The Thin Man

Movie Review #805: William Powell’s charisma keeps ‘The Thin Man”s mystery both fun and intriguing.

★★★½
By Red Stewart
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Comedy, Crime, Film-Noir
Rated NR (contains alcohol use, mild language)
91 minutes

It’s a shame that William Powell remained so underrated his entire career. In the American Film Institute’s 2005 list of the 25 greatest male stars, he sadly did not make the cut, though then again a lot of notable actors like Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro, and Al Pacino didn’t either. He may have had an uncanny resemblance to Clark Gable, but he held much more gravitas, enthusiasm, and dare I say it, charisma.

“The Thin Man” showcases these aspects of him the best, with Powell playing retired private eye Nick Charles, who is brought back into action when his friend’s father (the eponymous Thin Man) goes missing.

“The Thin Man” was filmed in two weeks as a simple B-movie, yet ended up a massive sleeper hit that went on to be nominated for the Big Five Oscars (ironically losing them all to “It Happened One Night”). This success can be attributed almost entirely to the pairing of Powell and Loy, who just have so much fun pranking and flirting with one another. That’s not to say “The Thin Man” doesn’t have serious parts to it, but they’re almost rendered non-existent with all the lightheartedness. Because Nick has become accustomed to the luxurious life provided by his ever-loving, rich wife, he appears as an early variant of Jackie Chan’s character in “Drunken Master”; a happy-go-lucky drunk that happens to be incredibly talented. Of course, given the implementation of the Motion Picture Production Code four years prior, you’ll never see anyone inebriated. As such, Powell and Loy go for the next best thing; goofiness.

I’ve not forgotten about the whole mystery plaguing the film’s plot, but it’s one of those cases that’s hard to talk about without giving away integral details. There are many secrets surrounding the circumstances of the thin man’s disappearance, yet never enough to render the story confusing to viewers. While I do not mean to diminish the role of Myrna Loy, who is without a doubt central to the energetic power of the movie, this is a picture that rests more-so on Powell’s shoulders, and he carries the weight with such glee that you have no choice but to love him.

I highly recommend “The Thin Man”, not only for its engaging narrative, but the performances of its two leads. I’ll end this review by bringing it full circle to my introduction with the closing sentence of Roger Ebert’s own critique: “To see ‘The Thin Man’ is to watch [Powell] embodying a personal style that could have been honored, but could never be imitated.” ✴

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