Ebert’s Greats: The General & The Thin Man

List Item: Watch Roger Ebert’s “The Great Movies”
Progress: 178/409

Title: The General
Director: Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman
Year: 1926
Country: USA

Every time I stick on a silent film I have a feeling that this will be one of those silent films that I might be able to watch closely and enjoy without feeling sleepy (yes, most silent films make me feel like nodding off… I am such a philistine I know). So far I can count on two hands the silent films where I have been lucid throughout: Metropolis, Nosferatu, Napoleon, Sunrise, The Crowd, Sherlock Jr. and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

The General started out well enough and after watching it you can not help but be amazed at Keaton for all the stunts that he did which could have killed or severely maimed him. However after watching a lot of Chaplin, Keaton and Arbuckle already I have just come to the conclusion that these silent comedies just are not up my alley. I mean at times I laughed out loud or amazed at his acts of fearlessness but overall… the whole experience just leaves me cold. Sorry.

thethinmanTitle: The Thin Man
Director: W. S. Van Dyke
Year: 1934
Country: USA

Meet Frank and Sadie Doyle. Toast of the upper crust, headliners on the society pages and, oh yes, they see ghosts. After watching The Thin Man I finally can see where the inspiration for the characters from my favourite podcast (the always hilarious Beyond Belief from The Thrilling Adventure Hour) came from. Myrna Loy and William Powell star as Nick and Nora Charles, a rich couple who appear to get involved in mysteries for the sheer fun of it… accompanied by a lot of liquor and back and forth.

The premise of the film is simple. A man goes missing, murder is afoot and a rich couple with amazing chemistry help the police to solve it. If I appear to be underselling it then you have not seen the chemistry of Loy and Powell (who ended up appearing in a total of 14 films together, which is 4 more than the famous pairing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers) where the Van Dyke’s allowance for on set improvisation truly pays off.

The scene in this film that epitimizes this sense of fun and, ultimately, shows off the chemistry between the two, is a 10-15 second exchange between Nick and Nora Charles the morning after she downed five Martinis in order to play catch-up. Someone comes into their apartment and talks to Nick about the missing person/murder case and they turn away to use the telephone. What unrolls is a just a short skit with the couple poking and just playing about. I don’t know if it was improv between the two of them or just great scripting but it is the perfect snapshot of why they work as a couple. Similarly, later during their Christmas party Nick finds himself  being embraced by an old acquaintance but there is no jealousy on Nora’s part… just a face hinting at how much fun she will have ribbing him about this off-screen.

To be honest a lot of the film is a bit messy whenever the camera is not aimed on Powell or Loy. The cuts are a bit too quick and a lot of the cast members feel a bit interchangeable when it comes to who the suspects of the piece are… but it doesn’t matter since sooner or later that merry couple are back on the screen joking about how a case is afoot… a case of scotch that is. Hurrah!

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