Another Martini: The Thin Man

The Thin Man poster

Pretty girl.”
“Yes, she’s a very nice type.”
“You got types?”
“Only you, darling – lanky brunettes with wicked jaws.”

Our taste here at HQ (well, my taste at least) can be a little eccentric at times, and this film is no exception. Set and filmed in 1934, The Thin Man, based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett, was filmed in just twelve days, after director W.S. “Woody” Van Dyke convinced MGM to agree to the film by promising to shoot the movie in three weeks.

The film stars William Powell as Nick Charles, a former private investigator, who’s given up the sleuthing to settle down with new wife, Nora (Myrna Loy). Several quips are made to suggest that he married Nora for her money, but the love between these two is clear to see, even in a film made at a time when a couple in bed together on screen (even married and sleeping) was considered the very definition of scandalous. As it happens, the two sleep in separate beds, with a constant chaperone in the form of their dog, Asta, who just about steals every scene he’s in and who, for a ‘guard dog’, could give Scooby Doo a run for his money in the cowardly department.

Despite his insistence that he’s no longer a PI, Nick soon finds himself drawn back in, when the daughter of a former client, Dorothy Wynant (Maureen O’Sullivan) pleads with him to help her find her missing father (the thin man of the title). When her father’s girlfriend turns up dead, Nora becomes intrigued, pleading with her husband to take the case. Despite his wife’s pleas, and those of Dorothy, her mother and a potential suspect, Nick manages to hold his ground, at least until the police get involved as well, at which point he steps in with a fairly laid-back manner and solves the case fairly quickly.

Despite the dated technology and black-and-white film (to my knowledge, it has yet to be released in colour), it’s really worth a watch. Nick seems to have been a very popular investigator in his time, and not just with the police and the media – on several occasions, he runs into people he’s ‘sent up the river’ and they greet each other like old friends. Nick and Nora make a fantastic team, despite the stricter gender roles of the day. Indeed, Nora is quite indignant when Nick suggests she let him handle a more ‘dangerous’ trip alone and, when he tricks her into doing so anyway, she doesn’t take it lying down.

How was Grant’s Tomb?”
“Lovely. I’m having a copy made for you.”

The murder mystery itself seems to be ridiculously obvious, until Nick reveals the culprit in true ‘whodunnit’ style – i.e. gathering all the suspects together for a dinner party and taking them through the crime step by step. And the suspects themselves make for fantastic viewing – from Dorothy’s gold-digging mother, Mimi (Minna Gombell), and eccentric brother, Gilbert (William Henry), to gangster, Joe Morelli (Edward Brophy), to several in between, each one makes the most of their screen-time and owns the part completely.

Maybe due to the age of the film and the time of release, this movie is fairly easy viewing, especially if you’re like my mother, and love murder mysteries without the blood and gore of autopsies. It was also precursor to several sequels: After the Thin Man (1936), Another Thin Man (1939), Shadow of the Thin Man (1941), The Thin Man Goes Home (1945) and Song of the Thin Man (1947) – of which I, personally, have seen none, but am assured that they are just as good as the original.

Honestly, I’m not sure that sentence even makes sense grammatically, but that’s what we have a Supreme Editor-In-Chief for, and I like to throw her a challenge every now and then. [I’m not touching that one with a ten-foot pole -Ed.]

In the meantime, I’m going to pour myself a Martini (metaphorically speaking) and watch Nick and Nora run rings around everyone again.

I’d give this film 4 out of 5 – it’d be nice if they could re-release it in colour.

Roxanne Williams (is on typo duty for the next issue because that’s what happens when you throw challenges at the Editor)

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