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The Thin Man is a 1934 comedy-mystery film, directed by W.S. Van Dyke. It stars William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles, a hard-drinking, wise-cracking married couple; they are aided by their dog Asta, played by canine actor Skippy. The Thin Man is based off of the 1934 novel The Thin Man, written by Dashiell Hammett, and was adapted into a screenplay by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich.

The Thin Man was nominated for Best Picture at the 1934 Academy Awards. The film is the first in the six-part Thin Man series, all starring Powell and Loy.

Summary Edit

Nick and Nora Charles, a former detective and his rich, playful wife, investigate a murder case mostly for the fun of it.

Synopsis Edit

Nick Charles (Powell), a retired detective, and his wife Nora (Loy) are attempting to settle down. They are based in San Francisco but decide to spend the Christmas holidays in New York. There he is pressed back into service by a young woman whose father, an old friend of Nick's, has disappeared after a murder. The friend, Clyde Wynant (Ellis) (the title character "thin man"), has mysteriously vanished. When his former secretary and love interest, Julia Wolf, is found dead, evidence points to Wynant as the prime suspect, but his daughter Dorothy (O'Sullivan) refuses to believe that her father is guilty. She convinces Nick to take the case, much to the amusement of his socialite wife. The detective begins to uncover clues and eventually solves the mystery of the disappearance through a series of investigative steps.

"The murderer is right in this room. Sitting at this table. You may serve the fish." - Nick Charles
The murderer is finally revealed in a classic dinner-party scene that features all of the suspects. A skeletonized body, found during the investigation, had been assumed to be that of a "fat man" because it is wearing oversize clothing. The clothes are revealed to be planted, and the identity of the body is accurately determined by an old war wound to the leg. It turns out that the body belongs to a "thin man" — the missing Wynant. The double murder has been disguised in such a way as to make it seem that Wynant is the killer and still alive. The real killer is uncovered at the dinner party, before he almost takes the life of someone who knows too much.

Cast Edit

Production Edit

Screenplay Edit

The film was based on the novel of the same name by Dashiell Hammett. The novel was published in January 1934. MGM loved it and paid Hammett $21,000 for the screen rights to the novel. The screenplay was written by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, a married couple. Director W.S. Van Dyke encouraged them to use Hammett's writing as a basis only, and to concentrate on providing witty exchanges for Nick and Nora.

Casting Edit

W.S. Van Dyke had to convince MGM executives to let Powell and Loy portray the lead characters, as Powell was most known for straight-laced, serious characters, and Loy had been typecast in exotic and/or femme fatale roles. Skippy, a wire-haired fox terrier, was cast to play the couple's dog, Asta.

Filming Edit

The film was shot with a budget of $226,408. For Powell's first scene in the film, Van Dyke told him to take the cocktail shaker, go behind the bar and just walk through the scene while the crew checked lights and sound. Powell did it, throwing in some lines and business of his own. Suddenly he heard Van Dyke say, "That's it! Print it!" The director had decided to shoot the scene without Powell knowing it so that he'd be as relaxed and natural as possible. A scene of Nick shooting the ornaments off of the Charles's Christmas tree was added after William Powell playfully picked up an air gun and started shooting ornaments the art department was putting up.

Van Dyke often did not bother with cover shots if he felt the scene was right on the first take, reasoning that actors "lose their fire" if they have to do something over and over. It was a lot of pressure on the actors, who often had to learn new lines and business immediately before shooting, without the luxury of retakes, but Loy credited much of the appeal of the film to Van Dyke's pacing and spontaneity. 

"When we did a scene together, we forgot about technique, camera angles, and microphones. We weren't acting. We were just two people in perfect harmony. Myrna, unlike some actresses who think only of themselves, has the happy faculty of being able to listen while the other fellow says his lines. She has the give and take of acting that brings out the best."
- William Powell on Myrna Loy
Van Dyke paid the most attention to Powell and Loy's easy banter between takes and their obvious enjoyment of each other's company and worked it into the movie. The director often encouraged and incorporated improvisation and off-the-cuff details into the picture. In order to keep Loy's first entrance fresh and spontaneous, W.S. Van Dyke did not tell her about it until right before they shot it.

Reception Edit

Critical Edit

The film was released in May 25, 1934 to extremely positive reviews and was a box office hit with special praise for the chemistry between Loy and Powell. Mordaunt Hall of The New York Times called it "an excellent combination of comedy and excitement", and the film appeared on the Times year-end list of the ten best of the year. "'The Thin Man was an entertaining novel, and now it's an entertaining picture", reported Variety. "For its leads the studio couldn't have done better than to pick Powell and Miss Loy, both of whom shade their semi-comic roles beautifully." "The screen seldom presents a more thoroughly interesting piece of entertainment than this adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's popular novel", raved Film Daily. "The rapid fire dialogue is about the best heard since talkies, and it is delivered by Powell and Miss Loy to perfection." John Mosher of The New Yorker wrote that Loy and Powell played their parts "beautifully", adding, "All the people of the book are there, and I think the final scenes of the solution of the mystery are handled on a higher note than they were in print."  Louella Parsons called it "the greatest entertainment, the most fun and the best mystery-drama of the year." The Chicago Tribune said it was "exciting", "amusing" and "fat with ultra, ultra sophisticated situations and dialog." It also called Powell and Loy "delightful".  Harrison Carroll of The Los Angeles Herald-Express wrote that it was "one of the cleverest adaptations of a popular novel that Hollywood has ever turned out."

In 2002, critic Roger Ebert added the film to his list of Great Movies. Ebert praises William Powell's performance in particular, stating that Powell "is to dialogue as Fred Astaire is to dance. His delivery is so droll and insinuating, so knowing and innocent at the same time, that it hardly matters what he's saying."

Legacy Edit

In 1997, the film was added to the United States National Film Registry having been deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." In 2000 American Film Institute designated the film as one of the great comedies in the previous hundred years of cinema.

The film was such a success that it spawned five sequels:

  • After the Thin Man (1936)
  • Another Thin Man (1939)
  • Shadow of the Thin Man (1941)
  • The Thin Man Goes Home (1945)
  • Song of the Thin Man (1947)
The Thin Man Series
The Thin Man (1934) | After the Thin Man (1936) | Another Thin Man (1939) | Shadow of the Thin Man (1941) | The Thin Man Goes Home (1945) | Song of the Thin Man (1947)

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