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The Thin Man

The original DVD cover

It’s 1934, and Prohibition is over!  The martinis and highballs flow freely in this classic silver screen hit that spawned five sequels!  “The champagne elite of sleuthing”, Nick and Nora Charles banter their way through solving their first mystery in The Thin Man.

Clyde Wynant, an inventor, receives a visit from his daughter, Dorothy, who is soon to be married.  She wants her father to walk her down the aisle, and Clyde promises.  Soon after, Clyde discovers $50,000 in government bonds he had is missing.  He confronts his mistress, Julia Wolf, who confesses to taking the money under duress.  After a mysterious phone call, Clyde leaves promising to enact his revenge on her.

Though it’s not readily evident, the film skips ahead three months.  Dorothy Wynant approaches Nick Charles, an old family friend, in a nightclub.  She remembers Nick from when he was a detective.   It’s been four years since he’s been a profesional detective, having spent the time in California with his wealthy wife.  That doesn’t stop Dorothy from asking Nick for help.

Then Nora enters, dragged along by that famous fox terrier, Asta.  She’s introduced to Dorothy and the girl’s finace, Tommy, who both leave shortly after.  She asks her husband about them, but he’s playfully evasive.  “Say, how many drinks have you had?” asks Nora, beofre matching her husband drink for drink.

The Wynants are a dysfunctional family.  There’s money hungry Mimi, Clyde’s ex-wife, who thinks she’s happily married to Chris Jorgensen.  Then there’s bookish Gilbert, Dorothy’s brother, who’s far too curious about criminal psychology.  Caught in the middle is Dorothy.  Mimi wants to know where her ex-husband is but thinks Dorothy won’t tell her.  So Mimi goes to see Julia Wolf, only she finds Clyde’s mistress dead.  Before she calls the police, Mimi finds a clue in Julia’s hand and takes it.

The whole Wynant family drop by a raucous Christmas Eve party at the Charles residence.  Though Nora encourages him, Nick’s reluctant to take on the case at first, but then Dorothy Wynant confesses.  Nick quickly realizes she’s covering for someone, but for who?

No, Asta, there are no clues in the icebox. Martinis, maybe. But clues, no.

“Wouldn’t you like to do a like detecting once and a while just for fun?” asked Nora, after the party.  Nick is still reluctant to involve himself, but then thug Joe Morelli makes a late night visit.  Joe was connected to Julia, who may or may not have also been connected to a mysterious man with a scar seen hanging around.  Joe threathens Nick and Nora with a gun, but the timely arrival of the police given Nick an opportunity.  He fisticuffs with Joe and gets grazed by a bullet in the process.  “It’s just a scratch,” he says!

Since everyone has already involved him in the case, Nick starts to truly investigate.  All clues seem to point to the missing Clyde Wynant, but did he really do it or is the missing inventor a victim himself?  Nick takes Asta along to look for clues at Wynant’s shop.  Before they go, Nora admonishes Asta, “If you let anything happen to him, you’ll never wag that tail again!”  Asta proves his worth though, when he discovers an important clue…another body!

Many scenes are short and snappy, moving the story along at a brisk pace.  The stunning solution comes at a dinner party hosted by Nick and Nora with all the suspects arriving in fancy dress.

W. S. “Woody” Van Dyke filmed The Thin Man in 12 days!  The film with its breezy style and the ideal pairing of William Powell and Myrna Loy (as Nick and Nora Charles) garnered four Academy Award nominations.  Based on the book by Dashiell Hammett, The Thin Man is a perfect film for mystery buffs to enjoy on a quiet evening with jazzy cocktail.

The cast included Maureen O’Sullivan as Dorothy Wynant; Nat Pendleton as police lieutenant, Guild; and Minna Gombell as Mimi Wynant.  Look Cesar Romero as Mimi’s paramour, Chris.  Romero is perhaps best known to audiences as the Joker in the Batman TV series (1966 – 1968) and as Peter Stavros, a former lover of Angela Channing on Falcon Crest (1985 – 1988).

It’s interesting to note how the film differs from the original novel.  The book is narrated by Nick Charles and begins with the scene in a speakeasy.  Nick, waiting for Nora to finish her Christmas shopping, encounters Dorothy Wynant in the first chapter.  In the film, it’s nearly ten minutes before we get to that scene!  However, having the opportunity to meet Clyde’s character so early on, as in the movie, adds to the suspense and the viewer’s expectations.

All six films in this MGM produced series is available on DVD.  Find out more and watch the trailer for The Thin Man here.

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Categorised in: Film, Mystery, Reviews

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