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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

The Thin Man: Review

The Thin Man is likely the most playful, amusing and entertaining of all the detective films of the 1930s, and for two good reasons: William Powell and Myrna Loy. As a devoted husband and wife who love a good martini as much as each other, the pair provide a mirthful vision of married life as the sophisticated mystery sleuths, Nick and Nora Charles.

To know Nick and Nora Charles is to love them, and depression era audiences loved them very much. As was typical of the time, the impoverished nation was enamored of anything that would distract from the daily worries of joblessness and their modest lives. But they also loved to see one of their own make good. As Nick Charles, Powell covers all the bases. Nick is a regular guy, a detective of the streets who has married an heiress, but still mixes with his old pals, many of who are petty criminals he helped put away.

Thanks to his wife, Nick is now retired and spends most of his time devoted to finding the perfect martini. His beautiful and adoring wife doesn’t mind his lackadaisical ways, but that’s because she’s usually matching him drink for drink. Then, almost by chance Nick falls right into the thick of a murder mystery. It seems that one of Nick’s old clients (a man described as “the thin man”) is missing after the murder of his mistress. Having no need to work, Nick is naturally reluctant to get involved, but Nora longs to see her husband in action and eggs him on until he erroneously becomes a suspect. Not to be left out of the fun, Nora does some sleuthing too, and somewhere between drinks, and walking the wire-haired terrier (Asta), she manages to help her husband solve the mystery. In the end Nick identifies the real killer in what is now the standard scene of gathering all of the suspects for a dramatic reveal.

It’s hard to believe now, but there had been an initial reluctance on MGM’s part to give The Thin Man its full support. The illustrious studio considered the detective format a “B” genre, and Powell had done only moderately well under the guise of another amateur sleuth, Philo Vance at his previous studio, Warner Bros. Because of this lack of enthusiasm the production was given just two weeks for shooting, a rather modest budget and a director known for efficiency; Woody “one-shot” Van Dyke. Regardless of the constraints and break-neck shooting schedule, something seemed to click because the results were golden, leading to a franchise that would produce five sequels.

The key factor for the enormous success was of course the casting of Powell and Loy. No two actors could have better personified the dashing Mr. and Mrs. Charles. Prior to shooting, Powell had already established his screen personae as a dapper rogue with a playful wit and a quick mind. And although Loy had previously been known as a vamp, she had recently transformed into a charming lady who through her own virtuousness transformed bad boys into good men.

By all accounts the two shared a wonderful working relationship, which contributed to their natural report on screen, one that exuded a beguiling chemistry audiences loved. In fact, the portrayals of their characters appeared to be so effortless that people believed the two were actually married in real life. In truth, they had no romantic history other than the one they shared on screen for a total of fourteen films together. And in each and every one Powell and Loy are just as appealing as they are in The Thin Man, a film that led to years of sexy, playful banter between a husband and wife who truly love each other. Although a truly rare feat for the movie screen it’s just another mystery solved with the pairing of William Powell and Myrna Loy.

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