Saturday 25 January 2014

Movie Review: The Thin Man (1934)

A sharp murder mystery wrapped in a celebration of couplehood, The Thin Man crackles with wit and offbeat energy.

Inventor Clyde Wynant (Edward Ellis) suddenly disappears, leaving behind distraught daughter Dorothy (Maureen O'Sullivan), ex-wife Mimi (Minna Gombell), recent lover Julia (Natalie Moorhead), and confused business partner Herbert (Porter Hall).

Retired police detective Nick Charles (William Powell) has known Dorothy since she was a child, and is eventually persuaded by his wife Nora (Myrna Loy) to help investigate Clyde's disappearance. This soon turns into a multiple-murder investigation with Clyde as the prime suspect, as Lieutenant John Guild (Nat Pendleton) closes in on solving the case. But all is not what it seems, and Nick's intervention turns the case on its head, with Clyde himself a victim and the real murderer well-hidden among a large number of suspects.

The Thin Man derives most of its appeal from the interplay between Nick and Nora. He is happily retired from policing, happy to drink at all hours, and happy to live a glib life of languorous socializing, yet his detective brain never stops working. She patiently matches his intelligence but combines it with sly prodding towards doing something useful in life, like helping to solve a murder. The repartee between them adds a shimmering gloss to The Thin Man, elevating it from a whodunnit to a pointy cerebral puzzle.

The mystery elements of the film are absorbing, the screenplay by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich packing three murders and a dozen disparate characters into 93 minutes. The dichotomy between Nick's love for the life of leisure and the sudden acts of evil conniving generates entertaining tension, as director W. S. (Woody) Van Dyke gradually but inevitably moves Nick to the centre of the mayhem, culminating in a droll all-suspects dinner invitation.

William Powell and Myrna Loy create the roles for which they became most famous, an odd couple with genuine warmth. The subtle moments in the film when Powell and Loy cut through both the drama and the comedy to display genuine caring between Nick and Nora are the foundations of their screen magic. Powell brings self-depreciating haughtiness to Nick, and Loy, dressed in a succession of stunning outfits, plays Nora as the woman who knows that she is her husband's source of both monetary and emotional wealth, but wields her power with tender subtlety. Their relationship is under constant observation by their pet dog Asta, a source of understated comic relief.

Successful to the point of spawning five sequels over the next 13 years, The Thin Man helped create the template for classy screen crime mysteries built on the chemistry of a crafty couple.

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1 comment:

  1. This is a a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful film. I like to watch it at least once a year.


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