Film / The Thin Man

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Nick and Nora Charles and Asta

The Thin Man is a 1934 (and thus, pre-Hays Code) movie based on a Dashiell Hammett novel of the same name, and features William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles, a pair of hard-drinking, wisecracking, socializing types — except that Nick is also famous for being a tough detective, and no matter how hard he tries, he can't quite stop people (most especially including Nora) expecting him to solve crimes. Almost every single modern crime-solving-duo owes something to this film — everything from Castle to Warehouse 13, from Hart to Hart and Remington Steele to Moonlighting is, in part, a riff on a theme established in The Thin Man.

Despite Powell and Loy hamming it up to the best of their considerable acting ability, many a scene is stolen by their Fox Terrier Asta.

The Thin Man was nominated for four Oscars, including nominations for picture, director, and lead actor, but didn't win any. Powell and Loy's chemistry and charisma were obvious, and several sequels followed, to diminishing returns in later installments:

After is noteworthy for an appearance by a disturbingly young James Stewart, playing what would prove to be a very atypical role, while an even-younger Dean Stockwell played the couple's son in Song. The Thin Man series constituted six of the fourteen movies Powell and Loy made together, which also included Manhattan Melodrama, and The Great Ziegfeld.

A Broadway musical adaptation, Nick & Nora, bombed in 1991, running only nine performances. Also spawned a short-lived TV series, and was one of the franchises parodied in Murder by Death. In 2011 a remake was reported to be in the works, with Johnny Depp attached to the project as Nick.

Not to be confused with Crispin Glover's character in the Charlie's Angels movies. Also, any relation to The Slender Man Mythos is purely speculative. Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist is a Shout-Out to this but entirely unrelated as a story.

For tropes found throughout the series, see below. For tropes found in the first film, or in films 5-6, see below. For tropes found in the second, third, and fourth films, see their work pages.


Tropes found throughout The Thin Man movies include:

  • The Alcoholic: Count how many times Nick had a drink. Or better yet, have a drink yourself whenever he does. (Note: Don't attempt to have a drink every time Nick or Nora have one. You will die.)
    • Also note how often Nick is shown drinking in the morning. Or how often he's stealing other people's drinks.
    • He quit by movie five, but circumstances make him look like he's off the wagon.
    • DirecTV's synopses of Thin Man movies often consist solely of the sentence "Nick Charles drinks scotch and solves murders," or variations thereof.
  • Animal Reaction Shot: Asta.
  • Artifact Title: In the original, the "thin man" was not Nick Charles, but a character named Clyde Winant, a missing person who was suspected of murder. However, movie goers started associating Nick Charles with the "thin man", and by The Thin Man Goes Home, which involved Nick going back to his hometown, the movie series did too.
  • Busman's Holiday: Nick and Nora never look for crimes to solve. In fact, Nick repeatedly insists that he is retired from detective work. He and Nora always stumble across murders while on vacation or simply socializing. Lampshaded in Shadow by Lt. Abrams: "Funny, I meet you two at all my homicides." (In the first movie, Nick explains that he retired from detective work to manage his wife's enormous fortune.)
  • Deadpan Snarker: Both Nick and Nora, but especially Nora, who had a lot of the best lines.
  • The Dog Was the Mastermind: What The Reveal usually...revealed. Start with a murder, present a colorful parade of suspects, end by revealing the killer to be someone the audience had no reason to suspect. For modern audiences, After the Thin Man fits this trope best.
  • Drugs Are Good: Nick drinks and drinks and drinks, and it does nothing but make him more witty and charming.
  • Genteel Interbellum Setting: New York version.
  • Happily Married: The Charleses are one of the great screen examples of the trope.
  • Idle Rich: Nick and Nora want to be, but people around them just keep on dying.
  • Loyal Animal Companion: Asta. (Though "Loyal" is not the same thing as "Brave".)
  • Motive Rant: The villains usually got one, although the murderer in the first film didn't. Unsurprisingly, the best one is from James Stewart in After, as he explains how was driven mad by jealousy after his girlfriend threw him over for her sleazy husband.
  • Never One Murder: In every film, there will be a couple of more murders after the first one to keep the plot zipping along.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Nick and Nora are adored by their servants, and many of Nick's friends are criminals he's arrested. In the first film several of Nick's hoodlum friends come to his Christmas party.
  • The Perry Mason Method: How Nick elicits The Reveal in all six films.
  • Police Are Useless: The police are pretty much always dunces. Nat Pendleton, who plays the detective in charge of the investigation in the first film, made a career out of playing amiable lummoxes.
  • Pretty in Mink: Being a wealthy couple, Nora wore quite a few furs. In The Thin Man Nick gives her one for Christmas.
  • Red Herring: Several examples, two of the more prominent being the Chinese nightclub owner in After and the senior Charles's housekeeper in Goes Home, who both skulk around acting suspicious but ultimately prove to be unconnected to the relevant murder(s).
  • The Reveal: The movies always ended with these.
  • Running Gag: Just about all of Nick's friends that he introduces to Nora are ex-cons that he put away.
  • Secondary Character Title: For the first two films at least, as the "thin man" is a supporting character in the first film. Averted for the last two films of the series; see Artifact Title above.
  • Sleeping Single: Except for that one time on the train, in the first film.
  • Summation Gathering: All six films.
  • Title Drop: In the first film, Clyde Wynant is referred to as "the thin man". In the second one, as Nick and Nora get off the train, reporters crowd around them and wonder if Nick is going to get "another Thin Man case".
  • The Watson: Part of Nora's job, as Nick did most of the actual detecting. Nick lampshades this by calling her "Dr. Watson" at one point in the original.

