I first noticed The Thin Man movies when I was working at a retail movie store in college. We had a box set of the collection valued at something like $100. The box itself did not make the movies look like much — some old, boring black-and-white flicks, I figured. On one occasion I had a group of middle-aged folk come in and ask if we had any of the films. I offered them the box set as our only copies and thought there was no chance they would drop the full $100 to get the set, but boy was I surprised. After that sale my interest was certainly peaked, but it was not until more than two years ago when I spotted the first one airing on TCM. I rewatched it last night with Ryan in an attempt to entice him to watch the full series, which I now own in box-set form.
The Thin Man is the first in a series of films with similar titles but the only one I’ve watched so far for which the title actually makes sense. “The thin man” is not the lead character of William Powell‘s Nick Charles, but of a suspect hunted throughout the entire film and to which is referred as a “thin man” only once, I believe. I’m sure the series continued with the name merely to connect all the films back to the first, which, once you see it, you’ll understand must have been a tremendous hit.
The Thin Man has the advantage of being a murder-mystery, action, drama and comedy, which as I mentioned on Charade is pretty much my favorite combination. Powell’s retired detective character spends about half the movie trying not to be brought in on the case of a missing man/murder … times three. The mystery is very complex and is impossible for the viewer to disseminate on his own, which is why we rely on Powell to lay the whole story down at the end of the movie.
The crowning jewel to The Thin Man movies is the Charles family. Myrna Loy plays the wife, Nora, and the comedic chemistry between the two actors truly comes to light. The pair did several other movies with each other, but they are probably at their best in The Thin Man. Nora is a woman “with hair on her chest” who can joke just as thoroughly as her husband. In one instance, to save Nora from being shot, Nick socks her in the jaw before tackling the gunman. Upon revival, the woman says:
Did you have to knock me out? I knew you could take him, but I wanted to see you do it.”
Joining the family is their dog, Asta, a character that adds to the comedy and helps solve the mystery, of course.
The Thin Man is the perfect picture for anyone’s preference in movies. It works as a family film because it’s as clean as most movies from that era, and it has the excitement and humor for any discerning taste. I must warn, however, that once you see the first, you’re likely to look for the next and might end up buying a box set, as was my fate.