The Thin Man

  • Title:  The Thin Man
  • Director:  WS Van Dyke
  • Date:  1934
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Genre:  Mystery, Drama, Comedy
  • Cast:  William Powell, Myrna Loy, Maureen o’Sullivan, Cesar Romero
  • Format:  Black/White, Standard
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“You see, the important thing is the rhythm.  You always have rhythm in your shaking.  Now a Manhatten you shake to a foxtrot.  A Bronx to two-step time but a dry martini you always shake to waltz time.” – Nick, explaining how to make martinis.

“Nick? Nicky?” – Nora
“What?” – Nick
“You asleep?” – Nora
“Yes.” – Nick
“Good. I want to talk to you.” – Nora

“I read where you were shot five times in the tabloids.” – Nora
“It’s not true.  He didn’t come anywhere near my tabloids.” – Nick

The Thin Man is a successful film accomplishment of style over substance.  The film is loosely based on Dashiell Hammett’s novel.  However, the film is less about the mystery and three murders to be solved than about it’s two lead characters, married couple Nick and Nora Charles.  Nick is a “retired” private detective now living large on his very wealthy wife’s income.  However, everyone, including Nora, keeps urging him to go back to being a detective because he was so good at it.  Meanwhile, a old friend of Nick’s, Dorothy, shows up to also request Nick’s help.  She is due to be married, but her father, Wynant, is missing.  The last anyone knew of her father, he told everyone he was “going away on business” and he would be back by Christmas.  Yet when he doesn’t arrive, Dorothy, and eventually everyone else in his life (his ex-wife, her new husband, their son, Dorothy and her fiance’, his partner from work, his attorney) begin to worry.

Although he considers himself retired, eventually Nick is drawn into investigating.  He finds a body in Wynant’s shop which the police assume is Wynant’s victim.  But Nick knows it’s Wynant.  He invites all the suspects to a dinner party and questions them… which leads to the murderer revealing himself.

The mystery is a bit more complex, and at times confusing, but the focus of  the film is the relationship of married couple Nick and Nora and their dog, Asta, a Airedale Terrier who steals the show.  Nick and Nora Charles, are fond of exquisite cocktails, exquisite parties, and exquisite living.  They are very much in love, and trade quips and smart dialogue.  The dialogue of the film is smart, sassy, clever, and cute in a good way. And, in an era before TV, it isn’t surprising that The Thin Man was followed by five written for the screen sequels.  Nick’s idea of bringing all the suspects together for questioning and accusations until one confesses is a motif that would continue in detective fiction for decades to come.  Likewise Nick and Nora clever, witty dialogue would inspire 1980s TV programs like Remington Steele and Moonlighting.

Overall, I recommend this film.  It’s short, enjoyable, fun and funny.  It’s like spending an evening with a pair of classy, witty, clever friends.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Third Man

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