Viewer Guide: The Thin Man and This is Martin Bonner with Richard Peña

June 21, 2018 | Richard Peña

Your weekly peek into what’s coming up next on REEL 13, written by host Richard Peña.


The Thin Man (1934)

This week’s classic is the comedy/mystery The Thin Man from 1934, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy as the husband-and-wife detective team, Nick and Nora Charles, who are trying to find out who killed an eccentric inventor.

Adapted from Dashiell Hammett’s novel, The Thin Man was an instant best-seller, at least in part because of its sexual frankness. MGM snapped up the movie rights for their star William Powell, who had recently played detective Philo Vance. Loy had played opposite Powell in director W.S. “Woody” Van Dyke’s Manhattan Melodrama; Loy would later say that from the instant she and Powell met, they had a chemistry and ease. So Loy was not only excited to co-star with Powell again, but she was also excited by the prospect of playing a smart, sassy woman instead of her usual vamps and exotic types.

However, MGM head Louis B. Mayer said she wasn’t right for the part. Van Dyke strongly disagreed, so much so that he threatened to walk away from the picture unless Mayer relented. Mayer did, but he insisted that Van Dyke finish the film in three weeks so that Loy would be available for Stamboul Quest, another MGM production. The script was written by Albert Hackett and Francis Goodrich in just two weeks; Van Dyke shot the entire picture in sixteen days, often shooting just one take of most scenes and having two camera set ups ready at all times so they could move from one to the next without wasting time.

As you might tell from how quickly it was shot, the studio didn’t have high hopes. When they previewed the film at Huntington Park, just south of Los Angeles, they were worried that Nick and Nora Charles might prove too sexually suggestive for audiences and that the combination of comedy and murder wouldn’t work. Luckily, the studio was wrong; the Huntington Park audience loved the movie, and The Thin Man became an instant classic – the first of six films featuring the couple. And, of course, William Powell and Myrna Loy became one of the most beloved teams in movie history.

The film received three Oscar nominations – for Best Picture, Best Actor for William Powell, and Best Director for W.S. Van Dyke, who was fondly known as “One-Take” Woody.

William Powell and Myrna Loy were a beloved movie team, and they had such ease on screen that some fans naturally assumed they were romantically involved. Loy said that she had Powell had crushes on one another, but that they never had a real romance. Who knows? That might have hurt their chemistry on screen rather than help it.


This is Martin Bonner (2013)

This week’s indie is This is Martin Bonner, a 2013 drama written and directed by Chad Hartigan.

Set in the wide-open but soulless-seeming environs of Reno, Nevada, This is Martin Bonner introduces us to its title character at a large penitentiary complex. He works as a counselor from a Christian philanthropic group that helps inmates transition from prison back to everyday life. Although not a prisoner himself, Martin has the air of a man who’s also re-adjusting to life on the “outside,” having recently moved to Reno from Maryland following a divorce. Alone but not really a loner, he refs soccer games and takes stabs at speed-dating at his daughter’s suggestion.

Martin very much understands the limited options faced by his transitioning clients, as he himself comes to realize that he’s now past what’s considered the prime age for full-time employment. His placid and kind demeanor would seem to make him a natural for a job whose goal is to help men escape from their pasts while imagining new and different futures for themselves.

One day while driving into town from the prison, Martin happens upon Travis Holloway, played by Richmond Arquette, newly released after serving twelve years for a manslaughter conviction. Although Travis already has been placed with a well-meaning Christian counselor to help him with his re-entry, he finds himself drawn to Martin as a more compatible fit, recognizing an unexpected kindred spirit on his own quest for a new life.

Winner of the “Best of Next” Audience Award at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, This is Martin Bonner was also honored with the John Cassavetes Award at the Independent Spirit Awards. Stars Paul Eenhoorn and Richmond Arquette were also recognized for their gentle, nuanced performances as Martin and Travis with various other independent film festival nominations—and if you were wondering, yes, Richmond is yet another member of the Arquette acting dynasty that includes Rosanna, Patricia, David and Alexis Arquette. Writer-director Chad Hartigan is also recieved much attention for his newest feature film Morris from America, winner of a Special Jury Prize at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.

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