"The Thin Man"
Starring: William Powell, Myrna Loy, Maureen O’Sullivan and Nat Pendleton
Running time: 90 minutes
Rating: Not rated
“The Thin Man” is a very popular movie in my family. I grew up hearing about it.
Knowing I have an interest in classic films, my aunts, uncles and grandparents have encouraged me to watch it for years. My uncle loves the movie and its sequels so much he named his dog “Asta” after the comically sensible terrier from the films.
I watched it this month because I’ve yet to see much film noir, but “The Thin Man” doesn’t really fit the bill. Sure it has murder, intrigue and a climactic scene with all of the suspects sitting around a dinner table until one outs themselves as the killer. But the movie is really a thriller that borders on a comedy.
Regardless, I was utterly surprised with how much I enjoyed it. This is one of the best films I have seen from Hollywood’s golden years.
The 1934 film revolves around Nick (William Powell) and Nora (Myrna Loy), a witty and affluent couple, and their investigation into the murder of an old friend’s mistress. Nick is a former private detective who married into money and would like nothing more than to drink and banter all day. But everyone from the police to his wife Nora, who is intrigued by the mystery, hound him incessantly to find the killer.
Most of the film consists of Nick and Nora’s witty back-and-forth dialogue and heavy drinking with brief interruptions from various suspects. That is OK with me, because the dialogue is quite funny. Nick and Nora poke fun at each other constantly and seem to have a humorous one-liner for every situation.
Despite the insults the couple slings at each other, it is apparent they really do care for one another. Eventually Nick “catches the bug” and becomes engrossed with finding the murderer. But after a few close calls with death, Nora begins to worry about him. This dynamic becomes so endearing eventually the phrase “Nick and Nora” became a well-known synonym for all of “The Thin Man” movies.
The mystery itself is intriguing, even if it is overshadowed by the characters and dialogue. The mistress of a famous and rich inventor is murder several months after he disappears. During the course of the investigation, a mobster, the jealous ex-wife of the inventor and the inventor himself all become suspects. The only eyewitness is shot in broad daylight, and a national manhunt for the inventor begins.
Meanwhile, the inventor’s daughter, Dorothy (Maureen O’Sullivan), is distraught because she believes her father is a murderer. She tries to take the fall for him. When that fails, she calls off her wedding and vows to never to settle down for fear her children would grow up to become killers, too.
The case takes so many twists and turns when the murderer is finally revealed, it is a genuine shock. It is also a relief because at this point I was so invested the different characters I really wanted to see things turn out for the best.
Powell’s confidence and dry humor is the perfect fit for Nick, who makes light of every situation and subtly mocks most people. Over the course of his career, Powell was nominated for best actor three times, including for this film, but he never won.
Loy and O’Sullivan bring a lot of star power to “The Thin Man.” Both were famous actresses from Hollywood’s golden era of the 1930s and ’40s and are far more graceful and entertaining than most modern actresses. Of course, part of the charm is because of the affluent nature of the characters in this movie.
“The Thin Man” brings a lot of comedy but manages to retain the thrill of good mystery, which isn’t an easy feat. If you are looking for a good movie from this time period, I couldn’t think of a better one to recommend.
“The Thin Man” is available on Amazon Instant Video to buy or rent for $3.99-$17.99.
Andrew Akers is a columnist for The Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.