‘The Thin Man’ – Champagne sleuths on Max

Myrna Loy and William Powell (with Asta) as Nick and Nora Charles in the great mystery series

It’s cocktail hour on the mystery beat: William Powell and Myrna Loy are Nick and Nora Charles, the world’s most debonair detective team, in six delightful mysteries.

It all begins with The Thin Man (1934), a sparkling adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s novel of a former working class sleuth gone high society and his game social register wife. Powell and Loy portray a playfully-in-love couple with nothing but time on their hands and a highball in their fists who fall into a mystery, much to his chagrin and her delight.

Director W.S. Van Dyke reportedly shot this in a whirlwind 12 days, and that rush may have encouraged the tossed-off flavor of the oh-so-suave and sly banter, though it would be nothing without the incomparable chemistry of Powell and Loy. There’s a snap to their scenes and they proved an irresistible pair. The film earned four Oscar nominations (including best picture) and they were teamed for another dozen or so films, including five sequels.

The pair hardly skip a beat when they return home for New Year’s Eve in After the Thin Man (1936) and stumble into another mystery, this one a scandal that threatens Nora’s stuffy, socialite family. W.S. Van Dyke directs again and Jimmy Stewart takes an unconventional role as the prime suspect. Once again, it’s the cocktail chemistry between the blasé Powell and the elegantly sexy Loy that makes this snappy sequel crackle.

Nick and Nora have a baby in Another Thin Man (1939), adapted from Hammett’s “The Farewell Murder,” but parenthood doesn’t slow their passion for sleuthing when a weekend on a country estate lands them in the midst of a murder and Nick is a suspect. Shadow of the Thin Man (1941), where a day at the races becomes embroiled in murder and racketeering. Costarring a very young Donna Reed and featuring a rare performance by stage actress and acting coach Stella Adler, it was the final film in the series to be directed by W.S. Van Dyke.

Richard Thorpe takes over for The Thin Man Goes Home (1945), where Nick in fact visits mom and dad (Lucile Watson and Harry Davenport) and Nora tries to dig up a mystery so Nick can impress his disapproving dad, and the decline in the series quality is evident. They solved their last case in Song of the Thin Man (1947), accompanied by their 11-year-old son Nick Jr. (Dean Stockwell). Keenan Wynn, Jayne Meadows and Gloria Grahame co-star and Edward Buzzell directs.

Black and white

The Thin Man

After the Thin Man

Another Thin Man

Shadow of the Thin Man

The Thin Man Goes Home

Song of the Thin Man

On DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video (The Thin Man, After the Thin Man, Another Thin Man, Shadow of the Thin Man, The Thin Man Goes Home, Song of the Thin Man), iTunes, GooglePlay and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
The Complete Thin Man Collection [DVD box set]
Silver Screen Icons: Thin Man Vol. 1 [4-film DVD collection]
The Thin Man [DVD]
After the Thin Man [DVD]

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The original The Thin Man is available on DVD individually and in a box set, and the sequels are on DVD-R. The seven-disc box set (long out of print) includes a bonus disc featuring the made-for-cable documentaries Myrna Loy: So Nice to Come Home To (1991), directed by Richard Schickel and narrated by Kathleen Turner, and William Powell: A True Gentleman. The set also features The Thin Man TV episode “I Loathe You, Darling” starring Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk, the audio only “Lux Radio Theater Show” production of The Thin Man starring Powell and Loy, the Robert Benchley comedy shorts How to Be a Detective and Why Daddy?, the musical short Love on Tap, the vintage shorts The Tell-Tale Heart and Passing Parade: A Really Important Person, and trailers to all six films.


Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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