Based on a novel by Harry Kurnitz
I wasn't knocked out by Melvyn Douglas's performance in the Thin Man knockoff, There's Always a Woman, which I reviewed recently. But I forged on and watched Fast Company nonetheless, in which Douglas co-stars with Florence Rice as a husband and wife crime-solving duo named Garda and Joel Sloane. That's two Thin Man knockoffs in one year for Douglas, if you're scoring at home, and a pretty impressive record, if I do say so myself. And a pretty impressive performance by Douglas, I might add.
Until I actually watched this one I couldn't shake the nagging feeling that I'd seen it already, even though I had no record of it. Then I remembered that it was the first of a series of three "Fast" movies, each of which starred different actors in the main roles. See my review of Fast and Loose here. Screenwriter Kurnitz adopted his novel in this installment and ended up with quite a list of credits in Hollywood. Among these were an adaptation of Agatha Christie's Witness for the Prosecution, which he co-wrote with Billy Wilder, and some of the later Thin Man movies. Kurnitz's play A Shot in the Dark was also made into the outstanding comic mystery starring Peter Sellers as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau.
I suppose it's natural to hold William Powell as the gold standard for these screwball mysteries, given that he made things look so effortless. But even though I wasn't so impressed with Douglas the last time around I'd say that he gives Powell a good run for his money here. It probably didn't hurt that he had some great material to work with. As with Powell in the Thin Man movies it seems that Douglas is the source of much of the mirth here and at times the wisecracks are flying fast and furious (which is the name of the final installment of this series, by the way).
As for the mystery portion of our show, it's fairly standard stuff, as tends to be the case with this kind of movie. I guess I didn't mention yet that the Sloanes are rare book dealers and in this installment of their adventures one of their fellow book dealers is sent packing from this mortal coil with a blunt object applied to his skull with great vigor. All fingers point to a recently released ex-con whom the Sloanes have championed but they're convinced he didn't do it and set out to prove otherwise.
I'm not sure if there's anything the in the way of screwball mysteries that can top the first few Thin Man movies but this one came rather close by my reckoning. I'd highly recommend it to anyone who likes this sort of thing.