I have always been in love with black and white films from the 30s and 40s. The time boasts a mix of daring, charismatic characters who know how to dress well and wear outrageous hats for both men and women. It was when people had to converse and flirt in a different manner than today. I always felt at home wearing one of my thirty-plus hats, dressed in a slinky, sexy dress while sitting in a comfortable chair at a ritzy bar. I could come up with so many one-liners because I had watched and studied the techniques from old movies. I often thought I was born in the wrong decade. So, during my many single years, I would nurse my one drink until a tall, dark, handsome stranger would come by to chat, just like Nick and Nora did in THE THIN MAN. If a man could keep up with my bantering, he was a keeper, at least for the evening. This movie has always been one of my favorites. It taught me how to react and be my strong self. My Mom and I would sit together late in the evenings watching THE THIN MAN together. It never got old. I am forever grateful for those precious moments and those valuable lessons of repartee.
THE THIN MAN was first seen in 1934. It was based on a detective mystery book by Dashiell Hammett. The opening credits are viewed in front of the original book cover. TTM was so popular five sequels were made all the the way through 1947. It was the first movie franchise. THE THIN MAN was filmed in twelve days with a price tag of $231,000. It took in $1.4 million, translating to over $21 million by 2022 inflation standards. Not a bad profit for MGM. The director, W. S. Van Dyke was told he had to shoot it within three weeks because Myrna Loy was starting another film gig. I don’t think this would happen today. THE THIN MAN was nominated for three Oscars and listed among 1001 FILMS TO SEE BEFORE I DIE.
The plot of THE THIN MAN is always about a murder and who did it. The fun, entertaining story is being a part of a very rich society and Jo seeing how they pass their time. It is escapism at its finest. Nick (William Powell) and Nora (Myrna Loy) are a married couple deeply, madly in love. She comes from a family of immense wealth and is fascinated with her husband’s former occupation of being a private investigator. She is intrigued with the tough and rough characters Nick used to hang out with, and she encourages him at every turn to help solve big tabloid murders.
All of this is done while Nora wears the most amazing sleek, glittery gowns, suits, dresses, and oh, so many hats. The jewelry is not too shabby, either. The two of them live in a lovely apartment complete with twin beds, which was the norm even for married couples in the day. They smoke and drink way too much, but this is part of their charm. (You could even call this movie “one of the booziest.”) Nick was usually quite “loose” with drinking day or night. It is amazing how he can shoot or think straight, but he does. The opening scene was filmed without William realizing it. He was told to walk around the set and greet his party guests, acting slightly tipsy. The director told him they needed to check on some lighting while he did this. Van Dyke wanted him relaxed. He got the shot on that first take.
THE THIN MAN was a huge success mainly because of the chemistry between Nick and Nora. They were THE romantic screen couple. They thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company on and off-set. It is lightning-paced for joshing, joking, and jesting. It’s like being on a tennis court, hitting that ball back and forth with sarcastic words with your imaginary racket, and it’s all in good fun. This is the heart and beauty of THE THIN MAN. Nick and Nora. A match made in Hollywood heaven. But even through all the bantering, viewers knew their love was real and unconditional no matter how far they took their crazy antics, like Nora asking the waiter, “Will you serve the nuts? I mean, will you serve the guests the nuts?” (You had to be there.) It was priceless to watch the dinner guests and laugh about.
There is one more amazing ensemble “actor” I always loved. Nick and Nora’s dog, Asta, played by Skippy. He was in all their films and was an integral cast member. William and Myrna were not allowed to play with Skippy in between takes. He was lured and rewarded to do his cute tricks with the promise of playing with his favorite squeaky toys. It worked every time except for when Asta nipped Nora’s finger. I always hated the dog’s screen name. It sounded too much like my first name (Asta/Esta), and for a while, I was relentlessly teased by my classmates. I tried not to blame Skippy.
THE THIN MAN is a mixture of sparkling wit, murder, and romance. It is tense, slick, and holds up perfectly even ninety years later. It is considered one of the most popular comedies of all time. William and Myrna made THE THIN MAN work so well because they knew how to do their thing and stay in their own lane. They made magic together that gave viewers the forever gift of great storytelling. THE THIN MAN is a classic, cherished showpiece from a time long ago.
THE THIN MAN is available to stream on HBO Max.