William Powell and Myrna Loy light up the silver screen with their slightly wicked portrayals of the retired detective Nick Charles and his newly-wed heiress wife Nora Charles. The first film, The Thin Man, was made in under fourteen weeks (some say twelve weeks, some fourteen weeks; I'll go with Tim Dirks' (FilmSite.org) pronouncement of fourteen weeks) by director W.S. Van Dyke. The dialogue is alight with word plays, nuances, witticisms and playful teasing. Asta the Fox Terrier adds a warm fuzzy affection to the sophisticated warm affection of the principals; and he's a dog-gone good detective, too.
Nick and Nora are in New York vacationing in an Eastern Christmas season away from their California estate when Nick is approached by Dorothy, the daughter of a former client named Wynant, to help solve a mystery regarding her missing father. Nick suavely directs her to contact Wynant's lawyer, MacCaulay, who manages Wynant's financial and other affairs and find out when Wynant was last heard from. Dorothy is dismayed because Wynant had promised to return from his sabbatical to give her away at her post-Christmas wedding, which was rapidly approaching.
Soon, the plot conflicts thicken with dead bodies turning up one after another and Wynant being the prime suspect for the crimes. Eventually, Nick is compelled to come out of retirement, partly from the pestering of Nora, who wants to see him solve a case, and partly from the entrance in their bedroom of an armed intruder who forces Nick to knock Nora unconscious in order to save her from the intruders wildly fired bullets. Nick and Asta find the final missing clue as to the identity of the true murderer, and Nick and Nora host a little party for the collection of suspects to announce that "the murderer is right in this room."
The Thin Man, referring to the missing and suspected Wynant,was a smash hit because it hit--and still does hit--all the right notes for charming wit and engrossing mystery. It was nominated in four Academy Award categories (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay) but was up against It Happened One Night, which swept the Academy honors itself. The screenplay writers were husband and wife team Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, reputed to be the real-life Nick and Nora, who went on to write It's a Wonderful life (Stewart and Reed, 1946), Easter Parade (Astaire and Garland, 1948) and Father of the Bride (Tracy and Taylor, 1950).
The series of sequel Thin Man films (After the Thin Man (1936), Another Thin Man (1939), Shadow of the Thin Man (1941), The Thin Man Goes Home (1944), The Song of the Thin Man (1947)), directed first by W.S. Van Dyke and then by Richard Thorpe and Edward Buzzell, went on to continued success and popularity. The series was released in 2002 on DVD and should be one of the additions to your DVD library for 2010. These are not MPAA rated because they predate ratings, but they are good clean fun for the entire family, and although the characters drink a lot, alcoholism and its negative implications are not depicted as the era was a more innocent one.
The Thin Man (1934)
From the novel The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon).
W.S. Van Dyke - Director; Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett - Screenplay Writers; William Powell - Nick Charles; Myrna Loy - Nora Charles; Skippy - Asta the Fox Terrier; Maureen O'Sullivan - Dorothy.
[The Thin Man was reviewed from a DVD in the reviewer's private collection.]