If I was going to live my life as any fictional characters, it would be as Nick and Nora Charles. William Powell and Myrna Loy went through six movies as the wealthy married couple drinking martinis, trading witticisms, and solving mysteries. It’s the kind of lifestyle that’s as desirable today as it was back during the Great Depression when the first film in the series was originally released. Although in today’s climate Nick and Nora would be considered just barely functioning alcoholics, in the cinematic world of the 1930s they were just eccentric and fun-loving.
The Thin Man’s story is about as thin as the title suggests. An inventor goes missing and his secretary murdered and Nick is reluctantly drawn out of his early retirement to solve the who, what, where, and why. Not as if any of that truly matters to the enjoyment of the film. The entire plot of the film acts as a kind of “MacGuffin” (a term coined by Hitchcock indicating a plot element designed to drive the story forward but which is completely negligible to the enjoyment of the film) as one watches a Nick and Nora mystery to watch Powell and Loy have a ridiculous amount of fun sniping back and forth at each other as if they were dancers gliding across the stage.
It’s not just that the film is well written. It’s not especially so. It’s an about average mystery that never really draws the viewer in to caring about what happened to the missing inventor. But the way Powell and Loy deliver the dialogue is what makes this film sing. Powell has a way of stumbling through a turn of phrase that gets across his constant drunkenness with a kind of aloof charm. And Loy is a perfect foil, meeting Powell with every parry of the written word.
It’s neither an especially deep film nor one that draws huge investment. But it glides along happily to its conclusion dancing in step with its two leads as they trade quips and barbs. It’s not a film to be taken all that seriously. If there are any thematic undercurrents, I sure couldn’t see any. If anything, the film provides a magical space away from the realities of the Great Depression at the time. Seeing characters traipse around a New York City with nary a bum in sight but rather wealthy socialites without a care in the world is almost a quiet rebellion against the Depression stricken nation. Powell and Loy are more than up to the task of taking viewer’s minds away from those grim realities.