Throwback Thursday examines films from the past, “classic” films that might not be in the current cultural zeitgeist but can still be important, interesting, fun, or all of the above.
The modern romantic comedy is a tricky genre. You want to give people a fun story while also following certain tropes. The meet-cute, the opposites attract, will they/won’t they, some form of complication (usually another significant other), final conflict, and then resolution. Whether it’s because of Hollywood laziness or audience needs, at some point these tropes became solid needs. It might have been 1938’s Bringing up Baby, but there’s another film from the ’30s that I think has a great central relationship but is also a great whodunit. I give to you 1934’s The Thin Man.
While not a true-blue romantic comedy, it still has the fundamentals of great chemistry between the leads and some amazing banter. A lot of films try for banter and fail, but The Thin Man knocks it out of the park. It helps that the leads of William Powell and Myrna Loy seem to be having so much fun with each other. Powell plays Nick Charles, a former private investigator who is content to drink heavily and manage his wife’s money. Loy as Nora Charles is content to drink and pester Nick into getting back into the P.I. game to solve a murder that has fallen into his lap. Did I mention that they’re both content to drink? They are, and if there was a film that was accepting of socially functional drunks, then this is that movie. Of course, this is a pre–Hays code film (which started being enforced that year), so besides the heavy—and I do mean heavy—drinking, they are able to get a few innuendos in that might make you do a double take.
The first ten minutes of the film follows Clyde Wynant, an absent-minded scientist, who is quick to snap at people, but he loves his daughter. He is getting ready to set out on a retreat to work on some experiments he can’t finish in NYC due to all the distractions. Once we have the setup of his life, we fast forward three months and are introduced to Nick at a bar, where he is teaching the bartenders how to properly mix a martini. He is joined by his wife, Nora, who proceeds to try and catch up to him (the very next scene she is nursing one heck of a hangover). We also make the connection of Wynant’s daughter Dorothy who tries to enlist Nick’s help in finding her now missing father.
Over the next 80 minutes, there’s a drunken holiday party, a few murders, and some sleuthing, all tied up with a bow at a dinner party where Nick puts everything together. While the mystery is fun to follow and place the pieces, the meat of the film is the relationship between Nick and Nora. In fact, they proved to be so popular that this film was followed by five sequels (After the Thin Man through to Song of the Thin Man). Proving that Hollywood relies more on name recognition than logic, the thin man of the first film is referred to as Wynant, but because the title became so popular, they decided to just go with the naming convention for the subsequent sequels.
I previously mentioned the banter and chemistry, and it is soaked through the whole film. From Nora deciding to play catch up in their first scene together, to Nick fawning over her with her hangover, to a bedtime scene where he wants to go to bed but she wants to keep talking. Even Christmas morning shows them truly in love, with him playing with a BB gun she gets him, and her admiring the watch that she got from him (which she purchased herself). Sure, they get their version of a meet-cute, but we don’t have to worry about the will-they/won’t they. It’s about their relationship and how they take each other’s foibles in stride and love each other. It’s a lesson modern Hollywood could take and run with. If you aren’t besotted and fall instantly in love with this couple, then you might be dead inside, and if that’s the case then I’m not going to press Nick into service to find out how you died. You’re probably not worth the sleuthing. But if you’re ready to drink this film down, cheers, and enjoy.
This film can be found on DVD. It is not currently available via Netflix, but streaming offerings change frequently, so keep an eye out. Feel free to discuss further in the comments below; just keep it respectful.
If you think there’s a film Throwback Thursday should cover in the future, please let me know in the comments.