The Thin Man: How I Learned to Love Nick & Nora Charles

Powell Loy

Myrna Loy and William Powell 1944

Long before McMillan and Wife and Hart to Hart graced the TV airwaves, William Powell and Myrna Loy ruled the roost at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios with a series of movies based on the Dashiell Hammett detective novel, The Thin Man.

When I was first introduced to the Thin Man movies, I used to think that the series got it’s name because William Powell was so skinny. As it turns out, that wasn’t true. The first film in the series was about a case involving a “thin man,” played by actor Edward Ellis, who was actually the murder victim. Oh, darn – did I give it all away?

William Powell (bio) always looked quite proportionate on screen and not skinny at all but I think the real reason I thought he was the Thin Man was fostered by a 1938 Warner Bros. Merrie Melodies cartoon called Have You Got Any Castles?, which depicted Powell so thin that, when he turned sideways, he almost disappeared.

Nick and Nora Charles were the ultimate screen couple, husband and wife detectives, always in step and never missing an opportunity to outwit one another as they solved each crime, which they did just in time for the movie’s ending. Myrna Loy (bio) was a fantastic Nora, the ideal wife and considering she made 14 movies with William Powell, she made it look like they were really married… really! The Thin Man movies, all six of them, played like very sophisticated screwball comedies more than murder mysteries and their comic banter enhanced the proceedings, made even funnier because they were always drinking. Martinis were everywhere, morning, noon and night, and in one favorite scene from the original movie, Nora says to Nick, “Is that my drink over there?” Nick asks, “What are you drinking?” When Nora answers, “Rye,” Nick swigs it down and says, “Yes, it was yours.”

Their little wire-haired terrier, Asta, quite often stole the scene as he helped sleuth out the guilty party. He was a great little actor and rumor had it that away from the Thin Man movies, Asta was really Skippy. However, the six Thin Man movies credit this cute pooch as “Asta.”

Another thin Man

Another Thin Man (1939)

Although each movie succeeded in rooting out the murderer in similar fashion, all six of the movies were very different. The overall production value of these slick little comic mysteries varied from movie to movie but they looked real good and the first of the series, The Thin Man, was actually nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture of 1934. The second movie from 1936, After the Thin Man was also nominated for an Academy Award, for Best Screenplay.

The most popular consensus says the first movie is the best one of the six but every movie in the Thin Man series has so much to offer, it’s difficult choosing one over another. They are all loveable but my personal favorite is Another Thin Man from 1939. This one has an unusual assortment of character actors who blend beautifully together, regardless of acting background. Can you imagine that between takes, C. Aubrey Smith might have spent time chatting with Marjorie Main or Otto Kruger having lunch with Shemp Howard? Well, I said it was an unusual assortment. Possibly, Sheldon Leonard and Abner Biberman might have had a burger together — who knows?

The story is easy going enough as we find Nick and Nora back in New York when they discover their old family friend has been murdered. Naturally, the audience knows from the get-go that the kindly old gent is going to get bumped off but that’s all part of the fun. There’s blackmail, lots of guns and knives, old girlfriends, greedy relatives, seedy hotels and the general run of red herrings throughout, including a hood named Dum-Dum — but what makes this one different is Nick and Nora have a baby — hence the title, Another Thin Man, get it? Aside from the murder mystery that Nick is trying to solve, it seems that all of the former criminals that Nick has been responsible for incarserating through the years are all out of the clink now and have become fathers themselves. They collectively decide that Little Nicky should have a birthday party and as luck would have it, with all of those babies in one apartment, Little Nicky goes missing. Of course, one of the former cons took him home by mistake and left his kid behind so it all ends happy.

One more charming element that adds color to this series, and one that enhances the fun through repeated viewings of this great little movie, is Nick’s friendly relationship with the crooks and thugs who weave their way in and out of the film, actually in all of the Thin Man movies. Ever wonder why all of those shady characters are always being so protective of Nick and Nora whenever they meet? It’s probably a central ingredient from the original Dashiell Hammett story where the crooks can’t help but respect the genius of the guy who nabbed them, and that Nick is savvy enough to keep close tabs on members of the underworld so they might come in handy, should the need arise. Nick’s propensity for being friendly with unsavory types does not go unnoticed by Nora, who often says, “Oh Nicky, I love you because you know such lovely people.”

