Holiday Viewing: The Thin Man
A merry, blotto Christmas (mind the dead body in the bedroom)
By Kimberley Jones,
12:01AM, Mon. Dec. 25, 2017
“I was leaning against the bar in a speakeasy on Fifty-second Street, waiting for Nora to finish her Christmas shopping…”
And so begins the great Dashiell Hammett’s 1934 detective novel, wasting no time in introducing retired gumshoe Nick Charles in his natural state: with a drink in hand, on his way to being well-soused.
The 1934 adaptation, on the other hand, delays a full 10 minutes in debuting wise-cracking Nick (William Powell); his sleek, tickled-pink wife Nora (Myrna Loy); and Asta, their anxious Wire Fox Terrier*, opening instead with the wealthy, dyspeptic inventor (Edward Ellis, playing the title’s “thin man”) whose mysterious disappearance eventually snares Nick back into the private eye game.
There’s a half-hearted murder-mystery afoot, but we’re really here for Nick and Nora’s sexy, stinko banter. (On the subject of booze: There is just a shocking amount of alcohol imbibed in this movie.) Journeyman director W. S. Van Dyke – nicknamed “One Take Woody” for his efficiency – first directed Powell and Loy in Manhattan Melodrama, and he had the good sense to keep the party going; their pairing in The Thin Man and its five sequels amounts to one of the friskiest depictions of marriage in cinema history.
Throughout December, the Chronicle film team is highlighting some of our favorite seasonal film and TV offerings. Find a new recommendation every day at our Holiday Movie Advent Calendar.
Editor's note: This post originally mislabeled the costarring dog a Schnauzer. Our apologies to the Wire Fox Terrier community; see comments for more on canine acting legend Skippy.