with stop-action photography, opens at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. The film goes on to play worldwide to good reviews and huge crowds, and spawns numerous sequels and reworkings over the next eighty years.
1949—James Gallagher Completes Round-the-World Flight
Captain James Gallagher and a crew of fourteen land their B-50 Superfortress named Lucky Lady II in Fort Worth, Texas, thus completing the first non-stop around-the-world airplane flight. The entire trip from takeoff to touchdown took ninety-four hours and one minute.
1953—Oscars Are Shown on Television
The 26th Academy Awards are broadcast on television by NBC, the first time the awards have been shown on television. Audiences watch live as From Here to Eternity wins for Best Picture, and William Holden and Audrey Hepburn earn statues in the best acting categories for Stalag 17 and Roman Holiday.
1912—First Parachute Jump Takes Place
Albert Berry jumps from a biplane traveling at 1,500 feet and lands by parachute at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri. The 36 foot diameter chute was contained in a metal canister attached to the underside of the plane, and when Berry dropped from the plane his weight pulled the canopy from the canister. Rather than being secured into the chute by a harness, Berry was seated on a trapeze bar. It's possible he was only the second man to accomplish a parachute landing, as there are some accounts of someone accomplishing the feat in California several months earlier.
1932—Lindbergh Baby Is Kidnapped
The twenty-month-old son of aviator Charles Lindbergh, Charles Augustus Lindbergh III, is kidnapped from the family home in East Amwell, New Jersey. Over two months later the toddler's body is discovered in woods a short distance from the home. A medical examination determines that he had died of a massive skull fracture. A German carpenter named Bruno Hauptmann is arrested, tried, and convicted for the crime. He is sentenced to death and executed in April 1936.
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