Colossus of Rhode Island

1934-The Thin Man

April 20, 2011
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The Thin Man from drmacro.com

The Thin Man from doctormacro.com

I was listening to a comic book podcast recently (because that’s another thing that I love) and I heard someone describe a particular series as “the Thin Man with robots and telekinesis.”  Once I heard that, I knew that I would love the series (in case you’re wondering, it was the iFanboy podcast, my second favorite comics podcast after “Ben and Josh’s Near Mint Comic Show,” and the book was Mystery Society and it was quite good).

I can’t describe to you how much I love The Thin Man.  Like every other series of movies, there are mis-steps and entries that are significantly worse than others, but all in all it is a wonderful time.  William Powell and Myrna Loy clearly enjoy playing Nick and Nora Charles and they enjoy working with one another.  Theirs is one of the truly legendary screen pairings and their chemistry is as good as any.

The basic premise is this:  Powell plays Nick Charles.  He used to be a Private Investigator but he retired after he married a wealthy heiress played by Myrna Loy.  Now they spend their time getting drunk and taking their dog for walks.  They are back on the east coast after having spent years on the west.  A young lady, Dorothy Wynant, asks him to help find her missing father, Clyde Wynant, who Nick had done some work for in the past (an interesting side note:  Nick Charles is not “the thin man” and is never referred to as such in the movie.  Wynant, the man he is trying to find, is referred to as “a thin man” at one point and this is, presumably, where the title came from).

He is initially reluctant to take the case, but ends up helping.  Nora encourages him as she is interested in the life of a Private Investigator.  He is forced to deal with the missing man’s ex-wife (who is always after his money), her new husband (who refuses to work), her son (who seems a little too obsessed with abnormal psychology) and various other wacky characters.

Nick and Nora interact with high society just as easily as with criminals (some of the people they invite to their parties are criminals that Nick had put in jail years ago) and they get themselves into and out of all sorts of sticky situations.  They almost always have a drink in hand and their faithful dog “Asta” at the end of a leash.  There are many twists and turns and they are eventually able to piece together the killer’s identity and, at a dinner party with all the suspects gathered, he reveals the identity of the killer.

Like many successful movies, The Thin Man became a successful franchise.  There were a total of six Thin Man movies and I’ve seen four of them.  The original is still my favorite.  I feel that the best word to describe this movie and its performances is “charming.”  Nick and Nora are charming together, the movie is light and fun and, although there is danger and detection, there is comedy throughout.  If you’ve never seen The Thin Man, I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Why this was a hard decision (other movies from 1934 worth seeing):

Many critics regard It Happened One Night as one of the greatest movies of all time and won a bunch of Oscars, so I feel like I should put it on this list.  Personally, I don’t think it’s as good as people make it out to be and for a slapstick comedy I don’t see too much “slapstick” or “comedy” going on.  It certainly isn’t a bad film, but I don’t think it belongs in conversations as one of the greatest ever.

The Black Cat is a wonderful horror film featuring Lugosi and Karloff, two giants of the genre.  It is definitely worth a watch.

Cleopatra has beautiful sets and is capably directed by Demille, but it certainly isn’t a perfect film.  Warren William, one of my favorite pre-code actors and an extremely charming screen presence, is woefully miscast as Julius Cesar.

I haven’t seen Jimmy the Gent in years, but I remember loving it and, looking back on it, any film directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Jimmy Cagney and Bette Davis would have to be good.

The Man Who Knew Too Much is one of my favorite films from Hitchcock’s British years.  He would remake it in the ‘50s with Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day.  If you’ve already seen that version, this one is different enough that it is still worth checking out.

Did you know?  (1934 Trivial knowledge)

  • Notorious gangster John Dillinger was shot outside a Chicago theater after seeing Manhattan Melodrama.
  • It Happened One Night was the first movie to sweep the Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Picture categories at the Academy Awards.
  • Cesar Romero plays the scheming new husband of the eponymous “Thin Man’s” ex-wife.  He is better remembered now for playing the Joker in the 1960s Batman TV show.
  • The fact that the Batman TV show was never released on DVD is one of the great mysteries of the universe.
  • The Black Cat is the first movie to pair horror legends Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi.
  • Peter Lorre had just left Germany for England just prior to filming The Man Who Knew Too Much (he was Jewish) and did not speak English when he made the movie.

 Favorite Quote:

“Ammunition, Ammunition…”

Nick Charles walking though their party, asking if the guests would like more drinks.


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I write things...this thing that I'm writing and you're reading is a series of posts, starting with 1920 and focusing on a movie from each year that I think you should see.

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