Tropes specific to The Thin Man (1934) include:

  • Blowing Smoke Rings: In one scene, William Powell can be seen blowing smoke rings as the policeman interrogates Nunheim.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The opening scene reveals that Wynant has a bad shin that alerts him to changes in the weather. This is plot-relevant later when the skeleton underneath Wynant's shop is found to have a piece of shrapnel from World War I in the shin. Said scene also mentions that Wynant wears a bracelet made of the various metals he smelts in his factory, which is also plot-relevant when it's discovered on the body of Julia Wolf.
  • Coincidental Broadcast: A previously quite radio burst forth with news of the Julia Wolf murder before Nick turns it off.
  • Did I Mention It's Christmas?: Set around the Christmas holiday, but not particularly relevant to the plot except giving Nick an excuse to hold a party and drink a lot.
  • Establishing Character Moment: In his first appearance, Nick is shown giving the bartenders at the club instructions on how to shake a martini. After he's done, the waiter puts the martini on his tray, whereupon Nick scoops it up and drinks it. Then Nora enters the club along with Asta. They engage in some witty banter, then, after finding out that Nick is on his sixth martini, Nora demands six martinis to catch up with him. The tone is firmly established.
  • Funny Background Event: When Nick has been persuaded to investigate Wynant's apparent fake suicide, he walks down the street while discussing the case with a policeman, accompanied by Nora and Asta. We only see them from the waist up, so we only see Asta's leash as it suddenly jerks in the direction of first a fire hydrant, then a lamppost.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar
    • Regarding Maureen O'Sullivan's character:
      Party Guest: Say, who's the little brunette?
      Nick (unamused): I used to bounce her on my knee.
      Party Guest: Which knee? Can I touch it?
    • There were also a fair number of implications that despite the series' use of the Sleeping Single trope, Nick and Nora had quite an "active" relationship. And that before he met her, Nick went through women like Kleenex.
    • Some of these would go over the heads of modern viewers, but were risque for their day. An example is this exchange that results when a policeman finds Nick carrying a concealed firearm:
      Police lieutenant: You got a pistol permit?
      Nick Charles: No.
      Police lieutenant: Ever heard of the Sullivan Act?
      Nora Charles: Oh, that's all right, we're married.note 
    • Nora Charles: I read you were shot twice in the tabloids.
      Nick Charles: It's a lie; he didn't come anywhere near my tabloids.
    • Asta's Christmas present is a toy fire hydrant.
  • Hangover Sensitivity: Nora has to deal with this after trying to match Nick martini for martini. Nick, being Nick, is unaffected.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: In the first movie, Nick (briefly) sings a song with the line, "For tomorrow, we must be gay".
  • Hello, Nurse!: No fewer than three party guests swoop in on Nick's front door when Dorothy Wynant arrives. Nick ushers her away, saying that they have to "get away from the wolves."
  • The Ingenue: Dorothy, who is sweet and good-hearted.
  • Oops! I Forgot I Was Married: Chris Jorgensen's first wife shows up at the Summation Gathering and reveals that she is still married to Chris. This means that Mimi never legally remarried and thus is still an heir to Wynant's fortune, which liberates her to reveal the murderer's identity.
  • Percussive Prevention: Nick punches Nora to get her out of the way of a gunshot.
  • She Is All Grown Up: Nick fails to recognize lovely Dorothy Wynant when he sees her at a club, and when she says who she is, remarks that he hasn't seen her since she was a child.
  • Shout-Out: Nora hands Nick a tray of empty martini glasses, and Nick quips, "Grandma, what large glasses you have."
  • Shout-Out to Shakespeare: At the end of the movie Nick bids Dorothy and her new husband goodbye with "and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest."
  • Spit Take: When the cops start getting into Nora's cabinet while searching Nick and Nora's apartment.
    Nora: What's that man doing in my drawers?
    Nick: (spit take)
  • Stealing from the Till: The murderer killed his boss when the boss found out that he was embezzling. A minor suspect was doing it too. He gets caught by Nick breaking in to fix up the books so he isn't accused of the murder.
  • Would Hit a Girl: A pretty weird instance of this trope. A gun-wielding Mook has burst into Nick and Nora's bedroom. Nick gets Nora out of the line of fire by punching her in the face.
  • What If the Baby Is Like Me?: Dorothy Wynant comes to the conclusion that she should dump her fiance when it looks like her father may be an insane murderer, and worries that it runs in the family. The case isn't helped by her Nightmare Fetishist/Cloud Cuckoo Lander brother, who rather than comfort her theorizes that it is a recessive trait, and that therefore there is only a one in four chance of her child being insane. So she should limit herself to three children. Then he changes his mind because "The first one might be the bad one".


