Although he couldn’t have imagined it at the time, Woodbridge Strong Van Dyke (better known as ‘one take’ Woody) was making cinematic history when he paired vamp Myrna Loy with aging actor William Powell in the hugely successful screwball-comedy-meets-mystery movie ‘The Thin Man’ in 1934.
Based on Dashiell Hammett’s hard-boiled final novel, ‘The Thin Man’ follows the adventures of retired private detective Nick Charles (Powell) who, wherever he goes, gets tangled up in a web of mystery and crime, not to mention booze and hilarity, and is ultimately forced to take sleuthing into his own hands.
With the help of his adventure-seeking wife Nora (Loy) and his wire-haired Terrier dog Asta (Skippy), Nick unravels the strange disappearance of a mad inventor (in ‘The Thin Man’, 1934), is caught in the middle of a deadly family affair (in ‘After The Thin Man’, 1936), solves the murder of a Long Island industrialist (in ‘Another Thin Man’, 1939), straightens out some shady business at the race track (in ‘Shadow of The Thin Man’, 1941), finds out that small-town life in Sycamore Springs is bubbling with crime and deception (in ‘The Thin Man Goes Home’, 1944) and cruises the underworld of jazz (in ‘Song of The Thin Man’, 1947).
The plot is consistently enthralling throughout the entire six-movie series, however what truly holds ‘The Thin Man’ together and makes it watchable time after time are its clever dialogues and hilarious battle-of-wits between Loy and Powell who never shy away from poking fun at each other: ‘That flatfoot I married thinks he’s smart!’ remarks Nora dryly after doing some investigating of her own, against her husband’s wishes.
What also sets these movies apart from other detective dramas are the fascinating humour and light-heartedness with which the characters take every situation and its fast screwball-like pace, only made possible due to the movies’ off-the-wall scripts and laid-back acting.
Throughout the years, numerous attempts to replicate the ‘Thin Man’ magic have been made, with Loy and Powell themselves starring together in a string of films outside the series. However, nothing will ever be able to match Nick and Nora’s ‘urbane oddball highball mix’- ‘I never enjoyed work more!’ Loy once admitted. In the end it shines through.