* Prices may differ from that shown
Nick Charles is enjoying the good life. He has recently married wealthy Nora, which means that he doesn't have to work for a living, plus the marriage is a very happy one, accompanied by their pet dog, Asta. However, he is persuaded to take up his old profession when he is approached by Dorothy Wynant, whose inventor father has gone missing. Then the body of Wynant's wife is found and the obvious conclusion is that Mr Wynant is the murderer and has gone on the run. Nick is less sure though and agrees to take on the case after being persuaded by Nora. Can Nick find out who the murderer is?
I have long been a fan of hardboiled crime fiction and Dashiell Hammett is the king of this genre, being the author of the original book. He is probably best known for two works - this one and The Maltese Falcon. Although both can be classed as 'hardboiled', there is quite a difference in style - The Thin Man is filled with comic moments, while The Maltese Falcon, although it has a certain wry humour, is much more serious. The humour in The Thin Man has been beautifully recreated in this film, which was made way back in 1934, with very little alteration to the original story.
William Powell plays Nick Charles. Happily married, he has become accustomed to the good life and likes a drink or two and a lively party - to which he invariably invites his rather strange collection of friends. He hasn't quite lost the sharpness of his former profession though and once he has got the bit between his teeth, there is no stopping him. All of this is beautifully portrayed by William Powell, who manages to bring comedy to the role without making it a total joke. Best of all, is his on-screen relationship with Myrna Loy, who plays Nora. The couple wise-crack off each other wonderfully and are a real joy to watch. My only criticism is that we don't really see enough of Nora - but that is down to the original story and not the fault of the actress or director. There have been many a husband and wife team in the fictional detective industry - Jonathan and Jennifer Hart, Tommy and Tuppence Beresford (Agatha Christie) and Paul and Steve Temple (Francis Durbridge), all of which have a certain amount of comic value, but Nick and Nora beat them hands down, particularly with Powell and Loy in the roles.
There is also some superb character acting in the film. Edward Ellis, who appears briefly as Mr Wynant, is excellent as a cantankerous old man, who nevertheless has a huge soft spot for his daughter, Dorothy. Dorothy's mother, Mimi, who is divorced from Mr Wynant, is also excellent as a hugely spoiled woman who only looks after herself. My favourite secondary character though has to be the dog, Asta. He gives some superbly funny cameos that really made me laugh and fit in perfectly with the whole tone of the film.
I was pleased to see that the director has kept very closely to the book - it always annoys me if I have read the book and then the film is different. Albert Hackett has done a superb job of converting the story into a screenplay - and it is clear that Hollywood thought so too, as he went on to write the screenplays for It's a Wonderful Life, Father of the Bride (1950) and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.
The pacing of the film is excellent. It starts out slow, setting the scene, ensuring that we know who each character is and where they fit in. Then the questions start cropping up - where has Mr Wynant gone; if he is dead, where is his body; if he committed murder, why....and the pace starts to pick up with any number of suspects being thrown in to the mix. The ending, when it comes, is of the kind that I have become accustomed to with Agatha Christie - all the suspects are gathered together so that Nick can 'out' the perpetrator - and brings with it a twist in the tail.
Made in 1934, the film is, of course, in black and white. There is much else that is old-fashioned - the hair, the clothes, the position of women in society and even the way that the characters speak. However, there is a reason that this film is a classic - it is a superb story and the actors do a fantastic job of telling it. As such, I really think it is worth over-looking all that is deemed 'old-fashioned' for the sake of watching an excellently crafted film.
I loved this film. I loved it so much that I watched it once, then again straight after and again the next day. It is rare that a film appeals to me so much that I just want to see it again. Certainly, I can't ever remember a modern day film that has done this to me. Highly recommended to anyone who likes their films to have a good story and acting.
The DVD is available from play.com for £5, including free delivery.
Running time: 93 minutes
When someone mentions 1930's detective fiction, what immediately springs to mind is the hard boiled gumshoe in a usually seedy office, who gets into trouble over some dame. Dashiel Hammett was the uncrowned king of that era's hardboiled detective genre, and his prolific efforts included short stories and novels. While these days many of us may not be familiar with his name, it is a rare person even in the farthest reaches of civilisation who does not know some of his creations. Leaping from his pages to the Hollywood screen, many of his stories became film classics in themselves, including the legendary The Maltese Falcon. In 1932, he was to write the novel, The Thin Man, which became one of the most renowned serials in detective fiction history. Made into a Hollywood film in 1934 it was such a huge success that despite him never writing a sequel, Hollywood created a further five sequels. It also spawned a popular radio serial, and in the 1950's, a television show.
