The Thin Man (1934)

Directed by W.S. Van Dyke

There’s a heck of a lot of drinking in this movie. But there’s also a heck of a lot of fun. In fact, The Thin Man is a delight from start to finish.

It begins as a standard, noir-like mystery-thriller of the period (1934). We meet some characters, most not very savory, and we soon realize that something none-too-good will happen. And it does.

There’s a murder but we’re not sure who committed it (though we’re given some possible suspects).

And there is yet another mystery which we’re not necessarily aware of yet (the mysterious Wynant) – it will develop as the film goes on.

Only after we’ve been given all this story set up do we finally meet the stars of the film, William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles, the cocktail loving, free-spirited couple who, between drinks, may poke their noses into a mystery or two. (Oh yes, there is their dog, Asta, too.)

A lot of bars; a lot of drinking for Nick and Nora (William Powell and Myrna Loy).

Upon meeting Nick and Nora, the tone of the film abruptly changes. The pair party, wisecrack and generally take everything that comes into their lives breezily. Everything is a passing amusement.

From a noirish piece, we’re now into a comedy. (Maybe it’s more accurate to say a comedy has been laid over the thriller – more or less smothering it. And that’s more than okay. It’s a great comedy.)

Nick and Nora are absolutely charming. They’re always witty – which is remarkable since Nick, at least, is almost always tipsy. Powell plays it perfectly, not simply with the intonation of his lines but also to getting a bit of a slur into his voice.

While there is a great supporting cast this movie works primarily because of its stars, Powell and Loy. They work beautifully together. Loy is the perfect foil to Powell since she rarely takes anything he says seriously. She’s as casual as he is.

William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles in 1934’s The Thin Man.

The movie also works due to its quick pace. Remarkably, with all the amusing nonsense going on, it also manages to be suspenseful. It wraps up with one of the best “gathering of all the suspects” scenes ever as Powell’s Nick tries to determine who the murderer is (he hasn’t a clue, but he doesn’t let anyone other than Nora know that).

This is definitely a movie about dialogue, of which Powell is a master.

Roger Ebert puts it best, I think, when he says, “William Powell is to dialogue as Fred Astaire is to dance.” (For another great Powell performance, see My Man Godfrey.)

The Thin Man is absolutely great entertainment. It still plays well and it’s easy to see why it spawned a number of sequels. Together, William Powell and Myrna Loy are utterly charming.

The Thin Man Series:

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3 Responses

  1. I thought I was the only one when it came to noticing how much drinking was going on in this film. It’s very much like “The Lost Weekend” where you lose track of how much Ray Milland has downed.

  2. says:

    Yes, that’s true. Wow. They DO drink a lot.

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