The Thin Man (film)

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The Thin Man
The Thin Man 1934 Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by W. S. Van Dyke
Produced by Hunt Stromberg
Screenplay by
Based on The Thin Man 
by Dashiell Hammett
Music by William Axt
Cinematography James Wong Howe
Edited by Robert Kern
Distributed by Loew's Inc.
Release dates
  • May 25, 1934 (1934-05-25) (USA)
Running time
93 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $226,408
Box office $1,423,000 (worldwide est.)

The Thin Man is a 1934 American comedy-mystery film directed by W.S. Van Dyke and based on the novel of the same name by Dashiell Hammett. The film stars William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles; Nick is a hard-drinking, retired private detective, and Nora is a wealthy heiress. Their wire-haired fox terrier Asta is played by canine actor Skippy.

The film's screenplay was written by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, a married couple. In 1934, the film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.

The titular "Thin Man" is not Nick Charles, but the man Charles is initially hired to find - Clyde Wynant (part way through the film, Charles describes Wynant as a "thin man with white hair"). The "Thin Man" moniker was thought by many viewers to refer to Nick Charles and, after a time, it was used in the titles of sequels as if referring to Charles.


Nick Charles (Powell), a retired detective, and his wife Nora (Loy) are attempting to settle down. They are based in Los Angeles 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 eponymous "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 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 was the attorney, who stole a lot of money from Wynant and killed him on the night he was last seen.


Cast notes:


The entire film was shot in twelve (out of fourteen) days. The film was released on May 25, 1934, only four months after the release of the book, which had been released in January 1934.

At the time of production, MGM, had anywhere from 50 to 90 other projects going and didn't give any real attention to the movie. Van Dyke was finally able to convince MGM executives to let Powell portray Nick Charles. Their biggest fear was that audiences would see Powell as the "Super Slueth" that he portrayed earlier in Paramount's films.


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

In 2002, critic Roger Ebert added the film to his list of Great Movies. [3] 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."[4]

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 trailer contained specially filmed footage in which Nick Charles (William Powell) is seen on the cover of the Dashiell Hammett novel The Thin Man. Nick Charles then steps out of the cover to talk to fellow detective Philo Vance (also played by Powell) about his latest case.

Charles mentions he hasn't seen Vance since The Kennel Murder Case, a film in which Powell played Vance. The Kennel Murder Case was released in October 1933, just seven months prior to the release of The Thin Man.

Charles goes on to explain to Vance that his latest case revolves around a "tall, thin man" (referring to Clyde Wynant), just before clips of the film are shown.


The Thin Man was dramatized as a radio play on the June 8, 1936 broadcast of Lux Radio Theater, with William Powell and Myrna Loy reprising their film roles.


In the 1976 comedy spoof movie Murder by Death, the characters of Nick and Nora Charles became Dick and Dora Charleston, played by David Niven and Maggie Smith. The 1979-1984 ABC television weekly romantic detective series Hart To Hart also mimicked the central conceit. It starred Robert Wagner, Stefanie Powers and Lionel Stander. In the 11th episode of the 2 season of the series, "Slow Boat to Murder", there is also a scene where the Harts watch the film on TV. In the 2005 animated film Hoodwinked!, the character Nicky Flippers, a frog detective voiced by David Ogden Stiers, was based on Nick Charles. Echoing the name "Nick Charles", the 2013 Australian crime comedy series Mr & Mrs Murder features married couple "Nicola" and "Charlie" Buchanan, who run an industrial cleaning business specialising in crime scenes and, using this experience, they become amateur sleuths.


  1. ^ Brophy would return to the series in 1944 as Brogan in The Thin Man Goes Home.
  2. ^ Full cast & crew at Internet Movie Database
  3. ^ Great Movies
  4. ^ Ebert, Roger. 22 Dec. 2002. The Thin Man. Accessed 29 June 2010

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