johnlink ranks THE THIN MAN (1934)

This is a movie which I first heard of a decade ago in a noir film class. We were talking about the writer Dashiell Hammett, who wrote many crime novels turned into films. THE THIN MAN is not noir, but rather a comedy in which the private detective, Nick Charles (William Powell), reluctantly helps solve multiple murders. I have literally DVRd this film half a dozen times over the past several years, and I’m glad I finally got around to watching it.

I watched THE THIN MAN (1934) on 7.15.12. It was my first viewing of the film.

I’ve talked about the Hays Code several times in these pages. That particular set of censor-centric rules took effect in 1934, but THE THIN MAN got into theaters before having to pass the test (so to speak). As a result, the boozing is heavy and the womanizing central.

The heart of this story is the relationship between Nick and Nora (Myrna Loy). Nick was a private detective before they married, and its been years since he took a case. Nora is curious when one falls into his lap, and banters him into being involved. And banter isn’t used lightly. The back-and-forth between husband and wife is the lifeblood of this film. Their wit keeps this movie fresh and fun, and turns this triple-murder story into a memorable fun time at the movies.

The seeds of the may modern husband-wife film depictions can be found in Nick and Nora. Powell and Loy play it in a sort of hyper-natural way. We want to smile at danger the same as we smile at dinner guests the way they do. We want to have love the way they do. We want to drink all day without consequence the way they do. Their relationship is an ideal, and it is an absolute joy to watch.

Nick does the detective work, with Nora contributing the occasional idea and providing general support (and booze). He works with the local police, playing it close to the vest like any self-respecting private detective of early cinema would. While the murder story is interesting, complex, and ultimately surprising, we constantly want to get back to his home life with Nora.

The titular THIN MAN is the unknown killer. But confused fans and critics assumed Nick was the thin man, so all five sequels contain the name THIN MAN despite that particular character being long gone. I’d be curious to see what the post-Hays Code sequels contain, since much of the humor in the original centers around people drinking and being too drunk to function. A dinner party with multiple interruptions is particularly fun in this regard. However, the best moment of the film, the most surprising moment anyway, may be when we first meet Nora. We’ve already seen Nick at the bar teaching the bartenders how to properly shake a drink. Nora comes blustering in like a messy storm, dog in tow. When things settle down and they get a table she judgmentally asks how much he’s had to drink. He tells her that the presently arriving glass is his sixth. We assume a reprimand. Instead, she raises her glass, turns to the waiter and says “Will you bring me five more Martinis, Leo? Line them right up here.”

The humor in this is much more fun than I expected going in. I found myself laughing out loud in a way early films only belonging to Chaplin or Keaton usually do. I had so much fun watching this film, though I do wish the detective portion of the story were slightly more sophisticated. The shooting was more sophisticated as well. The layering of images on many of the transitional shots are nicely realized, especially a moment when the police begin to send out telegrams of a murder suspect and an image of the US map being blanketed by black ink bursting from New York City pops up. I consistently found myself being pleasantly surprised by this movie.

Glad I found this film. I’m going to keep my eye out for the rest of the series, though I don’t anticipate flying though them the way I did INDIANA JONES or the BOURNE flicks. If this is not on your radar, it is absolutely worth putting it there.





~ by johnlink00 on July 15, 2012.

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