W.S. Van Dyke’s The Thin Man (1934) is an urbane, acidic and charming murder mystery derived from a best seller by author, Dashiell Hammett. It features William Powell and Myrna Loy as husband and wife, Nick and Nora Charles.
He’s a playful alcoholic and retired private investigator who is immune to taking his work seriously. She’s a lanky brunette with a wicked jaw and a penchant for excitement of the sleuthing kind. Together, and much to Nicky’s chagrin, they investigate the disappearance of a scientist (William Henry) after his frantic daughter, Dorothy (Maureen O'Sullivan) implores Nick that foul play has befallen him.
No one at MGM had any faith in this project – least of all, studio head Louis B. Mayer who predicted it would quickly fade into obscurity as just another B-thriller. Reportedly shot in two weeks time, Van Dyke delivered a movie so adroit, sophisticated and funny that it easily caught the fascination of the public and forever made the team of Powell and Loy the idyllic embodiment of Mr. and Mrs. America.
No fool, Mayer decided to turn the film into a series – one of his most successful of that period, and it even became the inspiration for television’s Moonlighting and Hart to Hart series from the 1980s. (Aside: it also was translated into a 1950s TV show of the same name, costarring Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk – with limited appeal and distribution).
As with all of the subsequent Thin Man installments, (there are an additional 5 additional films in the series) the story relies heavily on the chemistry generated between Loy and Powell and their wire-haired terrier, Asta. If the plot meanders – and it rather aimlessly does – that’s the point of the series. It’s not about the crime, but the couple.
Warner Home Video has done an outstanding job mastering The Thin Man on DVD. Where previous VHS and laserdisc incarnations looked as though they had been fed through a meat grinder - suffering from age related damage and disrepair, the restoration efforts put forth on this DVD make the film a crisp, clean and highly enjoyable excursion. The image is incredibly sharp and detailed. Blacks are deep and solid. Whites are exceptionally clean and refined. This is a fantastic reference disc for early 30s cinematography. The audio is mono but well represented with no background hiss. Apart from giving us theatrical trailers for all of the Thin Man movies there are no extras.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)