Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Thin Man (1934)

Having already checked out a couple of films featuring the acting duo of William Powell and Myrna Loy, I decided to watch their most famous film. The pair made six Thin Man movies about detective Nick Charles and his wife Nora. (Bonus points if you recognize these as the names from the latest movie starring Michael Cera.) These movies are famous for two things: the cute dog and the cute banter between Nick and Nora. The actual mysteries are more of a sideline.

In this first Thin Man, the main theme seems to be how much Nick and Nora drink, and I must say, they can put it away. They do engage in some cute banter, too. Somewhere in there, with the help of their dog, they manage to solve a murder.

I am inclined to say that I think this film is a bit over-rated. The mystery part is okay, but it’s extremely lightweight compared to something like Bogart in “The Big Sleep.” That’s fair enough, as this is more of a comedy than a mystery, and it certainly isn’t a noir film. On that note, the witty repartee IS pretty clever, but Myrna Loy’s aloof style is starting to grate on me. William Powell, on the other hand, is a genuine pleasure to watch. He has an un-self-conscious comedy style that allows him to slip on a banana peel and still come off looking like the coolest guy in the room.

This film does have a final grace note that really wraps it up in style. Remember that this was the 1930’s, so the scenes with Nick and Nora in their bedroom feature husband and wife in separate, twin beds. Well, the end of the movie finds them on a train, and as they prepare for bed, Nora suggests that the dog should sleep on the bottom bunk with her. Next thing you know, the dog has been tossed on the top bunk by himself, and even 30’s audiences knew what that meant.

One final mystery here: Who is the Thin Man? One would assume the title refers to Nick Charles, but William Powell had a decidedly medium build. I’ll risk a spoiler by mentioning that there is a dead body that is a thin man buried in a fat man’s clothes to throw off the police. I would suspect that that is the Thin Man, but it doesn’t explain the five Thin Man sequels.

3.5 stars

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