Dashiell Hammett is best known for his hard-boiled detectives, but he struck gold when he created "The Thin Man." And the movie adaptation is even better -- a witty, zingy mystery with a lovable pair of detectives and their dog. No wonder it spawned five sequels, even though Hammett never wrote another.
Inventor Clyde Wynant is missing. At a party, his daughter Dorothy (Maureen O'Sullivan) sees detective-turned-rich-hubby Nick Charles (William Powell) and asks for his help in finding her dad. But when Clyde's secretary/mistress is murdered, Clyde is the primary suspect -- especially when other bodies show up.
Nick is resolutely determined not to get involved, but between the police and his rich wife Nora (Myrna Loy), he finds himself enmeshed in the case. He believes that Wynant didn't do it, but the case is covered with false clues and hidden motives -- until Nick himself unearths a skeleton in Wynant's workshop, which will solve the whole case.
From the first moment you see Nick dancing with his shaker, it's obvious that "Thin Man" is a winner. It was the first of six films starring Nick, Nora and Asta the wire-haired terrier, and while Hammet never wrote anything more about this detecting team, that didn't stop Hollywood from continuing their saga.
This is a tight, suspenseful little mystery, with plenty of suspects that might have done it, but you never quite know who did actually do the murder. But the story is peppered with astoundingly funny dialogue ("I heard you got shot five times in the tabloids." "That's a lie! They didn't come anywhere NEAR my tabloids"), and a cast of weirdos, ranging from gangsters to greedy ex-wives to wooden gigolos.
Nick and Nora (based on Hammett and Lillian Hellman) are absolutely delightful. And Powell and Loy are absolutely electric in this movie, exchanging witty barbs ("Oh, Nicky, I love you... because you know such lovely people") and pretending they don't adore each other. This is ideal movie chemistry.
They're also backed by good performances from Nat Pendleton, William Henry and the Minna Gombell as the hard-boiled cop Nick is helping out, the creepy hyperintellectual Wynant son, and Wynant's greedy, pop-eyed ex-wife. But all the performances here are solid; the flattest acting is done by Asta.
on 24 February 2012
Oh man, what an excellent film! A total classic. This is the sort of film that reminds you just how good a film can be. If, like me, you have found yourself sitting stony-faced through all those infantile modern comedies in which the height of wit is a guy barfing into a flowerpot or a girl having diarrhea, and are beginning to wonder if you lack a sense of humour altogether, then watch THE THIN MAN. It's funnier than any film I've seen in a long time; I actually rewound it occasionally to listen to a joke a second time; that's how good the dialogue is. But there's more than comedy here; there is intelligence, class, feeling, a spot of murder ... and some stunning outfits. Okay, I'm not entirely convinced that the romantic comedy and the murder mystery sides of the movie quite gel, but perhaps that's just because I'm not fond of murder mysteries. But if there has ever been a more enjoyable couple in the history of cinema than Nick and Nora, I certainly haven't seen them. It's even more remarkable when you consider that, while most romantic pairings involve a guy and a girl who've just met, initially hate each other, fall in love, and get married, Nick and Nora are already happily married. That should be the kiss of death in a movie; but THE THIN MAN thrives on it. This is what marriage should be like: witty, loving and alcoholic.
It's no wonder this spawned several sequels. I've no idea how they compare to the original, but if they are even half as good as this they'll be worth the time. We shall see...
This, the first Thin Man, is one of the most beloved of the old time movies, and watching it for the first time since I was a child--I'm sure I saw it in the fifties at one of those three features, a cartoon and Movietone for a dime theaters, but remember nothing--it's not hard to see why. The chemistry between William Powell and Myrna Loy (Nick and Nora Charles) is effervescent, bubbly and delicious. It is obvious they are in love and take such joy in each other's company while teasing each other in a most delightful way. You will just love the way Asta, their dog (who is quite a star in this movie himself) covers his eyes in the final scene--such a delicate dog with such delicate feelings! (Actually I understand that all dogs in movies in those days at least were females for reasons that might be imagined.)
The movie starts a little slow by modern standards, like a stage play, but becomes increasingly enthralling, until suddenly it is over, and YES, let's do a sequel! And they did, six of them, but, well, sequels may or may not be as good as the original. In this case, I understand they weren't and I'm not surprised. It would be hard to achieve something like The Thin Man again. Everything just fell into place, the plot was agreeable and clever, the lesser characters quirky and intriguing, the direction by W.S. "One Take Woody" Van Dyke smooth and focused, and the twenties going on the thirties (but not really) atmosphere was authentic with the rich holding lavish dinner parties and drinking way too much, especially Nick Charles (Powell) who complained that sleuthing caused him to get behind in his drinking.
