Retro: our movie & TV vault... a fresh look
at neglected classics and cult favourites
This first in the series - the only one actually adapted from the Dashiell Hammett novel - set the
stage for the five sequels that followed. Here we are quickly introduced to Nick and Nora Charles and
their dog Asta (who became a star in his own right and is still a favourite of crossword puzzle
creators) in a scene that typifies their relationship: the opening club scene. From there on, William
Powell and Myrna Loy are the best things on the screen. Their banter floats this from being a normal
sleuth picture to another level. I really believed that these two are a married couple. Or, rather, I
realised that this was my idea of the perfect married couple.
The wordplay gives a welcome break from the detection. For example, there is a particularly tense shootout in their apartment. The next morning they are reading about it in the papers:
Nick: "I'm a hero. I was shot twice in the Tribune."
Nora: "I read where you were shot five times in the tabloids."
Nick: "It's not true. He didn't come anywhere near my tabloids."
That is not to say that the crime doesn't matter. In fact, this is the only one in the series that treats the murder inspection equally with the banter between the two main characters. Therefore, The Thin Man is much darker than its successors. But a balance is struck by director W.S. van Dyke between light and heavy that is perfect, whereas in the sequels the focus was placed more on Nick and Nora and barely gave lip service to the crimes.
The sequels are all fun, though and I recommend the entire series without reservation. Although the quality does decline steadily throughout, Powell and Loy make these characters so enjoyable that you hardly notice.
The Thin Man was nominated for four Oscars (Best Picture, Best Director (W.S. Van Dyke), Best Actor (Powell), and Best Screenplay Adaptation (Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett), but won none, losing to It Happened One Night. Contrary to what the titles would suggest, Nick Charles is not the Thin Man. It was how Clyde Wynant in this film was described in a police bulletin.