‘The Thin Man' 90th anniversary: Remembering the 4-time Oscar-nominated comedy-mystery film

android, ‘the thin man' 90th anniversary: remembering the 4-time oscar-nominated comedy-mystery film

On May 25, 1934, “The Thin Man” was released to rave reviews and big box office returns. The popularity of husband-and-wife sleuths Nick and Nora Charles set the standard for romantic comedies with a dash of thrill and mystery, and cemented actors William Powell and Myrna Loy as one of the greatest film teams of all time. Read on for more about “The Thin Man” 90th anniversary.

Dashiell Hammett was a well-known writer of hardboiled detective novels, but he added a light touch to his novel “The Thin Man,” and MGM quickly snatched up the film rights. Nick Charles (Powell) is a retired detective who enjoys the high life with his wealthy socialite wife Nora (Loy) and their spoiled pooch Asta (Skippy). Nick is lured back to his mystery-solving days by the disappearance of his old acquaintance, Clyde (Edward Ellis), whose daughter Dorothy (Maureen O’Sullivan) begs Nick to find out what happened to her father. The quick-witted Nora is eager to see her husband in action, and enjoys aiding him in his pursuits, much to his dismay. Martinis in hand, and witty banter zinging about, Nick and Nora prove to be an unmatchable detective duo.

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Both Powell and Loy had been in the film industry for more than a decade, but neither had become huge stars. Powell’s rich voice was a strong asset in the early days of “talkies,” and had established himself as a debonair, witty leading man, whereas Loy had spent much of the previous decade typecast as a vamp, usually of Asian background. However, the two were cast alongside popular leading man Clark Gable in “Manhattan Melodrama” (1934), which was a surprise hit for MGM, and gained notoriety when gangster John Dillinger was shot death after leaving a showing of the film. Its success established Loy and Powell as major stars who would go on to appear in 14 films together, six of which were part of the “Thin Man” comedy-mystery series.

Powell and Loy became close friends in real life, and their affection for each other carried over to the big screen, with the two often improvising on set. Their chemistry and witty repartee was so convincing, many fans believed they were a couple in real life. However, they remained only friends offscreen, and parlayed this sizzle into one of the most successful onscreen pairings of all time. Although Hammett never wrote another “Thin Man” novel, the film led to five sequels between 1936 and 1947, with baby Nick Jr. added to the family and, later, to radio and TV series. The Charles’s rapid-fire banter, innuendos and method of assembling suspects at the end to reveal the culprit all became part of American pop culture. The film was released just a few months after the repeal of Prohibition, and a few weeks before the Production Code became strictly enforced. As a result, the couple also became famous for their love of a good party and a refreshing beverage.

SEE 15 best comedy mystery movies ranked from worst to best

In the novel, Nick is overweight; however, Powell was slender. The title “The Thin Man” actually refers to Clyde, whom Nick is hunting, but eventually became associated with the character of Nick, and all the sequels include “The Thin Man” in their titles.

“The Thin Man” was nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Picture, Director (W.S. Van Dyke), Actor (Powell) and Adapted Screenplay. It lost all four to “It Happened One Night,” which won Powell and Loy’s “Manhattan Melodrama” co-star Gable his only Oscar, and is another film remembered for its romantic wordplay.

It’s been 90 years since “The Thin Man” was released, and it remains as witty and sharp as it was then. The flirtatious and affectionate banter between the two leads has become a staple of romantic comedies across all mediums of entertainment. In 1997, it was added to the National Film Registry; in 2002, the American Film Institute included it on its list of “100 Years. . . 100 Laughs,” and Roger Ebert included it on his list of Great Movies, saying that Powell “is to dialogue as Fred Astaire is to dance.”

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