The witty dialogue comes first from Dashiell Hammett's novel and then from Albert Hackett who adapted the script. Hackett was just getting warmed up. He wrote his first script in 1931 (something called Up Pops the Devil) and his last for The Father of the Bride Part II in 1995 at the age of 95!--well, he got partial credit for that script which was morphed out of his 1951 script for Father's Little Dividend and the original Father of the Bride (1951).
By the way, I always imagined that "the thin man" was the detective Nick Charles, but actually the thin man is Clyde Wynant, the eccentric inventor played by Edward Ellis who goes missing after the first reel. However, everybody thought the same thing, so in the sequels, the thin man is the detective!
One of the reasons the repartee between Nick and Nora is so great is that it was taken (somewhat) from real life exchanges between Hammett and his longtime live-together girl friend the celebrated playwright, Lillian Hellman.
Anybody with any pretension of knowing Hollywood films has seen this. See it yourself if you haven't. It's a delight and will take you back to a time full of styles so very different from those of today.
Rarely had, or has, a healthy and happy, still vibrant marriage been credibly portrayed on film. Myrna Loy (once the `Queen of Hollywood`, and one can see why) and an obviously decade-older William Powell strike sparks off each other, with Powell debonair, rogueish and moustachioed, Loy sourly sweet, flirtatious, languorous, and underplaying delightfully. Both are pitch perfect in roles that could have been made for them.
The plot is of secondary importance and, as is often the case in such crime capers, fairly incomprehensible. Maureen O`Sullivan (later Mia Farrow`s mum and Tarzan`s Jane) is excellent in an early role as an ingenue, while there`s a large supporting cast of varying degrees of acting prowess.
But it`s the likeably martini-sodden duet - occasionally duel - of Powell/Nick and Myrna/Nora that one watches and keenly misses when they`re not on screen. Their sparring, cooing and courting, and fond backchat - this is one marriage still in its honeymoon stage and not about to leave it any time soon, if ever - is one of the mildly perverse joys of thirties cinema.
The verbose screenplay is loosely based on a later Dashiel Hammett story, but enterprising, fast-shooting director W.S. Van Dyke turns it into a comedy which just happens to feature a murder or two. The final expository revelation of the culprit (at a dinner-party - what else! - given by Nick and Nora) is, frankly, an inevitable anti-climax, and I`m quite sure that all concerned were aware of the fact.
This is without any doubt Powell & Loy`s film, and they made several more in the series, each less interesting than the last, though they both continued to give value for money.
See it if only for the absurdly subversive (but then, the whole film is gloriously subversive) scene in which Nick tries out his Christmas present (from Nora, of course) of a handgun by shooting balloons from the Christmas tree, in a variety of outlandish postures.
Then there`s the admirable Asta the dog, who is nevertheless perhaps a cuteness too far - particularly in the final squirm-inducing shot.
Oh, and the dialogue is at times very naughty indeed, I`m happy to say, full of double, and indeed single, entendres. This was just before the iniquitous Hays Code was instigated, so you could get away with - well, not quite murder...
Joyfully daft - see it at least once.
The Thin Man is directed by W. S. Van Dyke and co-written by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich. It is based on the Dashiell Hammett novel of the same name. Starring are William Powell and Myrna Loy, with support coming from Maureen O'Sullivan, Nat Pendleton, Minna Gombell, Porter Hall and Skippy as Astra the dog. William Axt scores the music and James Wong Howe is the cinematographer.
Plot finds Powell and Loy as married couple, Nick and Nora Charles, he is a retired detective, she a good time heiress. Planning to finally settle down, their life is upturned when Nick is called back into detective work due to a friend's disappearance and the possibility he was also involved in a murder. Murder, malarkey and mirth are about to become the order of the day.
It was the big surprise hit of 1934. Afforded only a tiny budget because studio head honcho Louis B. Mayer thought it was dud material, and ordered to be completed in under three weeks time, film made stars out of Powell and Loy and coined an impressive $2 million at the box office. Also birthing a franchise (5 film sequels and a radio and television series would follow), it's a film that has irresistible charm leaping out from every frame. It's easy to see even now why a mid 1930's audience could take so warmly to such an appealing motion picture.
