The Thin Man Reviews
In one scene, Nick holds the fetching Dorothy Wynant in his arms in sympathy for the loss of her father, when, of course, Nora walks into the room. In a hack comedy, this would prompt a whole suspicious wife subplot. But Nora just knowingly raises an eyebrow and ignores it, because of COURSE Nick isn't cheating on her, because she's the awesome Nora and they are so freaking perfect together.
In fact, one of the silliest lines in the movie is Nick informing Nora that he plans to bring the suspects together for a dinner party and he asks her if she has a formal gown to wear. Jeez Louise, does she have anything else?
I'm not a big mystery guy. I know enough to know that the murderer is never the obvious one, that everyone needs to be sufficiently shady to merit their suspicion, blah-blah-blah. The success of a good mystery is from the grace notes around the main plot. In the hands of Nick and Nora, the notes were always the most graceful.
It's an amazingly fun film, Powell and Loy are a delight to watch and their clever & always loving banter never fails to make me smile.
Of course, it comes highly recommended.
Actually the real joy of The Thin Man wasn't in the mystery. While that was fun, it was nothing compared to the amazing relationship between Nick & Nora. William Powell plays Nick as a friend to all, who could charm anyone into revealing a bit too much. I love how he is so likable that men he once got arrested when he was working as a detective are now hanging out at his parties. Nora is played by Myrna Loy, and she is a confident woman who clearly adores her husband. Yet she's not afraid to tease him, which makes for some of the better laughs in the film. She has this desire to see him exercise his detecting skills, but he is constantly trying to avoid it. I guess I have a very old-fashioned sense of humor because the witty one-liners that these 2 exchange elicit so many laughs from me. After their first scene together I absolutely loved them, and any scenes where they weren't front and center I missed them. As an added note, it's pretty clear this took place right after prohibition ended because in almost every scene we see Nick with a drink in his hand. This adds to the humor of his character as well, and he certainly makes some lighthearted comments about it. I don't think The Thin Man is the best example of a mystery film, but I found it to be so fun to watch the main characters that I didn't care. This is a series I might have to dig into a little more.
"The Thin Man" elevates its typical murder mystery formula into top-level entertainment, with superb performances, tons of great laughs, and excellent character development. The cinematography and editing (lots of montages of news spreading while the case is getting hot, as always) are great as well, especially for the time.
The Thin Man is a glorious escapist movie, and a riot at times. The story itself is fine enough, a solid, mostly serious yarn about an engineer (the 'Thin Man' of the title actually) who goes missing, and a woman he was seeing is found dead. Who killed her? Where is Clyde Wynant? Did he commit the murder and go off with money and skip town? There's a lot of questions to be answered, to be sure - it is Hammett, after all, the author of The Maltese Falcon and all those Continental Op thrillers. But that's not why the film is still fresh today, maybe even better by the passage of time like wine, because of the characters and the snappy dialog.
By the 'characters' I do mean mostly our leads, Nick and Nora, though the supporting characters - played by the likes of Maureen O'Sullivan, Nathalie Moorehead and the original Joker himself Cesar Romero - are perfectly fine and acted memorably. They are a catty couple of people, and are constantly kidding themselves, though certainly are very seriously in love. They're the kind of couple who, when Nora walks in and sees Nick trying (little as he really can given his disposition) to give comfort to a sorrowful Dorothy, they make faces at one another to kill the tension. Outstanding comic timing. And speaking of not being able to do certain things today as in 1934, the moment where, to distract a heavy holding a gun on the two of them, Nick slugs Nora so he can then get HIS gun away! Whether this was right before the Code fully took effect, I'm not sure, but it wouldn't surprise me (the innuendo at the end is perfectly cute, though I'm sure rather scandalous also for 34).
There are so many juicy and awesome moments between these two that it's little wonder they went on to make five more films over the course of fifteen years, and the public thought the actors were married in real life (!) The chemistry enough would make it a crackerjack semi-screwball comedy, though what levels it out as a great film of its year is that the director, WS Van Dyke, and the screenwriters, make some indelible set pieces. The Christmas dinner party, for one, really gets the audience fully immersed into the quick wit and here-to-there-and-again timing of a party where everybody wants a drink, one guy really wants to call home to his mother, and everyone keeps hounding Nick Charles to take on a case after being away from the sleuthing for years. This alone would make the movie a must see - but that ending, where everybody involved with the case is brought in so that Nick can crack it (he even admits, you know, he isn't entirely sure to Nora, who can do nothing but make spectacular quips) pushes it over into classic territory.
When The Thin Man wants to be suspenseful, it can be as well. When Nick has to go looking in a dark place after hours and someone is coming in, all the lights go off and it takes on the air of an early noir. This, again, really is necessary though, and Van Dyke really makes sure that the more dramatic elements work in their vein, the comedy in its own, but that the two sides can meet, rather deliriously and uproariously into a charming package of a Hollywood movie. It's the kind of movie that I'm sure inspired Hitchcock, too, with the younger brother obsessed with morbid crimes and bodies; notice the reaction of the police when he offers to help them with forensics work. Again, 1934 people.