The Thin Man is without a doubt the most popular screwball mystery film (or rather, series of films) in Hollywood history. And it’s easy to see why. Not only are the stories constantly engaging, not only do the scripts sparkle, but it’s Powell and Loy. And that’s a combination you just can’t go wrong with.

At the same time, though, a large part of the appeal lies simply with the type of film itself. There’s something really special about a film that combines quick witted humor and a tangled web of mystery. And while The Thin Man certainly did it best, over and over again, there were several films made after the first Thin Man, screwball mysteries with the same style, humor, and intrigue.

Star of Midnight
Perhaps the best of the Thin Man knockoffs, Star of Midnight also stars William Powell, only this time he’s a lawyer who just happens to be really good at solving crimes. Stepping into Loy’s Nora shoes is Ginger Rogers, equally as charming, just in a more vivacious and in your face way than the always graceful Loy.

I’d say the mystery is more compelling than at least the original Thin Man film. It concerns a mysterious veiled singing star who disappears in the middle of a show. As the story unfolds, the mystery aspect almost overtakes the comedy aspect. This may be one of the reasons I actually prefer Star of Midnight to The Thin Man. The mystery is very strong, distinct, and easy to follow. As are the characters.

I’m also extremely fond of the romance. While the strength of The Thin Man ‘s romance lies in the fact that Nick and Nora are already happily married, in Star of Midnight it lies in the wonderful dynamic between Rogers and Powell. Rogers plays the daughter of an old friend of Powell’s, who’s known the older man since she was just a kid. This could end up being creepy. But Rogers’ aggressive pursuit, paired with Powell’s ever wearing resistance, and their adorable banter, makes it perfect. All the time he’s exasperated by her, and her efforts to help with the investigation, it’s easy to see that, underneath it all, he just thinks she’s adorable. This was the only film Powell and Rogers made together, which is unfortunate, because they were so good together.

The Ex-Mrs. Bradford
Powell starred in yet another one of these with the wonderful and daffy The Ex-Mrs. Bradford. This one leans more toward the screwball side of things than either The Thin Man or Star of Midnight, and I suspect that has something to do with the presence of Jean Arthur, one of the queens of screwball. While Arthur was a fantastically talented actress and could do pretty much anything, her naturally high strung attitude and Minnie Mouse voice make her the perfect fit for screwball, and her Mrs. Bradford is one of the daffiest dames of the genres.

The mystery involves a horse race, much like the later Shadow of the Thin Man. However, unlike Star of Midnight, the mystery isn’t as as easy to follow and the characters aren’t as distinctive. The mystery is probably harder to follow than the original Thin Man. But that really is okay, since as I said, it leans more toward the screwball.

Arthur and Powell are a really excellent team. They’d worked together several years earlier in a pair of Philo Vance mysteries, and Powell predicted great things for Arthur’s future. They have a strong chemistry. Powell’s laid back ease is both the perfect match and foil for Arthur’s madcap heroine (they actually remind me of my friend Brandy and Brian). I also really enjoy the dynamic of this relationship. While in Star of Midnight the pair is just starting to get together, in and The Thin Man they’re married, in The Ex-Mrs Bradford they’re divorced, but still very much in love.

Fast and Loose
Montgomery steps into the detective role in the second film of the “Fast” series, as a rare book expert who gets himself tied up in murder mysteries that for some reason involve rare books (apparently, there was enough rare book crime back then for three movies to be made about it.) As bizarre as that kind of mystery sounds, it actually give the screwball mystery and interesting spin. I’d say Fast and Loose has probably the most sophisticated feel of all the screwball mysteries.

And the mystery, involving a fake Shakespeare manuscript, is actually very intriguing, and held my interest in the films just as much as the screwball and romance elements. The characters of the mystery aren’t just easy to tell apart, but they’re interesting in their own right. It’s just a really well crafted mystery.

