THE THIN MAN (1934) B/W 91m dir: W.S. Van Dyke

w/William Powell, Myrna Loy, Maureen O'Sullivan, Nat Pendleton, Minna Gombell, Porter Hall, Henry Wadsworth, William Henry, Harold Huber, Cesar Romero, Natalie Moorhead, Edward Brophy, Edward Ellis, Cyril Thornton, Asta

Nick and Nora Charles, the screen's foremost practitioners of wit and urbanity, made their debuts in this sparkling who-dun-it. The plot, about an inventor who may be a murderer and the search for a certain "Thin Man," isn't the actual focus of the film (that's proven by its quick summation at the end); what really matters is the bright repartee between Powell and Loy, a screen couple made in heaven. Writer Dashiell Hammett claimed he originally created the Charleses as a sort of negative vision of wealth during the Depression; what arrived on screen, thanks to the fine scripting and inspired casting, was instead so delightful that, more than half a century later, the film still sparkles with fun and charm.

From Georges Sadoul's Dictionary of Films: "This comedy-thriller is a classic of its kind and established a new trend of urbane, witty detectives. Though its style seems effortless it is highly skillful, with a marvelous sense of informality and naturalism, crisp dialogue, and and taut action. William Powell and Myrna Loy give subtly amusing performances as the husband and wife team and their domestic scenes are a delight --- one of the first times an affectionate marriage has been honestly portrayed in the cinema."

From The Movie Guide: "Nick Charles (Powell) is a retired detective who has married the wealthy Nora (Loy) and now intends to devote himself to looking after her money and doing some serious drinking. (You can tell this film was made right after the repeal of Prohibition.) They travel to New York for the holidays, and there meet Dorothy (O'Sullivan), who asks Nick to help her find her missing father (Ellis). He's an inventor who months before went into seclusion to work on a project but hasn't been heard from since. Nick, whose reputation precedes him, isn't anxious to end his early retirement, but Nora, eager for thrills, prods him into it. Together with their wire-haired terrier Asta, the newlyweds solve the case.

"Praise should go to the writers of the film's delightful dialogue and to the underrated Van Dyke, a director of craft who knows how to make a film move. The story, meanwhile, faithfully taken from Hammett's novel, proves eminently serviceable if not quite the stuff of genius. What really makes THE THIN MAN an enduring classic, though, is the interplay between Powell and Loy, one of the greatest happily married couples ever to flicker on a screen. The repartee they shoot back and forth is priceless, as in one scene the morning after a gunman has broken into their suite and superficially wounded Nick before being subdued and hauled away. As they read the morning papers about the event, Powell says, 'I'm a hero, I was shot twice in the Tribune.' Loy: 'I read you were shot five times in the tabloids.' 'It's not true. He didn't come anywhere near my tabloids,' Powell parries. Loy has a terrific comic bit entering a scene loaded down with packages and dragged by their feisty pooch, and Powell has great fun shooting the balls off a Christmas tree with his favorite present, a gun. Loy and Powell proved so popular that they were teamed twelve more times during their careers (thirteen if you count her cameo in THE SENATOR WAS INDISCREET), six of the pairings coming in the THIN MAN series. These sleuthfests would continue with lessening success for 13 years, but at their peak (the first three films), Nick and Nora were one of the best movie buys around. Loy and Powell set a style for connubial comic banter which many performers still attempt in vain to duplicate today."


THE THIN MAN was nominated for four Oscars: Best Picture, Director, Actor (Powell), and Adapted Screenplay (Frances Goodrich, Albert Heckett).