After an extended holiday hiatus from our Wednesday forays into the Golden Age of Hollywood, one thing is clear—I’m no good when I’m not writing about movies. I get twitchy, irritable, and just plain bored.
Reader, I’m not built for a life of leisure.
Time to (metaphorically) light a cigarette, (actually) pour a martini, and get back to my typewriter (okay, computer.)
You know who else isn’t built for leisure, despite his protests to the contrary?
At the start of The Thin Man, Nick Charles (William Powell) is doing his best to enjoy his life as a man of leisure after his marriage to wealthy socialite Nora Charles (Myrna Loy.) Instead of pounding the pavement as a private gumshoe, he now spends his days lolling about in speakeasies taking day drinking to a new level, spending his wife’s money, and occasionally putting in an appearance at one of his father-in-law’s businesses.
I’ve made him sound like quite the cad, haven’t I?
He’s anything but.
His union with Nora is a love match, and this charming pair obviously adore one another through all their needling.
If witty repartee is your thing, you’ll love The Thin Man. For example:
Nora Charles: All right! Go ahead! Go on! See if I care! But I thinks it’s a dirty trick to bring me all the way to New York just to make a widow of me.
Nick Charles: You wouldn’t be a widow long.
Nora Charles: You bet I wouldn’t!
Nick Charles: Not with all your money…
Nick Charles: Oh, it’s all right, Joe. It’s all right. It’s my dog. And, uh, my wife.
Nora Charles: Well you might have mentioned me first on the billing.
Nora Charles: You know, that sounds like an interesting case. Why don’t you take it?
Nick Charles: I haven’t the time. I’m much too busy seeing that you don’t lose any of the money I married you for.
Nick and Nora return to Nick’s old stomping grounds in New York after living in California for several years. Nora is amused by the motley crew that surrounds her husband—cops, reporters, drunks, criminals, and miscreants. He’s in his element, and when the daughter of a former client asks him for help, he clearly wants back in the game.
With Nora’s blessing, Nick investigates the case of the Thin Man—Clyde Wynant, wanted for murder after his secretary (and lover) ends up dead and Clyde goes missing.
The cops believe Clyde is guilty, but Nick’s not so sure.
After discovering a second body in the basement of Clyde’s laboratory, Nick and Nora host an elaborate dinner party and invite all the suspects. After a fish course, some banter, and a little violence, Nick reveals the killer to all.
Justice is served, and Nick can get back to his working on his favorite case—a case of Scotch.
But the real star of The Thin Man is Asta, Nick and Nora’s white wire fox terrier. Nora and Asta make their first appearance in the film together when Asta drags her into a swanky bar, sending her packages—and eventually Nora herself—sprawling onto the floor.
In every consequential scene, Asta is there, stealing it. When an intruder breaks into their house, Asta hides under the bed. When Nick and Nora are looking for some private time in bed on a train, Asta covers his eyes with his paw.
And when Nick searches Clyde’s laboratory in the middle of the night, Asta tags along. When an intruder sneaks up on them, Nick shouts that his dog will “tear him to pieces” despite the fact that Asta is cowering in the corner.
Asta was played by Skippy, an accomplished doggy actor who ended his career with over twenty film credits. After his role in The Thin Man, he went on to star in Bringing up Baby with Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant, and The Awful Truth with Irene Dunne and Grant.
Based on Dashiell Hammett’s novel, The Thin Man spawned five sequels that delighted audiences. Loy and Powell starred in all six films, but Skippy retired in 1941 after filming The Shadow of the Thin Man and his role was recast for the final two installments.
The Thin Man was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and a shocking Best Actor Nomination for William Powell instead of Skippy.
Critics universally agree that Skippy was robbed.