Not Coming to a Theater Near You Two-Thousand Twelve In Review

The Thin Man

W. S. Van Dyke
USA, 1934

The Thin Man

by Tina Hassannia


The circumstances in which I saw The Thin Man were sad ones: bedridden with a stomach bug on the last day of 2012, I couldn’t ring in the new year among friends or even sip champagne without feeling queasy. The fiancé and I puttered around our desolate apartment, not knowing what to do. We finally settled on watching W.S. Van Dyke’s The Thin Man. It was serendipitous—within minutes our antisocial New Year’s fate ceased to matter.

The Thin Man is technically a mystery concerning a disappeared inventor suspected of murder, but it focuses mostly on the delightful raillery of its romantic leads, Nick and Nora Charles (played by William Powell and Myrna Loy with tremendous onscreen chemistry). He’s a retired detective, she–s a rich heiress and socialite. They’re brought into the investigation by chance, though Nick refuses to take on the case himself. He’s too busy drinking, you see. The couple freewheels through an ostensibly serious matter with lighthearted attitudes and heavy drinking, which gracefully diffuse the hum-drum seriousness of pointed guns and dead bodies—all without sacrificing the suspense of cherry-picked elements from film noir.

The film scored so much critical and commercial praise for its cornucopia of pithy one-liners, and also for exemplifying a loving, glamorous relationship lubricated by booze, wealth, and humor. Nick and Nora’s charming dynamic was bound to be lapped up by viewers upon its release during the Depression, when the scarcity of finances made the possibility of a functional marriage undeniably difficult. Call it escapist lighthearted fare, but The Thin Man contains a happy marriage – fictitious as it may be – worthy of aspiration. Granted, perhaps with less alcohol, though during my quiet, dead-sober New Year’s Eve, I never hesitated to live vicariously through the detective duo’s drunken delirium.


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