Dorothy Wynant (Maureen O’Sullivan) is in distress. Her inventor father Clyde (Edward Ellis) has disappeared, after taking $1,000 from his lawyer (Porter Hall) and heading to a secret location, not returning in time for Dorothy’s wedding. Fortunately Nick Charles (William Powell) is in town for the holidays with his wife Nora (Myrna Loy) and their dog Asta (Skippy). Nick is a retired detective who was once hired by Clyde, and after some initial trepidations, Nick is soon on the hunt for the missing man.
I recently appeared on the Pop Art podcast to discuss The Thin Man, a tangentially festive comic mystery, alongside another tangentially festive comic mystery, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, with the former being a first time watch for me and the latter being a film I’ve seen many, many times and hope to see many more. I can also happily add that accolade to The Thin Man, as I thoroughly enjoyed this ride.
The opening plot synopsis of this review didn’t go into too much detail, mainly because I couldn’t tell you a lot about what happened, as is the case with most mysteries. There’s a lot of characters, many of whom might have information or motives of some variety, and some who seem to be present as either distractions or just for comedic effect (William Henry as Dorothy’s brother Gilbert, I’m looking at you), but all are welcome and entertaining, regardless of why they’re there. You see, as with most mysteries, I enjoyed this not because I was resolutely following every plot development and twist, but because of the repartee and banter of the characters, primarily the leads of Nick and Nora.
It’s no surprise that this spawned a franchise retaining Powell and Loy as the only running thread, as their chemistry is nothing short of delightful. They’re a married couple, she comes from wealth and he has retired from being a detective to manage her family’s businesses, so you could quite easily dislike them for leading a frivolous, entitled lifestyle, but they’re so gosh-darn charming that it’s far easier to just join them in having a good time. Nick is outwardly flippant towards the whole detective thing, Nora is much more intrigued, and they converse with such a wonderful rapport. It’s not just that they’re a married couple, they also seem to actually get along with one another! There’s no need to throw a spanner into their marital works, why would you break up such a great time?
All great detective stories thrive on a good wrap-up scene, where the detective in question gathers together all the potential suspects (or, as Nick pronounces it, “suh-spects”) to reveal the culprit, motive et al., and The Thin Man does not disappoint in this respect. Not only does Nick monologue for, to the guests, an interminable amount of time, but he also recruits the local police as servers, and invites pretty much every speaking character from the film so far, be they relevant to the scene or not. Like I said, it’s delightful.
Oh, and there’s a dog. Asta is wonderful, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of his antics weren’t entirely scripted or trained. Double-oh, all of Nora’s dresses were incredible. And triple-oh! I loved the scene where Nick and Nora are confronted in their apartment by a gunman and, to prevent Nora from being shot, Nick punches her in the face. He knocks out his wife so she won’t be a target for a gunman. Just think that through for a little, and imagine that exact scene being put in a film today. It’s wild.
Basically, this was a joy to watch, it’s pretty damn quotable (“I don’t have time, I’m much too busy making sure you don’t lose any of the money I married you for!”) and I fully intend to seek out the rest of the franchise.
Choose Film 9/10