The Thin Man, directed by W.S. Van Dyke was the first in a series of films that helped cement the status of two Hollywood legends of the classic era. Based off the novel by the same name by Dashiell Hammett, The Thin Man starred William Powell as Nick Charles, a retired private detective who is married to the carefree heiress, Nora, played with twinkling ease by Myrna Loy.
It is a losing battle to try and outline the plot of The Thin Man, which crosses the line beyond convoluted, and becomes so confusing that there isn’t any real pleasure in trying to solve the mystery that is the supposed point of the film. Because it really isn’t. The joy of this film comes from the sparkling chemistry between the two leads. Nick and Nora Charles are a couple made in silver screen heaven, and their witty banter is so clever and fast paced that it overshadows everything else in the film.
The Charles’ are a hard drinking couple, and in a more realistic film would be slumped over drunk most of the time. But The Thin Man takes place in a special fantasy land where instead the Charles’ are the epitome of class and urbane glitz. They spend most of their time drinking and partying and enjoying the company of their energetic dog, Asta. The movie begins when Nick is pulled back into detecting when an old friend, Clyde Wynant disappears after a murder is committed.
The Thin Man follows Nick as he investigates the disappearance of the Thin Man of the title. There are numerous plot twists and encounters with shady characters but the case is neatly (though very confusingly) wrapped up in an elaborate and theatrically staged sequence when Nick and Nora invite all the suspects of the crime to dinner, and nearly a dozen guests are questioned and the guilty culprit is eventually revealed.
Perhaps it is the movie’s saving grace that the main mystery doesn’t make much sense, because it allows the banter of the Charles team to shine even brighter compared to the drabness of the pretty dull murder mystery.
William Powell and Myrna Loy appeared in 14 films together, but this may be the best example of their on-screen chemistry. They make the ideal vision of an urbane married couple, freed from the common concerns of financing their lives (Nora is apparently the heiress to an immense, never depleting fortune), and they get along so well it seems they will always be able to kiss and make up.
This film is a fantasy really, not a murder mystery. But is a fine example of classic Hollywood glamour and craft, and holds up decades later, even if the main mystery is a letdown.