But, with Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell in the lead roles, it’s also extremely funny. Most of the humor in the film comes from their interaction as a (very much in love) married couple. Montgomery and Rosalind Russell made several films together, both comedic and dramatic, and this is probably the most fun of their pairings. They had such a solid chemistry. In terms of her style, at least in the 1930s and early 1940s, Russell is pretty much the female version of Montgomery, and it’s so much fun watching them play off of each other.

As I said, this is the second film in the “Fast” series but, oddly, each film has a different set of actors. The first, Fast Company, stars Melvyn Douglas and Florence Rice, and the third, Fast and Furious, starred Franchot Tone and Ann Sothern. Both are really good, fun films, but Loose is easily the best.

By Katie Richardson

The wonderful Rosalind Russell is TCM’s Star of the Month for July, and I love her so much I thought it would be nice to do a little write up for her.

Where to begin? She was simply one of the most talented actresses of the era. From comedy to drama, she was just fantastic. She really broke out in the late 1930s/early 1940s with roles in films like The Women and His Girl Friday. But she started working in the early 1930s, playing dramatic supporting characters. Many of her early roles were actually quiet, lady-like roles. And she was very good in them. Reckless, China Seas, Forsaking All Others. They aren’t big roles, but she’s completely convincing in all of them, and it’s interesting to watch these roles against her more famous ones.

Her famous flair is noticeable in other films made before her “breakout roles”. She’s goofy and wonderful opposite William Powell in Rendezvous. She shows great dramatic skill in Night Must Fall. She’s hilarious and wonderful as detective Robert Montgomery’s wife in Fast and Loose. She even gives a great performance in the completely bizarre comedy/thriller Trouble for Two.

She shows her greatest comic flair of her early films in Four’s a Crowd, an insane screwball romance. It’s about as close as you’ll get to something like His Girl Friday in her early films – and, I think, just as good.

Year: 1935

Director: Victor Fleming

Starring: Jean Harlow, William Powell, Franchot Tone, Rosalind Russell

This film is a comedy/musical that oddly morphs into melodrama after an out-of-the-blue tragedy strikes. Ned Reilly (William Powell) is a lawyer with a fondness for gambling. He’s especially close to Granny (May Robson) and her granddaughter Mona Leslie (Jean Harlow). When the picture starts, it is up to old faithful Ned to bail out troublesome Mona from jail for an egregious traffic violation. He works his slick magic and gets Harlow’s character out on a technicality. It’s clear from the outset that while Ned may come on as a family friend, he is undoubtedly interested in Mona romantically. What really catapults this movie above other average fare is the wonderful banter between Ned and the two women. That’s where the picture really gets its heart.

Mona is a successful showgirl. She catches the eye of wealthy playboy Bob Harrison (Franchot Tone) and he simply must have her. Blind to Ned’s secret affections for her, Mona gets caught up in the idea of love and the allure of riches that Bob can bring to the table. The lovers elope immediately. Bob’s family is about as blue blood as rich people get and they are less than happy at the news. When he brings his new bride home to meet everyone not only are they unenthusiastic, but the Harrisons are boorish in their put downs and snobbish behavior toward our blonde. It turns out that Bob was expected to wed Jo Mercer (Rosalind Russell) who comes from a proper family. All the disapprovals build up resentment within Bob and when he finds out that Jo moved on and married someone else, he snaps.

Mona finds herself pregnant and in the midst of a scandal. She has trouble resuming her musical career. Desperate to help the woman he loves, Ned risks everything he has to produce her next show. When the platinum blonde comes on stage and starts to sing the first tune she is met by such a hostile audience that she is forced to stop singing and address their despicable behavior. Finished with her harangue, Harlow’s singer resumes the song and afterward the crowd responds with wild applause and cheering. Evidently her resiliency and determination won them over. The last sentimental shot between Powell and Harlow will not work for everyone but it got to me. As for the other performances, we get a brief couple of moments from Mickey Rooney as he plays a kid running a lemonade stand. Russell shines in kind of a thankless part of the dumped ex-love. Robson’s Granny is really fun to watch as she is quite a spitfire. Reckless shifts too much in tone to be considered a great movie. But the witty repartee between Harlow and Powell carries the day.

