I don’t know if I’ve ever talked on this blog about the wonder that is William Powell and Myrna Loy together in a movie, but I definately should have. There is something so special about their chemistry. The studios noticed it, pairing them together in fourteen films. Audiences in the 1930s flocked to their films as well, including one John Dillinger, who was shot down outside of Chicago’s Biograph Theater after seeing Powell and Loy in Manhattan Melodrama.
1934’s The Thin Man was based on Dashiell Hammitt’s novel of the same name. It was a surprise hit for MGM despite having been shot in a quick twelve days with a limited budget. The popularity of the film, and its two stars, spawned five sequels. I’ve seen every one of the Thin Man films, and even though they start going downhill overall from the third one on, Powell and Loy never lose their charm, and there is always enough witty banter to go around.
The Thin Man‘s title refers not the Nick Charles (Powell), but to Clyde Wynant, an inventor character in the film. Before leaving on a long vacation in order to work on an invention in peace, Wynant tells his daughter that he will be out of touch for the next few months, but will be back in time for her wedding. After she and her fiance leave, Wynant is seen confronting his mistress, Julia Wolf, over the disappearance of government bonds meant to be a wedding gift for his daughter. When Wynant meets Wolf, she is with another man, and Wynant gets her to confess that she did take the bonds and sold them. He threatens to turn her over to the police, and leaves.
Cut to Christmas Eve. Nick Charles is introduced instructing the bar staff at a fancy establishment how to properly make a martini. Dorothy Wynant, the daughter, is seen dancing with her fiance, and worrying that she still has not heard from her father. Dorothy recognizes Nick from his detective days, and approaches him about her father. It is here that Nora Charles (Loy) makes her famous entrance. Carrying a tall stack of wrapped presents and being dragged in by Asta, the Charles’ hyper wire-fox terrier, Nora trips and falls right in the middle of the floor.
Soon after, Julia Wolf is found dead, and now Wynant is the main suspect in the murder case. To simplify the plot a little, more murders come after the Wolf one, and other players in the Wynant family and acquaintances start to appear to have fishy motives. Nick originally refuses to take up the Wolf murder case, saying he got out of detective work in order to manage Nora’s large fortune. Nora, on the other hand, is excited with the idea of sleuthing, and presses him to take the case. Eventually Nick does, mainly because he feels Wynant is innocent. The whole film concludes with a dinner party in which Nick invites all the suspects, and eventually the whole thing is exposed and the murderer tips their hand.
The Thin Man showcases some of the most witty dialogue I’ve ever heard in a film. Nick and Nora are fascinating characters, a sophisticated couple who have a ton of fun after they’re married. This is somewhat unusual for romantic leads in film. Usually it’s the young romantic couple that gets to fool around, then they settle down or their marriage becomes the stage for melodramatic problems.
It also should be said that Nick and Nora drink a ton (and somehow still function), but it’s unlike the way anyone plays drunk today. I don’t really know how to explain it, but it’s just part of how this film works.
So in saying all of that, one reason I felt compelled to finally write something about The Thin Man is that Johnny Depp finally has a director in Rob Marshall for his remake project. That’s right. Johnny Depp will be playing Nick Charles. I’m skeptical to say the least. To me, The Thin Man is timeless, and it is difficult for me to imagine that film being made anytime else than in the studio system era. These characters and the setting have an air of class and sophistication that I don’t feel exists anymore, and so the question is whether or not Marshall will direct a period piece set in the 1930s, or if they will update the film. Then there is the question of the casting. Johnny Depp is a fine actor, but who will play his Nora? And there is no question in my mind that they will never have that Powell/Loy chemistry. Then there’s the non-stop drinking. It will be interesting to see how that is dealt with as well.
Personally my stance with remakes is that if someone wants to remake a crappy film, more power to them. But a classic, like The Thin Man, should be left as is in my opinion. Let people discover how much fun and charming this film is without it being “modernized.” So, even if you plan to go see the remake once it comes out in a few years, take the time to watch the original. Maybe you’ll fall in love with William Powell and Myrna Loy like I did.
And as a last note, the second film of the series, After the Thin Man, features a young Jimmy Stewart playing the heavy. More proof that MGM didn’t really know what to do with him in those early years.