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Alias Nick and Nora

The Complete Thin Man Collection

  • The Thin Man
  • After the Thin Man
  • Another Thin Man
  • Shadow of the Thin Man
  • The Thin Man Goes Home
  • Song of the Thin Man
  • Alias Nick and Nora
  • This supplementary disc included with Warner's seven-disc "Complete Thin Man Collection" highlights the series' stars on two documentaries. "William Powell: A True Gentleman" (30 min.) features film historians discussing Powell's life from the early days of motion pictures through a career that spanned some 90 motion pictures. A student at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts — despite opposition from his father, who wanted him to become a lawyer — Powell had a successful theater career and moved to film after a director saw him on stage. Powell's first film role was a small one, as Professor Moriarty's assistant in a 1922 version of William Gillette's play "Sherlock Holmes," starring John Barrymore as the famous sleuth. His suave demeanor, dark, hooded eyes and pencil-moustache made him a natural to play villains in silent films. He also played a few comic roles during that period, too — a little bit of everything, in fact, appearing in a staggering 34 films between 1932 and 1938. With the advent of sound, Powell's cultured voice shot him to the top of the studios' A-lists, and he starred in a series of successful thrillers as urbane detective Philo Vance. After a Depression-era box office drop, Powell found his career cooling — until he was chosen to play Nick Charles in The Thin Man, the first in the immensely popular series of films that put him back on top. Always one to admire a sassy dame, Powell was briefly married to Carole Lombard, after which they remained good friends. He was also engaged to Jean Harlow at the time of her death and was, by all reports, devastated — and then received a diagnosis of cancer a few months later and did radio work while recovered, returning to the screen a year later for Another Thin Man. He made a number of other memorable films — including Life with Father (1947) and his last title, Mister Roberts (1955) — and retired at 61. The documentary, narrated by Michael York (not Kevin Kline, as stated on the cover) is very basic, covering just the nuts and bolts of Powell's life and career, but for those unfamiliar with the actor's body of work, it gives some nice insights, including rarely seen clips from his silent-era films.

    The second feature, "Myrna Loy: So Nice to Come Home To" (46 min.), is a more quirky, detail-oriented piece, made by critic Richard Schickel and narrated by Kathleen Turner. Rather than a linear biography, the feature looks at Loy's Hollywood image through clips from the MGM library. In films like Test Pilot, Wife vs. Secretary, Libeled Lady, and Love Crazy, she played sassy, eyebrow-raised dames who were smart as well. But it took awhile for Hollywood to figure out how to use her to her best advantage — in the early days of film, Loy's almond-shaped eyes got her work as geisha girls, lusty gypsies, and exotic vamps. But talkies were good to her, with her terrific voice and sly wit, and by the mid-1930s she'd become MGM's most popular female star. 'Popular," however, didn't translate to "well-treated," and she made history when she went on strike to pressure MGM into giving her a pay raise requisite with her earning power — and she got it. The Thin Man franchises were part of what made her such a hot commodity, but they also helped cement her image as the "perfect wife," an image she found ironic given the foibles of her personal life and her four failed marriages. Privately, she took time off from her career to devote herself to the war effort during WWII, making no films from 1942 to 1946 while she lived in New York, working for the Red Cross and overseeing entertainment for military hospitals. Loy later did theater in New York. Schickel's documentary does a nice job of touching on all aspect of Loy's lengthy career, all the way to the honors she received at the Kennedy Center (hosted, not coincidentally, by Kathleen Turner) and her last role, in the TV movie Summer Solstice with Henry Fonda. While Turner gets far too much screen time for a feature that's ostensibly about Loy, it's still a nice tribute to one of Hollywood's great actresses.

    Warner Bros. DVD Alias Nick & Nora offers very clean, crisp transfers of both featurettes, presented in their original full-screen ratios (1.33:1). Also on board is an episode from the 1958 "This Man" TV series starring Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk and a 1936 Lux Radio Theater broadcast of The Thin Man starring Loy and Powell. Keep-case.

    — Dawn Taylor

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