Monday, November 9, 2015

CANON OF FILM: "THE THIN MAN"

THE THIN MAN (1934)

Director: W.S. Van Dyke
Screenplay: Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett



Where do I begin with “The Thin Man,”? This is one of those weird movies where the plot and the story are basically irrelevant. It’s based on a Dashiell Hammett book (The Maltese Falcon and all the Sam Spade novels) and there are dead bodies floating around the movie screen, and there are police and murder investigations and a final bringing together of all the suspects where the real killer is revealed, but none is that has anything to do with what the movie’s about, that’s just the story and plot. It’s actually a murder-mystery comedy, (actually it’s more of a comedy where a murder-mystery seems to float in and out) about a former detective who married a rich girl because she loves her and her money and the girl who married a detective because she loves him and loves that he loves her for her money. The first time we see Nick Charle,s he’s telling the bartender what the proper dance steps to do are when shaking a martini. Nora comes into the party being dragged by their, dog Asta, (Who, I’ve seen some argue is the actual detective of the family, and if you actually did pay close attention, you can legitimately say that for this film at least) while carrying Christmas gifts and catches up to her husband.

Nora Charles: How many drinks have you had?
Nick Charles: This will be six martinis.
Nora Charles: {to the waiter} All right. Will you bring me five more martinis, Leo? Line them up right here. 

This is marriage talk, not the talk of young lovers. Actually it’s the talk of two married alcoholics. Alcohol flows like water in this movie, at dinner parties, to get the pain out, and alcohol for just getting up in the middle of the night. At certain points, when Nora is distracted, Nick will go over and drink from Nora glass, which is probably why she takes all her drinks at once. They’re never drunk, but throughout the movie, they’re always kind of meandering that state that’s right between sober and drunk, and at almost no time are either of them completely sober. Drinking is more of a personality trait for them, something to do while they’re on camera. As you’ve probably guess, they’re fun-loving quick-witted friendly drunks, who, especially Nora seems to take things in stride. When she walks into what could’ve been a situation easily mistaken for the kind of misunderstanding that you’d find in every episode of “Three’s Company,” Nick just makes a face to Nora, like he doesn’t know and Nora makes a face at him like she’s going knock him out. They speak in a sign language that only married couples who love each other can speak in. My favorite scene is when Nick introduce Nora to somebody, in what should be a revelation scene about the case. In the background of the third guy being on the phone, Nick points to Nora shirt, and then flicks up her nose when she looks down. Nora than socks him in the back of the head, and then they both put on serious faces when the guy on the phone looks back up. 

Nick and Nora Charles were played by William Powell and Myrna Loy, and as the detective couple and they made five other movies after this one, and about a dozen more not as the Charles’. It wasn’t supposed to be a big hit, William Powell was thought to be a has-been at the time, and Myrna Loy was usually cast as a vamp, not as a comedic housewife. It was shot in only two weeks, and ended up getting four Oscar nominations and eventually got about five sequels made of it and it’s basically the major influence for almost every pair of quick-witted guy and girl couples you can find on film, whether they’re married, together, or played for sexual tension, you can find it’s influence in everything from Howard Hawks’s quick-than-fast “His Girl Friday” to Nora Ephron’s observant and all-too-aware dialogue about observations, even Tim Allen pitched the show that would become “Home Improvement” as the homelife dynamic between the husband and wife being like Nick and Nora Charles of “The Thin Man”.

You gotta remember, this is still the beginnings of sound, and this was one of the very first films that’s about the dialogue that the story, so this is the seminal work in film, it's basically this and the early Marx Brothers that showed how stories wit and dialogue can work on film, and not only that, have it essentially be the movie as opposed to simply complementing the film. Today, the film is still a great commentary on domesticity that movies like “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” only wish they could be, but more than that, it's influence is as the premiere source of how we understand relationships through the shorthand dialogues and diatribes of a lovely couple. 

The case by the way is about an inventor who goes out of town…- Ah, who the hell cares.

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