G: We didn’t have a lot of luxuries when I was a kid, but one that we did was that Mom routinely bought movies when she was doing our every-six-weeks major shopping trip on base. (My dad was career Air Force.) For most of a year, what that meant was bringing home a new Thin Man movie each time. That is how I first saw the series. How about you?
P: My mom worked at one of our town’s two video stores (now, of course, we don’t even have a Redbox). The owner liked having videos playing but they all had to be family-friendly. This is how I watched a lot of movies from the Disney vault, and also how I was introduced to The Thin Man. Mom liked mysteries – we watched a lot of Matlock and Murder, She Wrote – and I can see a lot of The Thin Man’s influence in later shows she watched as well. Of course, there was a lot of what I enjoy now in The Thin Man, too. In addition to the central mystery, there was also the appeal of a central couple who genuinely likes each other.
Years later, I would watch Jurassic Park; you remember the scene where Laura Dern tells Jeff Goldblum that woman will inherit the earth? Right after, Goldblum shoots Sam Neill a ‘wait, what?’ look, and Sam Neill just looks absolutely delighted. This is who Dern is, and he loves her for it. That’s the same feeling that William Powell and Myrna Loy have in all of their scenes; they’re just crazy about each other, and their shared intelligence is a feature, not a bug.
G: Definitely. There’s a lot to miss about pre-Code movies–not that The Thin Man is one, but anyway–and one of the things is how common characters like Nora were. Nora can be a flake, but she’s not stupid by any stretch. She’s not as street-savvy as Nick, of course, but she’s smart in a different way. She’s witty. She’s stylish. She’s fully confident in herself and her husband–the look she gives him when she comes in and he’s comforting Dorothy Wynant, for example. She knows he’s not cheating on her with her.
Actually, my mom likes mysteries a lot. She watched Murder, She Wrote, and Perry Mason is one of the few things she had in common with my dad’s mom. So I’m not really surprised we owned it, or that she’d seen it as some point, or anything like that. I remember her coming home absolutely delighted that they were finally on VHS!
P: Understandable! The Thin Man is a nice reminder that pre-Code movies weren’t always salacious or over the top. In fact, it has something that’s hard to find in post-Code movies, even now, which is that it very much feels like a movie about adults, despite being safe enough that you could show it to your kids (as soon as they were old enough to follow the plot, anyway). Nick isn’t a man-child who needs to grow up, and neither is Nora. These are sophisticated characters, navigating the world as adults. The character development is pretty minimal, but that’s not what’s important here.
G: I mean, they drink a lot, but it’s almost incidental. Drinking and being hungover are just who they are.
P: And it’s got a classy gloss on it. This isn’t red Solo cup material.
G: I’m picturing Nora’s expression if you presented her with one, though.
But I will also say that the movies, even starting with this one, are not classist. Nora’s upper class, and at this point, we still know nothing about Nick’s origins. But Nick is if anything more comfortable with the ex-cons and stoolies and so forth than he is with the Wynants and other supposedly upper-crust types. And frankly, most of the time, so is Nora.
P: This is definitely a case of ‘if you want to know what a person’s character is, see how they treat the waitstaff.’ The Charleses are rolling in dough but no one’s beneath them in their book. At least, nobody who hasn’t committed a murder or something equally over the line.
G: And even then, motivation probably counts for a lot.
Powell and Loy appeared in fourteen films together. The Thin Man movies seemed to have been something of a lifesaver for Loy, as she was stuck in yellowface roles for years and only got to showcase her knack for comedy with these movies. (In fact, Louis B. Mayer only gave the director three weeks to shoot The Thin Man, as he wanted Loy for another project.) I’m not sure either of them ever had better chemistry with anyone else. And in an industry where everyone says not to work with animals or children, we’d be remiss not to note their chemistry with Skippy, the remarkably charismatic and well-trained dog who played Asta.
G: And with Dean Stockwell in the sixth movie! (Other kids played Little Nicky, but how many of them grew up to be Al on Quantum Leap?) I’ve said often that The Thin Man is better than It Happened One Night, and I stick to that. And even if you disagree, I don’t think there’s any argument about which pair you’d rather spend time with.
Oh, and because we loved the image Gillian found but couldn’t leave out Asta . . . .