The Thin Man Still THE THIN MAN

 1934  93m  MGM  b&w 

William Powell (Nick Charles), Myrna Loy (Nora Charles), Maureen O'Sullivan (Dorothy Wynant), Net Pendleton (Lt. John Guild), Minna Gombell (Mimi Wynant), Porter Hall (MacCauley), Henry Wadsworth (Tommy), William Henry (Gilbert Wynant), Harold Huber (Nunheim), Cesar Romero (Chris Jorgenson), Natalie Moorhead (Julia Wolf), Edward Brophy (Joe Morelli), Thomas Jackson, Creighton Hale, Phil Teed, Nick Copeland, Dink Templeton (Reporters), Ruth Charming (Mrs. Jorgenson), Edward Ellis (Clyde Wynant), Gertrude Short (Marion)

Probably the best-loved detective film ever made, and certainly one of the most popular, THE THIN MAN re-teamed Powell and Loy, who had shown their onscreen chemistry the year before in MANHATTAN MELODRAMA.

As Nick Charles, Powell is a retired detective who has married wealthy Loy and now intends to devote himself to looking after her business interests and doing some serious drinking. They travel to New York for the holidays, and there O'Sullivan asks him to help her find her missing father, Ellis. He is an inventor who some months before told O'Sullivan that he was going into seclusion to work on a new project, but that he would return in time to attend her wedding. That event is drawing near and there is no word from Ellis, so she has contacted Powell, whose reputation precedes him. Powell is not anxious to ruin his happy retirement from sleuthing, but lily, eager for some excitement, prods him into it. Before long Ellis' secretary (Moorhead) is murdered and when Ellis' watch chain is found in her hand, detective Pendleton immediately assumes that the missing man is the murderer. Not long after that Powell pays a visit to the inventor's workshop along with his wire-haired fox terrier, Asta. The dog begins sniffing around the floor and Powell digs, soon uncovering a badly decomposed and unrecognisable body. Other clues found with the corpse, later confirmed by X-rays; of the body, reveal that the body is that of Ellis. Powell, still not knowing exactly who the killer is, invites all the suspects to his home for a dinner party. There he starts to explain the mystery, asking each suspect questions and carefully noting their responses. Finally he forces the murderer, Hall, Ellis' lawyer, to confess, drawing the whole story about how he and Moorhead had stolen a fortune in bonds from Ellis' safe, then murdered him when he found out. Hall later killed Moorhead when Powell started sniffing around the case to keep her quiet and throw suspicion on the dead man.

The story is strictly programmer material, but what makes THE THIN MAN an enduring film today is the interplay between Powell and Loy, one of the first happily married couples ever to flicker on a screen. The repartee they shoot back and forth is priceless, such as in one scene the morning after a gunman had broken into their suite and superficially wounded Powell before being subdued and hauled away. As they read the morning papers about the event, Powell says, "I'm a hero, I was shot twice in the Tribune." Loy: "I read you were shot five times in the tabloids." "It's not true. He didn't come anywhere near my tabloids," Powell snaps back. The pair proved so popular that they were teamed no less than twelve times during their careers, six of the pairings coming in the THIN MAN series, which would continue with increasingly diminishing success for 13 years. Louis B. Mayer did not think that the two would go over and tried to give the part of Nora to Laura LaPlante, but director Van Dyke, who had directed the pair's first effort, MANHATTAN MELODRAMA, insisted and Mayer relented.

The film was shot in an amazingly short time, somewhere between 12 and 18 days (sources differ) and on a small budget. The film became one of the biggest successes of the year and was favored to win an Oscar for Powell (he ended up losing it to Clark Gable in another sleeper film of the year, IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT). Almost as important as Powell and Loy to the series was their dog, Asta. Loy later recalled: "He was a wire-hair terrier and they were not popular at all at the time. His name was really Skippy and he was highly trained to do all of his tricks for a little squeaky mouse and a biscuit. He'd do anything for that reward. But the minute his scenes were over, it was definitely verboten to hug him or have any further contact with him off the set." He set off a national craze for the breed which led to a sharp decline in the standards for the type as "puppy mills" began breeding them as quickly as they could to keep up with demand (much the same way that the German shepherd breed had nearly been ruined by the RIN-TIN-TIN series). It was later said that Asta was the best known dog in the nation, with Franklin Roosevelt's Scottish Terrier Fala a close second. Although Loy and Powell seemed the perfect couple on screen, they actually had little more than a professional relationship, and Loy soon began to grow tired of her "perfect wife" role, although she was contractually forced to continue the series long after she had lost all interest in the part. Her weariness with the role shows in the later instalments. At its peak (the first three films), Nick and Nora Charles, as played by Powell and Loy, were the finest thing going on the screen, setting a style for husband and wife detective teams still powerful today.

Credits: p, Hunt Stromberg; d, W.S. Van Dyke; w, Albert Hackett, Frances Goodrich (based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett); ph, James Wong Howe; ed, Robert J. Kern; md, Dr. William Axt; art d, Cedric Gibbons, David Townsend, Edwin B. Willis; cos, Dolly Tree.

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