The Thin Man was released 75 years ago today, on May 25, 1934. Besides being a great cocktail movie, it’s simply a great movie period. If you’ve seen it, you know what I mean. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend adding it to your Netflix queue, or catching it on TCM the next time it airs. I’ve watched The Thin Man many times over the years; it’s one of those classics that just gets better with each viewing.
The important thing is the rhythm. Always have rhythm in your shaking. Now a Manhattan you shake to fox-trot time, a Bronx to two-step time, a dry martini you always shake to waltz time. ~ Nick Charles, “The Thin Man”
With those words, moviegoers were first introduced to retired detective Nick Charles (played by William Powell), as he demonstrates how to properly make a martini to a group of bartenders. Minutes later, a commotion announces the arrival of Nick’s wife Nora (Myrna Loy), who unceremoniously crashes to the floor after being dragged into the restaurant by their dog Asta. Nora then orders half a dozen martinis, to “catch up” to Nick. Cut to the next scene, when Nora wakes up with a terrible hangover: “What hit me?” she asks. “The last martini,” comes Nick’s droll reply. What better way to introduce one of the all-time great movie teams?
The Thin Man is a breezy adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s hard-boiled detective novel of the same name. The plot centers on the mysterious disappearance of one of Nick’s acquaintances (the titular “thin man”). Nick is reluctantly drawn into the case, partially due to Nora’s encouragement. The movie climaxes in a famous dinner scene, where the various suspects are gathered and the mystery solved. Along the way, seemingly endless rounds of cocktails are consumed, including martinis, highballs, and gallons of champagne and Scotch. Prohibition was repealed just months before The Thin Man was released, and it’s fair to say the heavily boozing characters represent a population enjoying itself after 14 years of the Volstead Act.
The plot is really secondary to the wonderful chemistry and razor sharp banter between Powell and Loy. Few movie couples have matched their rapport, and unlike Bogie/Bacall or Tracy/Hepburn, Powell and Loy weren’t romantically involved. The film was groundbreaking in its energetic mix of mystery, romance, and screwball comedy (a new film genre at the time), and its influences can still be felt generations later.
The movie was a smash hit and spawned five sequels, but there’s no question, the original is still the best. The Thin Man earned Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. In 1997, The Thin Man was added to the National Film Registry for being a “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” film. If you want more in-depth info, Turner Classic Movies has some excellent articles on The Thin Man as part of its ongoing series The Essentials. As for me, I’ll be watching the DVD again tonight and raising a glass to Nick, Nora, and Asta.