Monday, January 21, 2013

The Thin Man and After the Thin Man (films)

We watched The Thin Man and After the Thin Man between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. The two movies make a good pair because one follows the other immediately in time. The Thin Man takes place for a few days around Christmas. In After the Thin Man, the couple arrives back home in San Francisco on New Year's Eve. They have been favorite movies in our household for many years, and we never tire of them.

Just in case you are not familiar with the premise of the movies, the first movie is adapted from the book of the same name by Dashiell Hammett. From here on, I am mostly talking about the movies, because it is a very loose adaptation. 

Nick and Nora Charles are a rich couple. Nick was a private investigator before they got married, and Nora wants him to investigate a murder of an old acquaintance of his. He wants to stay out of it. Guess who wins? 

Nick and Nora drink a lot. Nick has lots of friends and acquaintances who are on the shady side. There is lots of witty dialog. These are definitely not realistic mysteries, but they are a lot of fun. And I have not even mentioned Asta, the dog, another star of these movies.

W. S. Van Dyke directed both of these movies (and the next two in the series). Per an article at the Turner Classic Movies site: 
The Thin Man was shot on a "B"-movie budget, very quickly -- accounts vary between 12 and 18 days. Not for nothing was Van Dyke dubbed "One-Take Woody."
Nick and Nora are played by William Powell and Myrna Loy. They are perfect in those roles. Also at TCM, how Powell and Loy were selected for the parts:
He [Van Dyke] had just directed Manhattan Melodrama (1934), starring Clark Gable, William Powell, and Myrna Loy, and had been struck by the chemistry between Powell and Loy. The two had developed a bantering friendship, and their between-the-scenes repartee was charming and lighthearted. That was exactly what The Thin Man needed. MGM executives didn't agree. Both actors came with a lot of baggage, and studio bosses couldn't see them as the glamorous detective duo.
The cinematographer for the first movie was James Wong Howe, who filmed many other well-known movies, including Yankee Doodle Dandy (my favorite) and Sweet Smell of Success (one of my husband’s favorites).

These two movies were followed by four other Thin Man movies. I have seen all of them, but the first two are the ones we watch over and over again. The third movie also has a good reputation. See this post at Traditional Mysteries.

I did not read the book The Thin Man until a few years ago. I was very surprised to find that Nick and Nora drink just as much in the book as in the movies. While trying to write up my thoughts about this movie, I felt compelled to re-read the book. The plot of the movie is close to the book, but the tone of the book is much darker. The five sequels to The Thin Man movie had no connection to the book. The thin man in the book is not Nick Charles, but I assume they wanted to continue with that title to tie the movies together.


Anonymous said...

Tracy - Oh, these are fun movies, that's for sure. And yes indeed, both Nick and Nora drink. A lot. An awful lot. I'm glad you mentioned the difference between the films and the book. The book is darker in tone and even though the plot's pretty much the same, there's a bleaker perspective. Interesting that it was the only Nick Charles novel Hammett wrote, but the films became a series...

carol said...

The Thin Man is on my list to read this year. Sounds like I should see if the library has these two movies after I read it. I bet my husband would enjoy them too.

TracyK said...

I am glad that the movies... or at least the first few... were made. So entertaining.

TracyK said...

I think you will like both the book and the movies. I wish I had been able to read the book first.

Carl V. Anderson said...

My wife, daughter and I love these films (all but the final one) and re-watch them at least once a year. Loy and Powell have such fantastic chemistry and it is even more surprising that the films are good now that I read your comments about how quickly they were filmed. Wow, more impressed than ever. The films are witty and the old black and white format gives them just a hint of danger that adds to the fun.

TracyK said...

I am eager to give Another Thin Man a re-watch soon, but my husband and son don't care for any of the movies that include the child.

Carl V. Anderson said...

I can understand that. If the kid got in the way more I would feel the same way. I really enjoy the humor in The Thin Man Goes Home.