From the off the film was in good hands, Dyke (One-Take Woody as he was sometimes known) was an unfussy director with a keen eye for pacing and casting, both of which are things that shine through in this production. There's also considerable talent in the writing, both in the source material and with the script writers. Hammett based his witty bantering couple on himself and his relationship with playwright Lillian Hellman, this was ideal material for Hackett and Goodrich, themselves a happily married couple fondly thought of in the cut and thrust world of Hollywood. As a couple they would go on to write It's a Wonderful Life for Frank Capra and win the Pulitzer Prize for their play The Diary of Anne Frank.
It stands out as a film of note because it successfully marries a murder mystery story with a screwball comedy spin, this was something new and exciting. While the believable relationship between Powell and Loy was also a breath of fresh air; a married couple deeply in love, devoted, funny, boozey and bouncing off of each other with witty repartee. It can never be overstated just how good Powell and Loy are here, true enough they are given an absolutely zinging script to work from, but the level of comedy, both in visual ticks and delivery of lines, is extraordinarily high.
Small budget and a small shoot, but everything else about The Thin Man is big. Big laughs, big mystery and big love, all bundled up into a joyous bit of classic cinema. 9/10
on 25 May 2015
Recently bought several in the series.
What splendid films - crisp pacey, filmed in long takes with great panache. The plots are more complex than you might expect, but unhurried & eccentrically detailed. Acting is superb with large casts wonderfully handled by the director and cameraman. The editing in amazingly slick for the date of the film and the quality of the print is superb. Lighting also atmospheric and imaginative. One scene is shot in almost total darkness. Nor do they shy away from reality. A corpse is found because of the stench of corruption. A dark and unexpected moment.
Perhaps the alchoholism of the central character is taken more lightly than we would wish nowadays [He is happy in his boozy haze; no lurking despair or tragedy fro him!]
A revelation. Cute dog too!
Van dyke directs this first one, and the others he directs are the BEST!
on 16 December 2015
Funny and surprisingly modern in its script, characters you will fall in love with and a great looking film. The quality belies the film's age, avoiding the stiltedness of so many 30's films, and you can see the leads' enjoyment of the script and one another's often almost spontaneously dialogued performances.
on 25 December 2006
I got the box set as soon as it came out; from remembering the first one on TV (vaguely) as brilliant.
It's more than just that there're good: The dialogue is witty and leaves you to see lots more between the lines, sometimes very hard to spot (what do you make of the over friendly neighbour in the fur coat in the lift!), and the classic denouments are laid out in such a way that you feel you ought to have been able to guess them (but no one ever does).
There's a hint of ham, but suits the comic mood well, and done with panache not farce. American humour at its best.
An absolute riot; I agree with everythig from the previous reviewer.
on 7 May 2011
You can't help but fall for the charm of the leads. I don't think anyone has ever quite looked like Myrna Loy or William Powell in the movies. Tabloids! Nuts! Who's been in Myrna's drawers? And the photography on this print is clear and precise. It may not be the world's best film, but there is nothing wrong with it - how could it be better?
Clyde Wynant (Edward Ellis) is planning to go into seclusion for a few months. He'll be back in New York in time for his daughter's Christmas wedding. But before he disappears, he discovers that someone has been stealing from him. Figuring out who it is, he sets out to confront the thief before he leaves town.
Fast forward a few months, and daughter Dorothy (Maureen O'Sullivan) is getting worried. With the wedding only days away, Clyde is still gone. She runs into former private eye Nick Charles (William Powell) who is in New York for a vacation with his wife Nora (Myrna Loy). While he refuses to get involved in the case, the police and reporters think he is investigating. The stakes are raised when a murder takes place and a villain breaks into Nick and Nora's hotel room. Will Nick solve the case? Where is Clyde?
While I'm normally not a fan of older films, this one is such a classic I had to give it a chance. And I'm glad I did. The reason I shy away from old films is because I often feel like some key element hasn't been fully explained, which makes it hard to get into the movie. That happened a time or two here, but for the most part everything was fairly straight forward, at least as far as the backgrounds went.
I had pieces of the mystery figured out before the characters did, but I still enjoyed the story. The traditional, bring all the suspects together for a confrontation scene made the ending a little weak, however.
What makes this movie work is the Nick/Nora relationship. Their constant banter is hilarious. Those scenes were the highlight of the movie. And William Powell and Myrna Loy have the perfect chemistry to pull it off. Frankly, I wish Nora had been in even more of the movie. Even the constant drinking didn't turn me off to these characters.
As old films go, this is a good one. The mystery is light, but the laughs are real.