If you’ve haven’t yet experienced seeing these two cinema legends work their magic, watch the trailer for The Thin Man Goes Home and join the fun. You’ll be glad you did!

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Jerry Frebowitz, president of Movies Unlimited, started selling movies for home use in 1975. First, as a hobby, then by 1978, through a small direct mail catalog, which eventually grew into the big 800-page version seen today. Jerry is an avid movie fan and collector and particularly enjoys classic films from the 30s, 40s and 50s.

  • David Morales

    I have the entire collection of the thin man, and its great to see a couple laura and nick who have work together making good films like they have made for young and older people to appreciate the actors like them

  • http://moviefanfare Maple Nance

    I have the whole collection of the Thin Man Movies.I love Nick and Nora. I can and have watched them back to back and enjoy them as much as watching them for the first. I just wish that there were more than the sis Thin Man movies and will be purchasing the other movies they have made together.

  • Beverly Richard

    I first loved Nick & Nora from the TV series starring Peter Lawford and Phyllis Lord. I was a little kid at the time and didn’t even know there were Thin Man movies. When I caught on to that as a young adult, I was more than thrilled with each one. Asta has always been my favorite character from the films.

  • Sam Fletcher

    I liked Powell and Loy together even before they co-starred in The Thin Man (released May 25, 1934) when they also played man and wife in Manhattan Melodrama (released May 4, 1934). Melodrama is a good film, although it’s best known as the movie John Dilinger had just seen before he was shot down by the FBI outside the theater.

  • Fay Jackson

    I have the Complete set Of Nick & nora’s Thin man.
    I just loved them,I watch then alot,I just love the Classic’s.
    The Thin Man movie are Just so great Mystery and lot’s of Laughts to go with it.

  • http://google teeta

    I too am owned by this lovely series ! Am looking for a movie starring these 2 great talents and I can’t remember the title . Plot as well as I can recall: Nora wants to leave Charles (thinks he’s been roamin’ away from the nest) crazy sequence at a lavish house party where Charles gets the “best of the worst” . All turns out well in the end and hope somebody can give me the title to add to my collection. Many thanks

  • Jerry Frebowitz

    Actually, this movie could be “I Love You Again” or “Love Crazy.” Both movies star William Powell and Myrna Loy and both movies talk about divorce… and both movies are hysterical! The only catch is they’re not playing Nick and Nora in this one… but they’re such great classics, it almost doesn’t matter. Here’s more information:

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    I just can’t take my breath every time I Watch the six thin man series…. Oh.. How I wish to see it everyday.

    There will be no NICK AND NORA CHARLES…. EXCEPT POWELL AND LOY. They are really the perfect couple for this movie.

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  • Chester

    I always watch thses films and think to myself what a wonderful relationship the two main protagonists had. Life must have been grand for these two, in their celluloid world.

  • hiram grant

    I see that lots of Powell-Loy non-ThinMan stuff, like Love Crazy, is coming out on DVD. Check it out by putting his name into the search box on Netflix.

  • sugarpussoshea

    Much loved and much deserved! I also first fell in love with Nick and Nora thru the TV show with Peter Lawford – who was not so thin – thereby totally confusing me with the title for years.
    I was thrilled when I first saw the movies and my first ever VHS purchase was the 6 thin man movies – my second purchase was the 6 Johnny Weissmueller/Maureen O’Sullivan tarzan pix!!
    For sheer entertainment I sit down and enjoy one of the Thin Man movies and even tho’ the first is the best, I, too, enjoy the 3rd one, Another Thin Man because of the gr8 cast. It was probably the last Woody Van Dyke one also.
    I heard Rbt Osborne mention that while on location in San Francisco Wm and Myrna were given a suite together with the opinion that they really were spouses! And, Mr elegant as ever, Powell gave up the suite for whatever was left (not a very nice room).
    I’m pretty sure Love Crazy is the movie Teeta is searching for – where he “frees” his feet at some dinner party, launches everyone’s hats in the swimming pool, loses his watch to a bird that enticing him out onto the limb of a tree where he falls into the mist of the partiers sans clothes- trying to get out of a divorce by acting crazy.

