“Haven’t you heard the news? I’m a gentleman now.”
A retired detective (William Powell) is pressured by his new wife (Myrna Loy) into investigating the murder of a secretary (Natalie Moorhead) whose employer (William Henry) has mysteriously disappeared.
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary notes that this “wildly successful blend of… murder mystery and… screwball comedy” (adapted from a novel by Dashiell Hammett) possesses “delectable performances by William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles” — the most ridiculously happy married couple ever to grace the silver screen. Indeed, while it’s nominally a detective story, what people remember most about The Thin Man is the central relationship between Powell and Loy, whose chemistry together is pitch perfect. They’re a rare “sexy married couple… who enjoy each other’s company, sense of humor, [and] conversation”, and — given that they’re independently wealthy, and don’t yet have any children — are able to devote their lives to simply having fun. As Peary notes, “if you don’t get upset by Nick’s constant imbibing” (the amount of liquor poured and drunk in this post-Prohibition-era film is truly astonishing), you’ll enjoy “watching them and their dog-child”, Asta — whose breed (wire-haired terrier) immediately became all the rage in America.
Much of the credit for the success of The Thin Man belongs to its director, W.S. Van Dyke (“One-Take Woody”), who — shooting in just 12 days and working with Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich’s “breezy adaptation” of Hammett’s novel — managed to infuse the film with “an improvisational feel, with characters moving freely in and out of the frame”. Equally noteworthy is James Wong Howe’s atmospheric cinematography (see stills below), as well as a fine supporting cast — all of whom end up as suspects. Indeed, while the murder mystery here could almost be considered a MacGuffin (as argued by Roger Ebert in his “Great Movies” overview of the film), it’s actually a reasonably enjoyable whodunit which will certainly keep you guessing. Followed by five sequels and a television series, and selected for inclusion in the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress in 1997. Spoofed in Neil Simon’s Murder By Death (1976), with David Niven and Maggie Smith as Dick and Dora Charleston.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- William Powell as Nick Charles (nominated by Peary as Best Actor of the Year in his Alternate Oscars)
- Myrna Loy as Nora Charles
- Fine supporting performances
- James Wong Howe’s cinematography
- Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich’s extremely witty, fast-paced, entertaining script
Yes, as a genuine classic. Interestingly, while it was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Picture of the Year (as well as Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Actor for Powell), Peary doesn’t include it as a contender in his own Alternate Oscars book.
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)