The Thin Man (W.S.Van Dyke, 1934): USA

Reviewed by Kathleen Amboy.  Viewed on Turner Classics.

The Thin Man

The Thin Man was the first in a series of murder mysteries to spawn five sequels over a thirteen year period.  It stars William Powell and Myna Loy as the fun-loving Nick and Nora Charles.  Nick is a former police detective and Nora a wealthy railroad heiress, whom he married for her money – or so he says.

When a former friend goes missing and becomes the lead suspect in a murder investigation, Nick is coaxed back into sleuthing, first by his wife and then by police LT.  John Guild (Nat Pendleton), who tells Charles that “we’d rather have you working for us than against us.”

This film has many of the characteristic elements that make up a successful screwball comedy, such as the low-class but wealthy elite, mugs from the street,  fast-talking tomatoes, a lot of yelling and carrying-on, and a bit of slapstick thrown in – Nick attempts to backhand his wife, as she makes faces at him, all in the presence of a third party.

Among the many colorful characters are Mimi Jorgenson (Minna Gombell), who constantly attempts to shake-down her ex-husband for more money, or Marion (Gertrude Short), Nunheim’s squeeze, who quips to her two-timing man that she “doesn’t like crooks who are stoolpigeons.”

One important character that shares equal screen time with Nick and Nora is Asta (Skippy), the couple’s beloved Wire-Haired Fox Terrier.  Van Dyke gives us a glimpse of Asta’s importance as a lead character, when he appears on screen before Myrna Loy, and actually upstages the actress by pulling on his lead so hard she falls flat on her face.

Filmed during the depression era, many screwball comedies expose the elite as having no class and mugs from the street as just ordinary joes.  The mystery culminates at an elegant dinner party, hosted by the Charles’ with all of the lead suspects present.   In the midst of unforgettable cheap dialogue and a gun being fired off, Nick gets his man.

Although it wasn’t the first, this film brought Myrna Loy out of her vampy roles and was such a successful pairing with William Powell, that she went on to make a slew of films with him.  As a screen couple they are lovable, charming and romantic.  In a repertoire of films to watch, this one is a must-see.

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