Tropes found in films #5 and #6 include:

  • Always Someone Better: The motivation for the killer in Goes Home is that Nick had been this to him for their whole lives. He's taken away screaming about how he won't let Nick beat him again.
  • Bar Brawl: Nora starts one intentionally in the fifth movie, so she has an excuse to have two suspects arrested.
  • The Chanteuse: The ridiculously sexy Gloria Grahame plays a nightclub singer in Shadow of the Thin Man. She looks great, but the dubbing isn't very good.
  • Continuity Nod: Early on in each sequel except Song, someone rattles off the cases Nick solved in each previous film.
  • Cousin Oliver: Making Nora pregnant at the end of After the Thin Man was a good gag but backfired to some extent in later installments, forcing Nick and Nora into a domesticity that didn't fit well with their urbane, martini-swilling style. In The Thin Man Goes Home Nick Jr. isn't included on a visit to his grandparents (supposedly he's at school).
  • Genre Savvy: By The Thin Man Goes Home, Nora has been through enough of these movies that she Lampshades the whole climax ahead of time; the Summation Gathering, The Reveal, The Perry Mason Method, even the guilty party's eventual attempt to shoot their way out ("I usually hide under the table for that part"). She's actually disappointed when Nick has the suspects searched for guns, because that means the last part won't happen (though it does). She still guesses the wrong suspect, though.
  • Incredibly Obvious Tail: In The Thin Man Goes Home, Nora sets off to tail one of Nick's hoodlum friends, whom she incorrectly believes is the bad guy. Her idea of tailing a suspect is to walk directly behind him at a distance of about 15 feet. Hilariously, a bad guy decides to tail Nora in the exact same way, resulting in a little three-person parade through town.
  • It Works Better with Bullets: In Goes Home, the doctor who murdered two people whips out the Japanese rifle that was displayed prominently on the table, pointing it at Nick. Oops, "I forgot to tell you, they removed the firing pin from that gun."
  • Kinky Spanking: In The Thin Man Goes Home Nick, after making comments about woodsheds and razor strops, puts Nora over his knee and spanks her with a rolled up newspaper. It's a bit of Fanservice.
  • Not Important to This Episode Camp: Nicky Jr. not being taken along to see his grandparents in Goes Home.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Nick in The Thin Man Goes Home. Nora claims that if he ever got a pat on the back from his father, he'd burst a vest-button. It literally happens in the final scene.
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