FLIX PIX (47): “KPK Takes a Loving Look at The THIN MAN Series”

Thin Man

  • THE THIN MAN  (1934) *****
  • AFTER THE THIN MAN  (1936) *****
  • ANOTHER THIN MAN  (1939) ****
  • SHADOW OF THE THIN MAN  (1941) ***
  • THE THIN MAN GOES HOME  (1944) ***+
  • SONG OF THE THIN MAN  (1947) ***

> Thanks to my wonderful municipal library, (often an under-utilized local resource), I found a DVD package that had the entire THIN MAN series in it: all six films and a documentary disc- and what a pleasant divestiture of time it was!

. The original THIN MAN film was a phenom, setting the raw, aching world of the Great Depression on its ear.  Times were ripe for a lighthearted romp through the act of murder, I guess.  Big time gangsters were in their heyday, grabbing headlines and public imaginations with more serious murders.  People went to the movies to seek fantasies of justice and retribution- to see the underdog fight the good fight and see righteousness prevail in the end- against daunting, if not impossible odds.  Enter endearing modern couple Nick and Nora Charles, investigative team of devoted but sparring lovebirds, trading barbed double-entendres as they solved the many murders that so conveniently seemed to happen all around them- wherever they went.  William Powell and Myrna Loy were just perfect in their roles, and after six films, their identities have all but merged with the fictional married sleuths in the public mind.  Their sly repartee and subtle innuendo comes to feel so natural, it’s like these real but fictional people are speaking with their own voices and not simply reciting the calculated dialogue of screenwriters.  Together, this duo of charming sophisticates helped people get through the desperate decade between 1934 and 1944, then helped them celebrate victory in the Great War with a final jazz blowout, to usher America into better times.

. In watching the entire series, it becomes clear quickly that each succeeding installment is merely a remake of the original.  The films differ only in the details- the formula remains consistent, replaying itself out in each successive outing:

Celebrated detective Nick Charles needs a break!  After a storied career cracking difficult cases that no one else could make sense of, he is ready to retire from the investigative game and pursue his true life’s calling: alcohol.  (More on this later.)  He wants nothing more than a fresh cocktail or six followed by a nice pillow- but Nora, his better half, continually pushes and prods him to continue doing what he is so famously good at, and shed light on the latest unsolved mystery.  Nick resists nobly, but everywhere the couple go to escape their celebrity, murder follows.  The poor guy is a murder-magnet.  And the cops can never handle these cases on their own.  They are always flummoxed, and desperate for his expertise.  In every case, intrepid Nick solves the murder ju jour by assembling all of the (apparently guilty or complicit) suspects in one room and applying intense pressure until the guilty party cracks or makes an incriminating mistake.

Never fails- they always do.  All the great inquisitor needs to do is ask the right questions and listen carefully for inconsistencies.  It’s a contrived formula that always ensures the requisite fireworks in the third act, and as predictable as it becomes, it never fails to deliver.

. But the real allure of the THIN MAN series lies not in the murder mysteries, but in the characters of Nick and Nora and their trusty spotlight stealing pooch (who began as “Skippy” and ended up as “Asta”), a feisty Wire Fox terrier who became a star in his own right- even if they occasionally leaned a bit heavily on his cuteness to carry a scene.  The prickly banter and rat-a-tat repartee between the two human principals is always sharp and witty, their cynical sarcasm tenderly and lovingly proffered.  Two strong, willful, well-matched people, they never fail to provide lively patter laced with an absolutely believable love and devotion.

. As a time-capsule reflecting changing attitudes, this series could not be more revealing.  Take Nick’s prodigious alcoholic thirst for example.  Back then, one could play alcoholism for laughs.  Much of the humor revolves around Nick’s often-thwarted desire for the next drink.  He never seems to pay a price for his continual imbibing, never seems more than a tad tipsy and everyone around him seems to be what we would now call an “enabler”.  Nora teases her husband playfully about it, then matches him drink for drink.  In it’s time, Nick’s drinking was considered an endearing foible, not an illness.  Now, it would be a big flashing red WARNING light, inciting possible intervention.

> These six films vary in quality from five-star classics to three-star retreads, but for its place in Hollywood history and for how very entertaining these films were, I am awarding the whole franchise five enthusiastic stars.  In the coming millennia, William Powell and Myrna Loy will always hold their spot as a classic screen couple, and THE THIN MAN a classic comedy noir series.

*  *  *

© Kevin Paul Keelan and lastcre8iveiconoclast, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kevin Paul Keelan and lastcre8iveiconoclast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


About KPKeelan

Fool, Philosopher, Lover & Dreamer, Benign TROUBLEMAKER, King and Jester of KPKworld, an online portal to visual and linguistic mystery, befuddlement and delight.
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