Today, movies are rapidly incorporating mindless, lackluster, sex-driven, or violent scenes. Vanishing are the days of movies that are entertaining and intriguing, so eloquent and satisfying that when the movie ends the watcher feels pleased and content. Who-done-it comedies don't need a billion dollar budget, gratuitous sex, and violence to be enjoyable; as is the case in the 1934 movie The Thin Man. A murder mystery with witty comedy, The Thin Man is an excellent example of a clean, family movie. William Powell and Myrna Loy star as Nick and Nora Charles, a retired detective and his rich wife, seemingly always having fun and always a little drunk. One of the most popular movies of 1934, The Thin Man is marvelously directed, has an excellent plot, and intelligent clever humor. Though some might bash it for the use of alcohol or for not being a grisly mystery it is still an outstanding movie. The film captures the "funness" which many movies nowadays miss. In one scene after Nick and Nora face down an armed intruder in their apartment, they read about it in the morning papers. "I was shot twice in the Tribune," Nick observes. "I read you were shot five times in the tabloids," says Nora. "It's not true," says Nick. "He didn't come anywhere near my tabloids."
Briefly, the film involves the mysterious disappearance of an inventor, the concern of his daughter, the greed of the inventor's ex-wife, and the even greater greed of her gold-digging husband. Included is a gaggle of cops, thugs, reporters and a tireless cast of partygoers who turn up nightly at Nick and Nora's suite for a round of drinks. Although retired, Nora enlists Nick's help to investigate the inventor's disappearance. The hunt begins for the missing inventor who is now suspected of murder. While the plot may make a good mystery movie on its own, the way the dialog melds humor and wit together makes this movie a work of art.
A large reason for the success of the movie is due to the strong characters. Goodrich and Hackett's well written script brings the characters of Nick and Nora to life. Movie goers will be delighted to watch the playful banter of this husband and wife detective team. The film conveys the couple's deep love for each other by their high-spirited mischievous antics. This can be seen in one of the many memorable scenes, such as when Nick is leaving to do some dangerous sleuthing. (Nora), "All right! Go ahead! Go on! See if I care! But I think it's a dirty trick to bring me all the way to New York just to make a widow of me." (Nick) "You wouldn't be a widow long." (Nora) "You bet I wouldn't!" (Nick) "Not with all your money..." (After a pause, Nora says), "Take care of yourself." (Nick) "Why, sure I will." (Nora) "Don't say it like that! Say it as if you meant it!" (Nick) "Well, I do believe the little woman cares." (Nora) "I don't care! It's just that I'm used to you, that's all."
One of the most popular films of 1934, The Thin Man inspires five sequels, and was nominated for four Oscars which include Best Director, W. S. Van Dyke. The Oscar winning director Van Dyke has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He is also the director of the original Tarzan the Ape Man, as well as being famous for the special effects in the movie San Francisco. Having such a talented director at its helm is part of The Thin Man success.
One of the movie's charms is the intelligent comedy. While there is nothing wrong with dumb comedy movies and slapstick humor it is refreshing to have some smart comedy. In the film on Christmas morning, Nick tests the new air rifle he gets as a present by firing at the balloons on their Christmas tree, before accidently shooting out a window. In a different scene, Nick throws a dinner party for all of the suspects using undercover cops as waiters. Nora asks one of officers, "Waiter, will you serve the nuts? I mean, will you serve the guests the nuts?"
Nick Charles drinks steadily throughout the movie; when we first see him, he's teaching a bartender how to mix drinks. "Have rhythm in your shaking... a dry martini, you always shake to waltz time" he says. Nora walks up and he passes her a drink. She asks how much he's had. "This will make six martinis," he says. She orders five more. Some may attempt to argue that this proclivity for drinking is a failing in the film. On the contrary, the drinks are the lubricant for a dialogue full of exceptional wit and tireless entertainment. While Nick may enjoy his drinks he always keeps them in moderation, never having more than he can handle. Indeed his penchant for alcohol is more like a child's affinity for candy. Not extreme, just enough to spice up the charm of the film.
Advocates of realism or complicated mysteries might bash this movie for its more lighthearted tone. However, that is unfair. The Thin Man transcends the bounds of mysteries. It adds a flair of exaggeration which melds seamlessly with the overall tone of the movie. Mystery is still here but it takes second stage to the overall joviality which the film emanates. It brings a different perspective to a mystery genre so filled with grim deadpan detectives who are so focused on a murder they forget the point of a movieto be enjoyable.
Even though The Thin Man is over seventy years old, its charm and wit still light up many television screens with its warmth. The characters of Nick and Nora Charles are charming and heartwarming. W. S. Van Dyke lives up to his fame and directs a fabulous movie. The drinking, while often, isn't excessive. Even though this may not be the modern dark and sinister detective film, it is a fantastic movie watching experience for the whole family. The Thin Man out shines many of today's murder mystery megahitsthey just don't make them like they used to.