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Film / The Thin Man

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Nick, Nora, and Asta

The Thin Man is a 1934 (and thus, pre-Code) mystery film directed by W. S. Van Dyke, based on the Dashiell Hammett novel of the same name. William Powell and Myrna Loy star 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) from expecting him to solve crimes.

Almost every modern male/female crimesolving duo owes something to this film—everything from McMillan & Wife to Hart to Hart, from Remington Steele to Moonlighting, from Castle to Warehouse 13 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 the Charleses' Fox Terrier Asta.

The Thin Man was nominated for four Academy Awards, 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:

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 (2000) 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.


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  • Affectionate Nickname: Nora often calls Nick "Nicky." Nick varies between calling Nora "baby" and "sugar." Once Nicky Jr. comes along he mostly calls her "Mommy."
  • The Alcoholic: Nick and Nora are both extremely hard drinkers, which is a recurring gag throughout the series. Nick quits by movie five, but circumstances make him look like he's off the wagon.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Nick in the books is described as short and overweight, so of course they cast the tall, svelte and dashing William Powell.
  • Animal Reaction Shot: Asta.
  • Artifact Title: In the original, the "thin man" was not Nick Charles, but a character named Clyde Wynant, a missing person who was suspected of murder. However, moviegoers 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.)
  • 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).
  • Deadpan Snarker: Both Nick and Nora, but especially Nora, who has 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 Charles couple is 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 he 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 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 socialite, Nora wears 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 murders.
  • The Reveal: The movies always ended with these.
  • Romantic Ribbing: Nick and Nora's entire relationship is defined by an endless (but never serious) snarky back-and-forth. A perfect example is their first scene together where Nora feigns jealousy over a young woman who asked Nick for help and Nick, when asked who she is, responds with a wistful "admission" that she's his daughter from a fling in Venice. In fact, they spend so much time ribbing each other and everybody else they come into contact with that you know things are getting serious when it stops.
  • 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. The were in a hotel room, in their defense.
  • 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."
  • Uptown Girl:
    • In the backstory, Nick was a working-class detective while Nora was a wealthy socialite. Most prominently featured in After, where Nick's discomfort with Nora's family is a recurring theme.
    • There are several moments of Nick teasing his wife (much to Nora's annoyance) that he only married her for her wealth. This is always followed by an awkward silence and Nora's death glare.
  • The Watson: Part of Nora's job, as Nick does most of the actual detecting. Nick lampshades this by calling her "Dr. Watson" at one point in the original, after she refers to him as "Sherlock" earlier in the scene.

    The Thin Man (1934) 
  • Ask a Stupid Question...:
    Nora: Do you want a drink?
    Nick: What do you think?
  • Blowing Smoke Rings: In one scene, William Powell can be seen blowing smoke rings as the policeman interrogates Nunnheim.
  • 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.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: A fair number of characters seem to be skirting close to this, but Gilbert Wynant goes all the way.
  • Coincidental Broadcast: A previously quiet radio burst forth with news of the Julia Wolf murder before Nick turns it off.
  • Description Cut: "You move and that dog'll tear you to pieces!" Cut to Asta scrambling under the couch.
  • Did I Mention It's Christmas?: Set around the Christmas holiday, but not particularly relevant to the plot except to give Nick an excuse to hold a party and drink a lot.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Out of the six movies in the series, this is the only one to set up the mystery before introducing Nick and Nora, who don't appear until the ten and twelve minute marks repsectively. It's also the only movie to lack a credit for Asta.
  • 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.
  • Extra! Extra! Read All About It!: Leads to a Spinning Paper montage about the hunt for Wynant.
  • 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.
  • 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 may bring sorrow, so tonight let us be gay."
  • Head-Turning Beauty: 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.
  • An Insert: Nunnheim is trying to call someone when a hand comes in from out of frame and hangs the phone up.
  • Never One Murder: A trademark of the series. In this one Nunnheim, a prime suspect in the Julia Wolf murder, himself gets gunned down a little more than halfway through. Later, Nick finds a third body, but it's been dead for a few months by the time he discovers it.
  • 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.
  • Romantic Ribbing: Nick and Nora Charles' entire relationship is defined by an endless (but never serious) snarky back-and-forth. A perfect example is their first scene together where Nora feigns jealousy over a young woman who asked Nick for help and Nick, when asked who she is, responds with a wistful "admission" that she's his daughter from a fling in Venice. In fact, they spend so much time ribbing each other and everybody else they come into contact with that you know things are getting serious when it stops.
  • 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:
  • Spit Take: When the cops start getting into Nora's dresser while searching Nick and Nora's apartment. Fortunately, Nick sprays his drink back into the glass instead of all over himself.
    Nora: What's that man doing in my drawers?
    Nick: [spit take]
  • Standard Snippet: The film ends with "California, Here I Come" playing over a long shot of the train as Nick and Nora head back to Californa.
  • 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.
  • "Wanted!" Poster
  • Would Hit a Girl: When one of the suspects pulls a gun on Nick and Nora in their bedroom, Nick socks Nora in the jaw to knock her off her bed and out of the line of fire. Nora, for her part, isn't too annoyed about the punch itself because she knew there was no malice behind it, but she is annoyed that it meant she couldn't watch Nick take the gunman down.
  • What If the Baby Is Like Me: Dorothy Wynant comes to the conclusion that she should dump her fiancé 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."

     The Thin Man Goes Home (1945) 
  • Always Someone Better: The motivation for the killer 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 so she has an excuse to have two suspects arrested.
  • Genre Savvy: By this movie, 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 duck under the sofa when it starts"). 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: 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: 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: 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.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: For a matter of scale - a man dropping dead on Nick's father's doorstep leads to Nick aiding the war effort by breaking up a group smuggling top-secret military blueprints to foreign nations.
  • Red Herring: The Charles family housekeeper acts rather furtive, but it turns out she's a shy fan of Nick's who just wants to get his autograph.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Nick. 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.

     Song of the Thin Man (1947) 
  • Ask a Stupid Question...: This exchange when Nick, Clinker and Asta are in a restaurant and the waitress comes up with their order:
    Waitress: Who gets the bone?
    (Long beat as Nick stares in disbelief)
    Nick: (Voice dripping with sarcasm) I do.
  • The Chanteuse: The ridiculously sexy Gloria Grahame plays a nightclub singer. She looks great, but the dubbing isn't very good.
  • The Dog Was the Mastermind: Averted, for the only time in the series. If this film had followed the same formula as the previous five, the murderer probably would have been the cheerful, goofy musician played by Keenan Wynn. Instead, oddly enough, one of the murder suspects turns out to actually be the murderer.
  • Genre Savvy: When Nick and Nora jump into a cab to follow someone, and before either of them can say it, the driver asks, "Follow That Car?". Nora remarks "Movie fan".