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The Thin Man (1934) Review

23 05 2011

Copyright 1934 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

I had heard the name of the Thin Man series for many years and seen copies of various installments of the series in the local library since I was a kid.  For some reason, however, I had never taken the opportunity to watch any of the films.  This past weekend, the first installment, aptly entitled The Thin Man, made its way through my Netflix queue and into the mailbox.

Genre wise, the film is a murder mystery caper.  When a well-to-do inventor, Clyde Wynant (Edward Ellis), leaves town and doesn’t return, the local police force unravel a web of suspicious characters, all with ties to Wynant.  After several people end up dead, Wynant’s daughter, Dorothy (Maureen O’ Sullivan), decides to confide in an old friend and former private detective, Nick Charles (William Powell), to help in solving the mystery.  The only problem is that Charles no longer works as a detective.  After marrying a wealthy socialite, Nora (Myrna Loy), he quit his day job and began living the easy life.  Nick and Nora, both insatiable alcoholics, spend their days drinking, having parties and taking care of their little dog, Asta.  Nick at first declines Dorothy’s offer to get involved, but Nora, who never knew him as a detective, thinks it would be exciting and urges him to take the case.  In the end, he reluctantly agrees.  Between drinks, he begins working on the case and catches on to many more clues than the police force, who are led by Inspector John Guild (Nat Pendleton).  To identify the murderer, a large house party is held at the Charles’s with all the suspects in toe.  The final deductions are made and the mystery is solved in grand style.

This is a very fun movie to watch.  It’s a murder mystery that, at the time was breaking new ground in story and plot that we are used to all to well today.  However, the film still holds up amazingly well.  The dynamic chemistry between Powell and Loy is a large part of what make the film so fun.  They play off each other with such lovingly jest that you can’t help but smile when they are on screen together.

Based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett, the film was originally supposed to be a B-movie.  Because of this, the entire film was shot in only two weeks by director W. S. “One-Take” Van Dyke.  To think that a feature film like this could be made within two weeks is truly mind boggling!  In the end, the film became an immense success and garnered Oscar nominations for Best Actor for William Powell, Best Writing for an Adaptation, Best Director and Best Picture.  Furthermore, the film spawned  five sequels, all with Powell and Loy in the leading roles of Nick and Nora.

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