The Thin Man, an M-G-M film released in 1934, stars William Powell as Nick Charles, a gritty gumshoe who marries Nora, a sassy socialite played by the beautiful Myrna Loy. The film is based on the novel by hard-boiled detective author Dashiell Hammett.
Although the book was written during Prohibition, the movie was released a year after Repeal Day. By 1934, the United States had barely begun to claw its way out of the Great Depression, which reached its lowest level in 1933. And like an ad campaign for free-wheeling inebriation, Hollywood sought to uplift and encourage America to begin enjoying itself again.
We’re in a similar economic situation today, although on a different scale, and we are enjoying a cocktail renaissance. It’s time to revisit The Thin Man.
This first and best of a six-film series received Academy Award nominations for Best Actor (Powell), Best Screenplay (to married couple Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, who also wrote It’s a Wonderful Life and the original Father of the Bride), Best Direction (W.S. Van Dyke), and Best Picture, but lost to It Happened One Night.
The plot is a basic potboiler; Nick doesn’t want to get involved in a detective case involving a missing inventor, but he does anyway. The best parts of the movie are Nick and Nora’s near-constant drinking, a lubricant that helps them gracefully skate through a blaring and boisterous world. While sliding through a sumptuous Art Deco New York, they chide, insult, and tease each other like only a loving couple can, often slurred with an empty martini glass (the dainty two-ounce kind) in hand.
We meet Nick Charles at the bar, showing the staff how to mix: “The important thing is the rhythm. You should always have rhythm in your shaking. Now a Manhattan you shake to a fox trot. A Bronx to a two-step. And a dry martini you always shake to waltzes.”
Moments later, Nora joins him. Two more martinis are brought over, and we have this wonderful character reveal:
Nora: “How many drinks have you had?”
Nick: “This will make six martinis.”
Nora: “All right. (to waiter) Will you bring me five more martinis, Leo? Line them up right here.”