Directed By: W.S. Van Dyke
Written By: Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich based of the Dashiell Hammett story
Players: William Powell, Myrna Loy, Maureen O'Sullivan, Nat Pendleton, Minna Gombell, Cesar Romero (The original Joker!), Porter Hall and Skippy the Dog
Synopsis: Former ace detective Nick Charles (Powell) is happily enjoying his retirement with his rich heiress wife Nora (Loy) and their dog Astor (Skippy) content to drink booze and crack wise the rest of his days. But when a famous, and notoriously eccentric, inventor is missing and suspected of murdering his wife an opportunity to come out of retirement arises. Nora, who finds the prospect of seeing her husband working exciting, as well as many of Nick's old friends urging him to take on the case he begrudgingly acquiesces even if the only case he is interested in is "that case of scotch".
Reluctant, but no less brilliant, Nick sticks on his old gumshoes and proves why he is the greatest detective in New York, retired or otherwise. What follows is a case of intrigue, deception, lust, alcohol and all of the other fun sins culminating in a classic whodunit dinner party where one of the guests is none other than the murderer!
Review: The now classic 1934 screwball comedy The Thin Man wasn't supposed to be anything great, thrown together in under a few weeks and harvesting actors that were under contract with MGM it was at most supposed to be a fun throwaway comedy. What resulted, however, was cinematic magic that still feels fresh and fun almost 80 years later. The Thin Man is pretty much a perfect movie that could end up being your favorite even if you haven't heard of it until now.
Credit where credit is due, the writing by Albert Hackett and Francis Goodrich was nothing less than inspired. Adapting a Dashiell Hammett (also author of The Maltese Falcon) hard-boiled detective novel of the same name and making it into a comedy while maintaining the same thriller aspect was a gutsy move but they sure as hell pulled it off. But as fun as the mystery aspect is it easily takes a backseat to what is the most thrilling aspect of The Thin Man; the performances of Powell and Loy. The reason The Thin Man is a timeless classic is almost undefinable but it surely isn't undeniable. I am speaking of course of the chemistry between William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles. I have never seen a husband/wife relationship on screen that was so genuinely fun and fresh. Between the witty banter and the playful insults lies a believable relationship. Both are accomplished actors, and had also co-starred in the Clark Gable classic Manhattan Melodrama which was released only a couple of weeks prior, but The Thin Man (and it's several sequels) will always be my favorite movie that they are paired up in.
On his own William Powell puts up a grand nonchalant front as Nick Charles, for most of the film he is laid back and content to drink cocktails and spend his days with his wife. But when he is on the case there is a calculating coldness about him, the wheels in his head are always turning even when he appears to be hungover after a night of indulgence. Yes he carries a gun but his greatest weapons would have to be his amicability and sharp wit. Roger Ebert put it best; stating Powell "is to dialogue as Fred Astaire is to dance. His delivery is so droll and insinuating, so knowing and innocent at the same time, that it hardly matters what he's saying." He can talk his way out of almost any situation using humor and more often than not will leave a friend, and Nick has many friends. Even the men he has in the past sent up the river for various crimes hold him in high respect and treat him as a pal, much to the amusment, and sometimes annoyance, of his wife Nora. Powell carries himslef in this manner, somewhere between playboy and hardboiled detective, and he not only makes it work he excells at it. There is no Thin Man without William Powell his dapper deviousness and classy cynicism are the essance of Nick Charles and I can think of few actors that could ever have pulled that off, even fewer contemporary examples.
But Powell is only part of the reason The Thin Man is such a great film, his female counterpart Myrna Loy is just as key. Her depiction of Nora Charles is every bit as witty as her detective husband and even when it comes to knocking back drinks she proves to be his equal. Quite often Loy will steal a scene with a quip or a mock despairing eye roll, some of the greatest moments of the film lie not only in her dialog but her subtle mannerisms and smiles. If this was a Film Noir she would be the femme fatale but she puts on no airs of superiority, she is just too busy having fun.
In fact that one word holistically describes exactly what The Thin Man is: fun. The dialog, the performances and yes even the detective story are just fun. If Shane Black (Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) was screenwriting in the 1930's The Thin Man would have been right up his alley and I'm not just saying that because Christmas is the backdrop! The mixture of action, humor and intrigue are exactly what makes The Thin Man such an enjoyable watch and it has longevity and holds up to repeat viewings. If you fall in love with Nick and Nora and their adventures or were ever to get bored of The Thin Man (impossible) then you will be glad to know that this flick spawned a successful franchise of 5 sequels that always brought in acting heavyweights like Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Dean Stockwell and many others. I heartily would recommend any of the series, but the first is easily the greatest of the six and if you haven't had the pleasure to see The Thin Man just do yourself a favor and pick it up, it still deserves an audience 80 years later.
The Thin Man endures not only as one of the greatest comedies ever committed to film, but one of the greatest films period.
If you are having trouble finding the films I fully recommend The Complete Thin Man Collection DVD boxed set, mine has seen more than it's fair share of use.