Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Thin Man

W.S. Van Dyke | 1934 | 93 mins | USA

If you find the this-year's-Juno tone of the advertising for Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist unappealing at best, why not treat yourself to the original Nick and Nora, the quick witted, silver tongued, utterly charming pair from the Thin Man films. This was my thinking the other night when I finally rented The Thin Man, a mid-30s whodunit that I'd always meant to see but never had.

Nick and Nora Charles (William Powell and Myrna Loy) are a married couple whose wedded bliss seems to consist of a never ending string of quick witted conversations had over an array of appetizing cocktails. No hangover is bad enough to keep tomorrow's party from happening, or crippling enough to keep the jokes from flowing.

When we first meet the duo, Nick (an ex-detective) is in a bar teaching the bartender how to shake a martini (always to a Waltz rhythm, apparently). Nora (his sassy, rich, fabulously independently-minded wife) joins him at the table, orders a martini and immediately asks him how many drinks he's had. Upon learning that he's on his sixth, she beckons the waiter to bring her five more. Hard not to fall in love with them, right?

Nick and Nora are in New York for Christmas, and even though Nick's retired from sleuthing, the disappearance of an old friend, inventor Clyde Wynant, under seemingly shady circumstances threatens to bring him back into the game. It doesn't help matters much that the missing man's money-hungry ex wife Mimi and his loving daughter Dorothy (Maureen O'Sullivan - you might know her as Jane from 1932's Tarzan the Ape Man and about four other early Tarzan films) desperately want Nick to take the case. Not to mention the fact that an assortment of underworld characters (including Mimi's new beau, played by a very young and swarthy Cesar Romero) all assume he's involved from the get go.

When the simple missing person's case leads to a young woman's murder, the sleuthing marrieds have no choice but to get more deeply involved. In what would become a staple of all six Thin Man films, the debonair Nick Charles invites all those involved over for a dramatic showdown. What better way to solve a murder than by having the suspects for dinner?

This terrific comedy/mystery privileges witty banter and razor-sharp wit over action and suspense, and is a much more memorable film because of it. Plus, Myrna Loy's costumes are out of this world.

Oh, if only married life were an eternal cocktail hour full of quips as sharp as olive spears!

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