  • jim

    I have all six movies and they are all great!

  • scribe_well

    I’ve seen these films dozens of times and, even though I already know the identity of the killer in each one, still enjoy them as much as my first viewing. Very few movies–much less entire series–are so entertaining. Kudos to Powell and Loy! (And boo to Hollywood for suggesting a remake starring Johnny Depp!)

  • Jery Hargrave

    I have the complete set of six Nick and Nora films. The films set I purchased is CLOSED CAPTIONED. Thank God. So many of the older films are being cheaped out on DVD-R with not captions, or extras like the DVDs. This set gets plenty of use, my 13 year old Grandson loves the films, and watches them everytime he visits.

  • Ed Seeley

    ANOTHER THIN MAN is one of the most interesting Thin Man movies. Because it contains a rare appearance of the legendary Stella Adler playing a gangster’s moll masquerading as an upscale socialite. Watching her change from one character to the other on camera is simply awesome.
    Stella is best known for her Acting School (whose alumni include, among other notables, Marlon Brando). She came from a famous Yiddish Theater family (her brothers Jay and Luther were film actors)and spend most of her career teaching others.
    But watching her on screen is simply breathtaking. Don’t miss her fantastic magic.

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  • Tom S

    After The Thin Man is the best. So clever and sophisticated. With a young Jimmy Stewart as the murderer and the scene where Asta discovers Mrs Asta has been cheating on him while away is brillant.

  • Roger Phillips

    Myrna and William were movie magic together and made more movies than Katharine and Spencer together. I have the set of M and W’s other movies and it is really good. By the way, you can now buy the first four Thin Man movies in a bargain pack of the price of only one movie! For really big laughs, also see “Libeled Lady” with them, Spencer Tracy and Jean Harlow. I watched on youtube and then bought a copy.

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  • Keen Holland

    On the subject of Nick’s underworld chums, I have some favorite scenes. One is Nick and Nora in an open car on their way home from the railway station in Frisco. Nick is waving and nodding to an assortment of low-lifes and places an order for a keg of beer with a passing delivery van; Nora says hello to a swank couple going the other way on the street and, when Nick asks who they were, Nora says, “Oh, you wouldn’t know them, dear; they’re respectable.” Powell and Loy are among my favorite actors as individuals and as a couple. If you only see one of their non-Thin Man pairings, it should be Love Crazy (1941).

  • mysteryfan

    There is a very consistent subtext in the series. Nick, the retired detective, is friendly with not only criminals, but working class people who make no pretensions about themselves; what you see is what you get. Nora, the socialite, is from a world populated with people whose veneers of respectability mask dark secrets.

  • sandy

    have always loved The Thin Man series and wish they could have made more. I’ve got their collection. Really liked William Powell in every movie he did.

  • Rich

    In, “After The Thin Man”, Nick and Nora come home and find a party in their honor going on in their house. Nick and Nora dance from the front door to the kitchen. What is the name of the song they are dancing to? You only see the singer for about 5 seconds but you can hear the song for about 25 seconds. It’s driving me crazy that I can’t name that song.

    • GeorgeDAllen

      Between Jerry and myself digging around a little (since neither of us have seen it recently enough to recall, though we’ve both seen it), we’re wondering if the song in question could be Louis Prima’s “Sing Sing Sing (With a Swing),” which in the film is performed by a band (and an unidentified gal) at the surprise party?

      Here’s a link to Prima performing the song with drummer Jimmy Vincent. Let us know if we got it right!

  • Tiffany Fontaine

    It is only in the last couple of years that I saw the entire series. Quite interesting to see how they developed, both technologically and stylistically, and as characters developed. The first was nominated for four Oscars, including best picture! Liked them so much that I ended up buying the last few for my own collection! Nora is an early, early example of a strong, spunky woman, who refuses the conventional roles – but Myrna Loy still holds on to all her glamour! really, nothing but high praise for the series!

  • Jacque

    I love all of the Thin Man movies, and have everyone of them which I have seen several times. I have also watched them on TCM. I also enjoy watching Wm. Powell and have seen several of his movies. He is great at comedic as well as melodramatic roles. I also love Myrna Loy in different roles.

  • Bamagramma

    The TV series, with Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk, also did the couple proud!