Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


YESTERDAY IN PART 1, we enjoyed the Art Deco settings of a 1924 French sci-fi flick and a 1929 celebration of Broadway. Today in Part 2, there’s an hotel saga, an emerging Broadway star, and a detective sequel that leads to misidentifying its sleuth’s moniker.

A Genuinely Grand Setting. The 1932 flick Grand Hotel was based on an earlier play and novel. Its theme was one of complex events underlying seemingly orderly surroundings.

As one resident intones, “Grand Hotel. Always the same. People come. People go. Nothing happens.”

Except jewel theft, seduction, attempted suicide, murder, and other pre-Hays-Code shenanigans, all in Art Deco settings.

Grand Hotel, 1932. Supervisory Air Director: Cedric Gibbons. Unit Art Director: Alexander Toluboff.

Wikipedia notes, “The lobby scenes were extremely well done, portraying a 360º desk. This allowed audiences to watch the hotel action from all around the characters. It changed the way sets were made from that point onward.”

You’ve Got to Come Back a Star! Another pre-Hays-Code celebration of all matters brazen, the 1933 musical 42nd Street had quite a cast: Warner Baxter, Bebe Daniels, George Brent, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, and Ginger Rogers. Choreography was by Busby Berkeley.

Donald Albrecht wrote in Designing Dreams: Modern Architecture in the Movies, “The decade’s musicals, often fairy-tale scenarios of the search for romance, fame, and fortune in Manhattan, were particularly imaginative in their use of skyscraper decor.”

42nd Street, 1933. Art Director: Jack Okey.

Albrecht quotes from Ethan Mordden’s The Hollywood Musical, “Keeler launches it, tapping on what is revealed to be a limousine taxicab…. Now occurs the strongest indication so far in what was to come from Berkeley, as files of dancers line up on a broad stairway carrying … cardboard cutouts of the New York skyline.”

A Detective Duo Lives High. Albrecht described the sophisticated detective team of Nick and Nora Charles, portrayed by William Powell and Myrna Loy in After the Thin Man, 1936: “In contrast to Nora’s upper-crust family, with their moribund propriety in a Victorian mansion, the Charleses were progressive and up-to-date, enjoying all-night parties; risqué pleasure-seeking friends; and the challenges of their unusual occupation as dilettante sleuths.”

After the Thin Man, 1936. Supervisory Art Director: Cedric Gibbons.

In this first of several sequels to the 1934 flick The Thin Man, Nick and Nora get caught up in deep skullduggery involving her kin. The culprit is revealed, in classic Thin Man fashion, with a gathering of all the suspects.

There were four more films in the Thin Man series: Another Thin Man, 1939; Shadow of the Thin Man, 1941; The Thin Man Goes Home, 1945; and Song of the Thin Man, 1947.

Henceforth, many Charles fans had reason to believe that Nick himself was “the Thin Man.” However, it was success of the original flick that led to appending “Thin Man” to subsequent titles. The real, original, and only Thin Man was Clyde Wynant, one of Nick’s previous clients. Wynant’s disappearance prompts his daughter Dorothy to seek Nick and Nora’s help in The Thin Man.

I won’t say more for those who have yet to enjoy the Charles sleuths and other inhabitants of that Art Deco era. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2020

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