THIN MAN, THE (director: W. S. Van Dyke; screenwriters: Albert Hackett/Frances Goodrich/based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett; cinematographer: James Wong Howe; editor: Robert J. Kern; music: Dr. William Axt; cast: William Powell (Nick Charles), Myrna Loy (Nora Charles), Maureen O’Sullivan (Dorothy Wynant), Nat Pendleton (Lt. John Guild), Minna Gombell (Mimi Wynant), Porter Hall (MacCauley), Henry Wadsworth (Tommy), Natalie Moorhead (Julia Wolf), Cesar Romero (Chris Jorgenson), Harold Huber (Nunheim), Cyril Thornton (Tanner), Edward Ellis (Clyde Wynant, the thin man), Edward Brophy (Joe Morelli), Ruth Channing (Mrs. Jorgenson); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Hunt Stromberg; MGM; 1934)
“One can’t say enough good things about the playful interplay between Powell and Loy, who sparkle as a happy married couple who revel in cocktail party time and whose repartee fired back and forth makes the film precious.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
MGM’s small budget sleeper hit caught the studio by surprise at how much the public loved its fun-loving frivolous detective yarn (which led to five other sequels and a radio and television series). Many, including myself, consider it the best film in the series. It’s based on the fifth and last novel by Dashiell Hammett; it has a retired private detective, with Damon Runyon character types as friends, and his socialite wife, from the other side of the tracks but enamored by hubby’s lowlife criminal acquaintances, cleverly solve three murders that have baffled the New York police. Underrated filmmaker W.S. Van Dyke (“Manhattan Melodrama”/ “Penthouse”/” I Love You Again”) keeps it lively and filled with witty banter, making it more of a comedy than a hardboiled crime story. It’s wonderfully breezy and fully captures the joyous spirit the couple have for life, boozing it up after the repeal of Prohibition and pursuing criminals.
Newlyweds Nick Charles (William Powell) and his wealthy wife Nora (Myrna Loy) and their irrepressible wire-haired terrier dog Asta are vacationing in their fancy Manhattan apartment, as the retired Nick now intends to spend quality time looking after her money and getting tipsy. But he’s reluctantly drawn into a baffling case of a missing eccentric inventor scientist, Clyde Wynant, when his young daughter, Dorothy Wynant, approaches him at a party to take the case. Nick some four years ago was hired by the absentminded brain, Clyde, to straighten out a delicate problem.
Dorothy relates how daddy went away in complete seclusion on a mysterious business trip for three months, promising to contact his lawyer MacCauley if necessary, but leaving no address where he could be reached. Clyde promised to return for her Christmas wedding to Tommy. She smells something is wrong when he’s a no show at the wedding, since he always kept his promises to her. Clyde has an ongoing affair with his criminal background secretary Julia Wolf, which led to his divorce from his nagging wife Mimi. She has since married gigolo Chris Jorgenson, who sees her as a mealticket. Mimi still receives alimony from Clyde, which supports Chris and the bigamist’s other wife she doesn’t know about. When Mimi stops receiving payments she visits Julia to get her dough, but finds her dead and clutching Clyde’s watch chain. Before calling the police she steals the evidence, not because she cares about her former hubby but because she wants to protect him in order to still receive her alimony payments. Things move along with another murder and the discovery of Clyde’s skeleton body in his shop basement. Nick gathers all the suspects together for a dinner party at his apartment and has Lt. Guild and his men there to make the expected arrest. Nora calls it “the best dinner she ever listened to,” as the sophisticated Nick smokes out the real killer and the happy couple return to their California home.
One can’t say enough about the playful interplay between Powell and Loy, who sparkle as a happily married couple who revel in cocktail party time and whose repartee fired back and forth makes the film precious.
REVIEWED ON 8/9/2007 GRADE: A
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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