The Thin Man (film)
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|The Thin Man|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||W. S. Van Dyke|
|Produced by||Hunt Stromberg|
|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.|
|Box office||$1,423,000 (worldwide est.)|
The Thin Man is a 1934 American Pre-Code 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 is uncovered at the dinner party, before he almost takes the life of someone who knows too much.
Van Dyke was able to convince MGM executives to let Powell and Loy portray the lead characters, despite concerns that Powell was too old and straight-laced to play Nick Charles and that Loy had become typecast in exotic femme fatale roles.
The entire film was shot in twelve to eighteen days. It was released on May 25, 1934, only four months after the release of the book, which had been released in January 1934.
Critics were unanimous in their praise of the film, with many accolades for the chemistry of the two leads. Mordaunt Hall of The New York Times called it "an excellent combination of comedy and excitement," and the film appeared on the Times year-end list of the ten best of the year. "'The Thin Man was an entertaining novel, and now it's an entertaining picture," reported Variety. "For its leads the studio couldn't have done better than to pick Powell and Miss Loy, both of whom shade their semi-comic roles beautifully." "The screen seldom presents a more thoroughly interesting piece of entertainment than this adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's popular novel," raved Film Daily. "The rapid fire dialogue is about the best heard since talkies, and it is delivered by Powell and Miss Loy to perfection." John Mosher of The New Yorker wrote that Loy and Powell played their parts "beautifully," adding, "All the people of the book are there, and I think the final scenes of the solution of the mystery are handled on a higher note than they were in print." Louella Parsons called it "the greatest entertainment, the most fun and the best mystery-drama of the year." The Chicago Tribune said it was "exciting", "amusing" and "fat with ultra, ultra sophisticated situations and dialog." It also called Powell and Loy "delightful". Harrison Carroll of The Los Angeles Herald-Express wrote that it was "one of the cleverest adaptations of a popular novel that Hollywood has ever turned out."
The film was such a success that it spawned five sequels:
- After the Thin Man (1936)
- Another Thin Man (1939)
- Shadow of the Thin Man (1941)
- The Thin Man Goes Home (1945)
- Song of the Thin Man (1947)
In 2002, critic Roger Ebert added the film to his list of Great Movies.  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."
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 film grossed a total (domestic and foreign) of $1,423,000: $818,000 from the US and Canada and $605,000 elsewhere. It made a profit of $729,000.
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 second 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.
- Brophy would return to the series in 1944 as Brogan in The Thin Man Goes Home.
- Full cast & crew at Internet Movie Database
- Bryant, Roger (2006). William Powell: The Life and Films. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company. p. 4, 10. ISBN 9780786454938.
- "The Thin Man". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved June 24, 2015.
- "The Thin Man". Variety (New York: Variety, Inc.): p. 26. July 3, 1934.
- "Feature and Short Review". Film Daily (New York: Wid's Films and Film Folk, Inc.): p. 7. May 23, 1934.
- Mosher, John C. (July 7, 1934). "The Current Screen". The New Yorker (New York: F-R Publishing Corp.): p. 64.
- "'The Thin Man' Mystery Film with Drinks". Chicago Daily Tribune (Chicago: Chicago Daily Tribune): p. 15. May 31, 1934.
- Great Movies
- Ebert, Roger. 22 Dec. 2002. The Thin Man. Accessed 29 June 2010
- Philip Kiszely (2006). Hollywood Through Private Eyes: The Screen Adaptation of the "hard-boiled" Private Detective Novel in the Studio Era. Peter Lang. pp. 78–. ISBN 978-3-03910-547-2.
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- The Thin Man at the American Film Institute Catalog
- The Thin Man at the Internet Movie Database
- The Thin Man at AllMovie
- The Thin Man at the TCM Movie Database