- Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
When I received my review copy of “Return of the Thin Man” (Mysterious Press, 320 pages, $25.00) edited by Richard Layman and Julie M. Rivett, I understood that I wasn’t going to be reviewing two long-lost Dashiell Hammett novellas. “Return of the Thin Man” contains two screen stories: “After the Thin Man” and “Another Thin Man”, as well as a short treatment for another sequel to “The Thin Man” movie. The screen stories formed the basis of the movies “After the Thin Man” (1936) and “Another Thin Man” (1939).
Born Samuel Dashiell Hammett in St. Mary’s County, MD in 1894, the acclaimed author’s last — and most successful — novel was “The Thin Man”, published at the beginning of 1934. Later that year the novel was translated to the big screen at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer under the same name, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles. It was directed by W.S. Van Dyke, known as “One-Take Woody” for his economical shooting schedules. Van Dyke also directed “After the Thin Man” and “Another Thin Man”. Much of the success of this movie can be attributed to the screenplay by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, partners in screenwriting and in life as husband and wife.
Hammett, who died in 1961, was also the creator of San Francisco private investigator Samuel Spade in “The Maltese Falcon.” John Huston directed Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre and a stellar cast in the 1941 firm version from Warner Bros.
Following the enormous critical and box office success of “The Thin Man” movie in 1934, MGM Producer Hunt Stromberg liked Hammett’s work so much he commissioned screen stories for sequels for the films that became “After the Thin Man” and “Another Thin Man”. Bringing back his classic characters, retired private investigator Nick Charles and his former debutante wife Nora, who return home to find Nora’s family gardener murdered, pulling the couple back into another deadly game of cat and mouse. Hammett has written two fully satisfying “Thin Man” stories, with classic, barbed Hammett dialogue and fully developed characters.
By the way, the “thin man” referred to in the 1934 novel was not Nick Charles; it refers to Clyde Wynant, the mysterious and eccentric patriarch who is the main concern of the plot. According to the Wikipedia entry for the novel, a skeletonized body, found during the investigation, had been assumed to be that of a “fat man” due to its being found in clothing from a much heavier man. This clothing is revealed to be a diversion, and the identity of the body is finally revealed as that of a particular “thin man” instead—the missing Wynant. The murder has been disguised in a way to frame Wynant, by people who have stolen a great deal of money from Wynant and killed him, on the night he was last seen.was.
Neither of these stories has been previously published (except for a partial in a small magazine 25 years ago). “The Return of the Thin Man” shows that when it came to translating Hammett’s dialogue to the screen, Goodrich and Hackett didn’t have to work very hard. This a book for people who love Hammett’s classic novels and for anyone interested in how a novel — or novella — is translated into a motion picture.
For a good discussion of the difference between a screen story, like the two in this book, and a screenplay, click: http://artfulwriter.com/archives/2005/10/story-or-screen.html
About the Author
Dashiell Hammett was an American author of hard-boiled detective novels and short stories, screenplay writer, and political activist. He created enduring characters including Sam Spade (“The Maltese Falcon”), Nick and Nora Charles (“The Thin Man”), and the Continental Op (“Red Harvest” and “The Dain Curse”). He also wrote the “Glass Key.” “Red Harvest” is widely believed to be the inspiration of the Coen Brothers’s 1990 film “Miller’s Crossing.” A veteran of both World War I and World War II, Hammett is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Hammett’s five novels:
“Red Harvest” (published on February 1, 1929)
“The Dain Curse” (July 19, 1929)
“The Maltese Falcon” (February 14, 1930)
“The Glass Key” (April 24, 1931)
“The Thin Man” (January 8, 1934)
About the editors
Richard Layman has written or edited six books about Dashiell Hammett, including “Shadow Man: The Life of Dashiell Hammett” and “Discovering the Maltese Falcon and Sam Spade.”
Julie M. Rivett is the granddaughter of Dashiell Hammett and spokesperson for the Hammett estate. “Return of the Thin Man” is the third book to be co-edited by Layman and Rivett.