Originally published December 4th, 2011
We move on to another diverse Christmas film, one that has a more tenuous connection to Christmas than even Rent could boast, but nonetheless takes place on Christmas! The 1934 W.S. Van Dyke noir The Thin Man is one of my favorite movies and continues my adoration of William Powell (I have to say this isn’t my favorite Powell film, that honor goes to Libeled Lady) and film noir. It’s a classic piece of cinema; one you can watch on Christmas and celebrate the joys of being wealthy, drunk, and solving murders!
The Thin Man follows ex-detective turned socialite Nick Charles (Powell) and his equally boozy wife Nora (Myrna Loy). Nick gets wrapped up in the disappearance of Clyde Wynant (Edward Ellis) who has left town after the death of his secretary/mistress. As the group of suspects widens, Nick must sort out who is telling the truth and who is lying.
What’s great about The Thin Man is how accessible it is to audiences. It’s a film noir for sure, emphasizing the murder and mystery elements, but it’s a comedy also! The hilarity comes from the flightiness of Nick and Nora who are able to host a dinner party, interrogate suspects, and drink five martinis in ten minutes. The world of glittering parties, alcohol poisoning and chain-smoking never looked as good as it does in this movie! The joy of this film for audiences of the time was of course seeing opulence and glamor while realizing rich people could be fun! Now, you can’t have characters engage in mass drinking and smoking sans consequences (see the remake of Arthur as a prime example of this). It’s not that I condone binge drinking and chain-smoking, but movies of this time, hell the entire Hollywood industry, thrived on those two elements; it’s not that you need to remove them, it’s that these are two responsible adults who have all the money in the world, so why not get a bit boozy? Okay rant over. None of this would come off as good today if not for our leads. Powell and Loy have amazing chemistry that kept going over several movies and both are the picture of elegance. I’ve seen Loy in a few other things and she’s usually a reserved, uptight stick in the mud; here she’s flighty, flirty, sweet and beautiful. Her dinner party dress is a thing of beauty, and her wide eyes and sweet smile make you envious of her, yet still yearn to have her as a friend. Powell is suave, charming and a damn fine detective, all expected. There’s something about a man in a suit with a martini calling a young woman “baby” that just makes me smile.
I’ve seen this movie twice and there are still elements of the mystery I’ve failed to catch. You have to pay absolute attention because if you don’t you’ll miss crucial elements. I’m reading the Hammett novel which is fairly similar (so far), and I’m sure I’ll continue to find something I’ve missed in subsequent viewings. The Christmas connection is weak; there’s a hilarious Christmas party and the events take place a few days after. It’s a must-see for classic film fans, fans of film noir, or just damn good acting. I have no idea how Hollywood plans on remaking this, with Johnny Depp of all people (as much as I love him he lacks Powell’s charisma). I have a few casting suggestions that I’m sure Hollywood won’t listen to. Considering Nick is already spoken I’d suggest Amy Adams for Nora, she’s got the big eyes and vulnerability I saw in Loy’s portrayal.
I adore The Thin Man, and despite my lackluster reception to After the Thin Man I’m hoping to complete the series and hope the original remains my favorite. A Christmas movie which doesn’t use the holiday as a crutch, unless you count it as an excuse to get soused with your buddies.
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.