Taking a departure from the stereotypical hardboiled, cash strapped, and slightly seedy hardboiled detective, Hammett introduces us to Nick and Nora Charles. Happily married, with a small wire terrier dog named Asta, Nick and Nora are quite a pair. He is a former private eye, who gave up the business after marrying wealthy socialite Nora. He has spent his life afterwards frequenting speakeasies and posh hotels (it IS the Prohibition era!) getting tipsy. While he is an obvious alcoholic, he is also suave and debonair, and it is very obvious that the married life and trappings of wealth suit him very much.
He is thrust back into the hard boiled world of his former life though due to chance encounter. An inventor has told his daughter he is going into seclusion to test out a new invention, and refuses to tell his daughter where he is going lest someone find out and make off with his idea. She has told him of her impending marriage and he promises to return in time to give her away at her wedding, but has disappeared. What the daughter does not know is that her father, after speaking to her but prior to his going away, discovered some missing bonds he wished to give her as a wedding gift, and confronted two of his employees over it. Not hearing from Daddy, the daughter is worried, and recognises Nick from his private dick days, and appeals to him for help. Reluctantly, Nick and Nora agree to help. But when the inventor's secretary turns up dead, and more bodies follow, it looks like Daddy is not just missing, but on the lam...
While the screenplay itself is extremely well scripted, it takes a set of very gifted actors to pull it off to perfection. Luckily, the casting department got it spot on, and the onscreen chemistry between the main two actors, Myrna Loy (Nora Charles) and William Powell (Nick Charles) lit up the screen. Delivering their lines with great wit and perfectly nuanced facial expressions and body language, it is absolutely a joy to watch. Even the dog makes a lasting impression, so much so that I will admit here that my mother actually named one of her dogs Asta in homage. The supporting cast also do a great job, but quite honestly, Loy and Powell simply shine them to mere props for their witticisms. What is especially astonishing is to realise that the director W.S. "Woody" Van Dyke was known as "One take Woody" because he insisted on just that...a singlet take for each scene. The studio pushed him to complete filming in three weeks, and he took only 12 days, which is an incredible marvel even for a film without special effects. Nonetheless, the resulting overall quality garnered it four Academy Award nominations.
These were well deserved nominations, and a great testament to the craft of the cast and crew. Being the first screwball type comedy detective thriller, this film and its actor's portrayals would go on to be copied in essence for decades to come. From the slightly later screwballish romantic thrillers featuring the suave Cary Grant, to TV staple rip offs such as Hart to Hart, this film and its cast were the ones to perfectly mix this magic viewing audience capturing formula.
Being an old film, and in black and white, it is released as a budget title. There are no making of type featurettes or interviews with the cast or anything like that, but the disc does niftily contain the original theatrical trailers for all six of the Thin Man films. Presented in a rather flimsy plastic and paperboard snap case, the inside cover opens to reveal a movie still from the film and a very handy scene index listing. The DVD is held in the DVD grippy thing bit on the back cover, with the rather puzzlingly obvious notation "DVD" inscribed into the plastic above it. Warner Brothers released this film in its original widescreen aspect ratio, so it is best viewed on a widescreen television, but as it is in mono (albeit now Dolby Digital mono), surround sound is not necessary in the least. The picture is a nice clean print, but there is the odd blemish noticeable to the keen eye, as the picture regrettably was not digitally remastered. This does not detract from the viewer enjoying the breathtaking cinematography however; despite it always being done in one take, great care was taken to overlay the glossy softness of that era's black and white filming techniques with a grittiness to match the hardboiled detective feel, achieving an effect that pre-empted a standard not seen elsewhere until the later era of film noir. Thankfully this quality has not been lost to colourisation. Running at 91 minutes, this film is not overly long, nor rushed in its attempt to tell us the story, but if we do need to make an intermission, the interactive menu does allow one to select a scene rather than to just "play movie". This is where the inside of the case's index comes in handy, though admittedly it is hard to figure out by title alone without having seen the film a few times.
This is a charming film that despite its age manages to catch the interest of even the most modern movie goer. Great for rainy days, a Friday night, or even as a date movie at the low price of under £5, you simply can't go wrong. Showcasing the brilliance of MGM studios at their height, it puts many of today's film to blushing shame. Due to the heavy drinking depicted, however, I would not recommend it for children under 13 or the impressionable.
The Thin Man is the first instalment in one of the most successful detective serials in film history, based on the 1932 novel by Dashiell Hammett about stylish sleuthing spouses Nick (William Powell) and Nora Charles (Myrna Loy). Powell and Loy's quick-witted repartee set a Hollywood tradition in their crackling debut as they investigate the disappearance of a wealthy inventor. A blockbuster hit in 1934, THE THIN MAN's convoluted mystery plot moves at a rapid-fire pace that will delight modern viewers. Director W.S. Van Dyke's fast but loose methods helped stars Powell and Loy create great verisimilitude in their marital relationship in spite of the highly stylized script. Even the couple's pet dog, Asta, brings home a finely tuned performance, and the supporting roles are filled with a crew of comical characters. The Thin Man must not be missed by fans of the detective genre.