by MP Bartley
Like the Pink Panther series, the Thin Man is often assumed to the central character of the series, Nick Charles; portrayed by William Powell. Not true - the Thin Man of the series is the murder suspect of the first film and the name simply stuck for the sequels, just like the Pink Panther is the jewel, and is often not in the sequels. But whereas the Pink Panther series was patchy in quality, the Thin Man pretty much maintained itself as top notch entertainment from beginning to end. After the Thin Man is also that rare thing - a sequel better than the original.Arriving back from holiday, the press descend on Nick and Norah Charles (William Powell and Myrna Loy) demanding to know if the on/off detective is going to take another case on. Nick says no, he has a wife to amuse, but that pledge doesn't last long. Norah's cousin, Selma, asks for their help, as her husband has disappeared and Nick reluctantly (mainly because it involves talking to Norah's family) agrees to help. The case quickly drags a night-club owner, a dancer from the club, her menacing brother and Selma's previous fiance, David (an amusing early appearance by James Stewart), into it as bodies start to litter the scene.
"Are you enjoying yourself, Mrs Charles?"
The novel of The Thin Man didn't have any sequels, and the reason you suspect that the film version practically demanded a sequel was for the central performances from Powell and Loy. They're an absolute delight together, with wonderful chemistry that crackles off the screen and they fill the film with a bounce and a fizzy charm. Amusingly, the decency codes of the time meant that their marital beds have to be seperated by a bedside table, although it's clear that this is a married couple at it like rabbits. It's a frisky film throughout, even the dog, Asa, gets an amusing sub-plot having to fight off the neighbour's dog from his partner.
This is how good the film is, even the bits with the dog are funny. But of course, it's Mr and Mrs Charles that we're interested in. Powell, in particular, is mesmerising on screen. Wandering through the mystery with a boozy charm, the camera loves him. One particular argument between Selma and her mother focuses entirely on his bamboozled face, he's that amusing. An underrated actor, he sells you Nick's keen intelligence as well as his tanked-up bonhomie. The sequence where Nick and Norah visit her cousin's house is a particular masterclass in comic delivery as well as the best use of the "Walk this way, please" joke.
Loy is just as good and armed with a genuinely witty script ("Oh, you wouldn't know them, darling. They're respectable.") they make the film fly by. As well as working as a comedy, it's also a superb murder mystery. Van Dyke keeps the cards as close to his chest as he can, keeping the film, and Nick, one step ahead of the audience. However, when it comes to it, he plays fair and makes sure we're not left on the outside looking in. Powell and Loy zip their way through the script and van Dyke's direction keeps up nimbly with them.There were four more Thin Man sequels and all of them kept up the standard. I'll see you there with a Scotch.
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originally posted: 02/26/10 07:02:48