Friday, December 02, 2005

Out of Order

Largely held as Dashiell Hammett’s most innovative creation is that of the couple Nick and Nora Charles. Lowly imbibing P.I. and high-society wife, they cracked and laughed their way merrily through the world of murder. Or so they say.
Their particular brand of comical wit paired with the gritty whodunnit created quite a stir way back when.
Someday I shall have to read the book. For now, I’m watching the movies. What ones I can watch without buying, which are the last three (no work of Hammett’s). The first three still elude me, so I shall perhaps end up buying The Complete Thin Man Collection in the end. After all, the original The Thin Man [1934] is the one with the repute.

Tonight, I have now seen the final Nick & Nora film, Song of the Thin Man [1947]. Nothing great, but not as off-puttingly ridiculous as Shadow of… [1941] was in places. Yes, for a bit of light entertainment in that black and white and moustached style, it’s enjoyable.

The solution I arrived at before Mr. Charles himself, and I didn’t have to set any corny trap to do so. Still, I didn’t exactly have a case built up for the D.A. to use yet.
But for a detail-oriented puzzle (as all of the series’ final three are, which is consistent with what of Hammett’s I’ve read), I outdid the screenwriter’s themselves, me thinks. Continue reading for my justification of this bit of ego (and thus total plot spoilage):

When Nicholas overhears a cop’s comment that “ballistics’ is havin’ trouble wit’ der bullit,” (or equivalent) he concludes the piece to fire the fatal shot was either a custom job or an antique. Antique firearm’s happen to figure in at another point, so it seemed like a good lead to follow up.

Well, a musician (not rock-n-roll) named Buddy Hollis (the sadly forgotten Don Taylor in a role that is understandably so) turns up in a rest home, cracked of the mind. He has an antique handgun on him, one that someone admitted leaving on a countertop before the murder and which hasn‘t been seen since. He confesses to the original killing just before firing the pistol off.
Mr. Charles concludes the boy is innocent--because he missed this time. I came to the same conclusion a different route. My case was that he fired it at all...

The flintlock had been loaded by an antique gun collector the night the murder was committed, with the possible intent being the commission of a different murder (one that never went over). The gun got left unattended and finally it shows up in the aforementioned incident.
I asserted that the gun wasn’t the instrument of destruction of the initial crime. It’s single shot. Who reloaded it? A kid named Buddy Hollis holed up in a private sanitarium who wouldn’t know where to buy black powder even he wasn’t loopy? Nah.

But in the end, the gun is explained to have fired that first lethal shot. It was there (on a cruise ship) palmed off that night on Hollis, who’s alcoholic consciousness convinced itself it was guilty of a terrible sin—sending him into a state of shock. Hollis then took the piece away with him when his girl ferried him to the rest home. So who was on hand with the loose powder, the cotton swabbing, and the molded lead projectile?

There, I blew the story out of the water. Where’s my prize?

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