Wow, two big birthdays in a row!

Robert Montgomery is just my absolute favorite ever. An amazing actor, a fantastic director, and very handsome man.

Montgomery had a wonderful talent in front of the camera. He could play almost any kind of character in any kind of movie. Romantic melodrama, screwball comedy, even psychological thriller. Montgomery could do it all and he could do it brilliantly.

Sadly, he’s not as remembered today as he should be. He deserves to be remembered among the greats of the 1930s and the 1940s. Nearly all of his films could be considered obscure classics. I’ve seen 54 of his films, but I don’t want to go overkill here. Instead of just listing my favorites, I’m going to do a nice little service for everyone and talk about the rare films that you can get at http://www.freemoviesondvd.com

The Big House (1930) – Montgomery costars with Wallace Beery and Chester Morris in this prison drama. Those of you who are mostly familiar with Montgomery as the suave playboy are in for a treat here, with Montgomery going against the type he would late establish for himself by playing something of a nervous weasel.

The Gallant Hours (1960) – Montgomery directs this war drama starring James Cagney. It’s a really interesting war film, done without battle scenes.

Fugitive Lovers (1934) – Montgomery stars with my favorite of his leading ladies, Madge Evans, in this really sweet road film about an escaped convict and a showgirl who fall in love when they meet on a bus.

Hide-Out (1934) – Montgomery and Maureen O’Sullivan make a really sweet pairing in this unique, but genuine love story about an injured gangster who finds sanctuary with a family on a farm. He falls in love with the sweet daughter. This movie has one of the absolute most romantic scenes of the 1930s.

June Bride (1948) – Not a great film, but it’s pretty fun and Montgomery and Davis have decent chemistry together.

When Ladies Meet (1934) – Definitely not one of my favorite Montgomery films. Kind of dull and the characters are all pretty unlikeable. But you get to see Bob with two of his best leading ladies, Myrna Loy and Ann Harding.

Haunted Honeymoon (1940) – I really enjoy this movie. Robert Montgomery and the completely lovely Constance Cummings play reluctant crime solvers who get sucked into a murder mystery on their honeymoon. A colorful cast of characters and a good romance between its leads makes this movie really fun.

The Saxon Charm (1948) – I still haven’t gotten my hands on this one yet (soon, oh very soon), but it’s available and I think it looks pretty good.

Ride the Pink Horse (1947) – A really brutal noir that doesn’t shy away from violence. Montgomery gives a really good performance, as well as directs.

Inspiration (1931) – This movie doesn’t get enough love. A lot of people say that Montgomery and Garbo just didn’t go well together, I think their restrained, under the surface chemistry was perfect for this movie about repressed love and sexuality.

The Single Standard (1929) – Yeah, I’m cheating on this one. Montgomery is just an extra in this film, but it’s one of my very favorite Garbo movies and everyone should see it.

The Last of Mrs. Cheyney (1937) – Another Montgomery movie that I just downright adore. Joan Crawford was one of his best costars. This is a really fun and unique story about jewel thief Crawford falling for Montgomery, the nephew of her mark.

Letty Lynton (1932) – A fantastic pre-code melodrama with Joan Crawford giving one of her best performances

Faithless (1932) – A beautiful Depression era romance. Bob and Tallulah Bankhead are perfect together. Montgomery gives a really wonderful performance, but this movie belongs to Bankhead.

Fast and Loose (1939) – I’m such a sucker for screwball detective movies, especially when they star Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell.

Night Must Fall (1937) – This is probably Montgomery’s best performance. He completely breaks type to play a creepy, tortured, insane murderer.

There you go. freemoviesondvd.com is a wonderful resource. You pay less than $10 for each DVD (and that includes shipping) and these films (and so many others they have) are more than worth it.