Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Thin Man


Dir: W.S. Van Dyke (Tarzan the Ape Man; Several other "Thin Man" movies)

The first in a six part series of comedy mysteries starring William Holden and Myrna Loy as husband and wife socialites who solve murders in their spare time. I had never seen any of the entries in this series before. It is easy to see why they were so popular then, and Nick and Nora Charles are already among the best on screen couples I have seen.

The mystery side of the story is pulpy and not much else. Dashiel Hammet wrote the book, and it has the traditional cast of suspects and the twist at the end that are required by the genre. It occured to me that a movie like this is the CSI of its time; once a week or so folks would go down to the moviehouse to see a formulaic murder mystery, just as they now sit in front of the television for the same experience. It is hard to hate a crime drama like that as the pace is quick and the audience can actively participate in the development of the story.

The plot is forgettable, though, compared to the brilliance of Holden and Loy in these roles. The Charles' are exactly the sorts of people that would be your best friends. Outgoing, witty, drunken, fun loving, devilishly smart, calling them the life of the party is an understatement. Their wealth allows them unlimited freedom, and they spend it throwing parties for the entire cross section of society, including petty criminals and other characters that the sleuthing Nick has come to befriend. The two actors are ideally suited; Holden always with a martini and slurring his words, yet so charming and in control at the same time, Loy beautiful and wise, navigating through Holden's crazy lifestyle with magnanimity and enthusiasm. They completely dominate the film and were a true joy to watch.

I wished I was Nick Charles. I fell in love with Nora Charles. I can pay no higher compliments to film characters. I believe that later installments of the franchise feature more of this couple and less of the plot. I welcome that change. This is one of the only classic comedies that I have really enjoyed watching.

Recommended, but forgive the plot.