This is one of my favorite films of all time. The Thin Man is an American crime film based on the book by the great crime novelist Dashiell Hammett, and mirrors great British crime films such as Agatha Christie or Arthur Conan Doyle in terms of structure, humor, and execution – but of course, The Thin Man comes with a celluloid polish and Hollywood panache. Rarely without a drink in their hand, this boozy couple is as funny as they are effective private eyes, and they go off to figure out the motive and suspect in a cold-blooded crime that all leads to a dinner scene that would make Poirot feel jealous and ripped off. Shot over fourteen days, this film (and its sequels, except for the last one maybe) is a slice of Hollywood crime heaven that is sincerely a treat to watch if only for the “snappy banter full of covetable lines between the rich, sophisticated Nora and her sharp lush of a husband.”
Not only do we I watching the chemistry of Loy and Powell, but I fantasize about being Nick. Of course, if you’re a fan and never listened to The Thrilling Adventure Hour‘s sendoff Beyond Belief, in which Frank and Sadie Doyle do Nick and Nora with a paranormal twist, you’re missing out on quite a treat.
I mean, in a world where every sentence seems to drip with witty repartee, and martinis can be guzzled all day long by the gallon without any social, mental, or physiological consequences, enter Nick and Nora and their adorable little dog. They seem to have the best jobs (not really sure how often they have to work, but it isn’t very often), the best wardrobe, the biggest smiles, the best parties, and the lost laid-back lives imaginable… until a body shows up…and then everything even more so.
I watched these for the first time through in my early twenties, and this is the first time that I watched one since. It still holds up as easily being one of the tightest comedy-mysteries ever made. It likely has a lot to do with the execution of the perfect balance of suspense, fun, humor, and strong leading stars. The other thing, and this is my main complaint about Hollywood today, is that the writing is so incredibly strong – almost central to the execution of the film – and that likely has a lot to do with filmmakers wanting to make sure that their pieces can be carried with the strength and intensity of the theater. This piece could easily be set on a stage rather than on film and the audience holds the same level of engagement and attention as the film does, but films today do not necessarily have to hold the audience’s attention with great writing, they just need to exist and have a name that pulls people to the box office.
A big difference was that I decided to pick up Hammett’s book to read after I watched it this time since I had never read the novel. So, the movie is great, but its contents is definitely a movie that has censorship board written all over it. It keeps the witty banter and the sly, excellent characterization, but there is a great deal that is not covered in the film likely because of a variety of cultural mores at the time. This includes a subplot involving heroin (or… laudanum, or something like that) and a complete retelling of the Alfred Packer cannibalism case. Also, the murders are more brutal, the sex more apparent, the women looser, the booze stronger, and language like a sailor. It was an excellent book, told strictly from Nick’s point of view. Where the film is more playful, the novel is more gritty and noir – and a great deal better than I was expecting. While the movie was excellent, after reading the book I recognize how much of a product of the times it is in terms of how they chose to execute it… But both are great works of art on their own legs.
To coincide with their release of a collection of Hammet’s works, The Library Of America published this excellent little essay on the book and film.
I know of people who watch this movie on New Years Eve as a drinking game and that it is very difficult to keep up with Loy and Powell. Never tried it myself, though, but it is a movie that always makes me happy.
I have a question for you: How do you pick your movies? Do you draw them randomly or is there a system behind it?
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That sounds like a pretty dangerous drinking game – I can’t imagine a party makes it out without someone going to the hospital!
The order of the films we pick is pretty random. Usually there are a few factors that are considered, however. 1. What is available at whatever public library I happen to be doing my other writing at. I scan the shelves for Criterion editions and see if they’re on the list. Sometimes I take them out and we don’t even get around to watching them – I think I have borrowed Tokyo Story six times or so and we still haven’t seen it. Meanwhile, I got all three Lord of the Rings extended editions at a library book sale for six bucks and we watched them straight through right away. 2. Streaming and convenience availability. Some of the early films were pretty easy to find on Youtube out of copyright, and some were only ten minutes or so (and hitting up Les Vampires after all of those made up for the time we saved with the short ones). 3. Other engagement factors, such as if everyone is talking about it. A good example of that is wanting to see La La Land. It was at the Redbox, and then with the Oscars, it was a pretty certain bet it would be on the list when we finished the review. We haven’t posted that review yet (it, along with about ten other reviews, are already written and are waiting for a picture, but combine grad school with bad weather, and we’re behind), but it was given a spot on the list in the interim and we simply added its number. 4. FInally, just happening to watch it if our kids are watching it. During a snowstorm last week, we introduced the 9-year-old to Jurassic Park while we were snowed in. It was simply an opportunity to watch something exciting without much else to do.
So I suppose the lame answer is, it’s totally random. It’s based on what’s available, what people are talking about, or what we’re feeling like watching.
Do you have a system?
Well, I was afraid I would end up cherry-picking and end up with a bunch of weird movies, so I decided to do it chronologically. It does provide a context to the movies as well as a bonus. So far I am at 1963.
Looking forward to read your new posts.
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On some of the other blogs I’ve noticed authors mentioning some titles were difficult to find – do you find this to be true?
Yes, but I have been able to find everything so far. In the beginning I insisted of actually owning a copy, but YouTube is quite helpful if you are happy with streaming and that is where I am increasingly turning. Still, they do look good on the shelf.
Chip Larry, who unfortunately died, made a page with information on where all the hard to find movies could be obtained.
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