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The 6 ‘Thin Man’ Movies: A Guide to the Classic Series

by | November 27, 2023 | Movies & Television

William Powell and Myrna Loy star in this very successful series of six movies based on Dashiell Hammett’s classic novel The Thin Man. Powell plays Nick Charles, a retired private detective from San Francisco, and Loy stars as his wife Nora, a wealthy socialite.

In the novel, Nick and Nora, along with their dog, Asta, are drawn into a murder mystery while visiting New York. Mixing cocktails and witty banter with their sleuthing, they solve the murder of the “thin man.”

Hammett’s novel was published in January 1934, and the first Thin Man movie premiered only a few months later, in May. The movie was a hit. Although Hammett did not write a sequel to The Thin Man, the film’s success led to five movie sequels over the next dozen years. For witty dialogue and stylish fun, the Thin Man movies are hard to beat.

Nick and Nora Charles, Sophisticated Sleuths

Publicity photo for 'After The Thin Man,' with Myrna Loy, Skippy, and William Powell, 1936. (eBay, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

1. 'The Thin Man' (1934)

Poster for The Thin Man

Movie poster for 'The Thin Man,' 1934. (Employee(s) of MGM, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The plot of the first movie is based closely on Hammett’s novel. The recently married Nick and Nora are enjoying their sophisticated, monied lifestyle in New York when Nick is asked to investigate the mystery of a friend’s disappearance and possible involvement in a murder. Urged on by the adventure-loving Nora, Nick reluctantly takes the case and solves the mystery, uncloaking the culprit at a fancy dinner party.

The murder mystery plot of the movie is secondary, though. What makes the movie so enjoyable is the chemistry between Powell and Loy as Nick and Nora. Depression-era audiences admired their elegant lifestyle as well as their playful marital affection, and viewers enjoyed the witty repartee between the two.

For most people, the fact that Nick and Nora’s banter was usually lubricated by alcohol did not detract from their appeal—especially to movie audiences who had only been released a few months earlier from 14 years of Prohibition. Audiences were also charmed by Asta, Nick and Nora’s dog, played by a wire fox terrier named Skippy.

The Thin Man received four Academy Award nominations, including nominations for Best Picture, Best Director (W.S. Van Dyke), Best Actor in a Leading Role (Powell), and Best Writing – Adaptation (Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett). The movie was added to the U.S. National Film Registry in 1997, and in 2000, it was named one of the top 100 comedies of the 20th century by the American Film Institute.

2. 'After the Thin Man' (1936)

Title lobby card for 'After the Thin Man'

Title lobby card for 'After the Thin Man,' 1936. (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Nick and Nora’s adventures continue in the first sequel, After the Thin Man, released on Christmas Day 1936. In this movie, another light-hearted murder mystery, Nick and Nora are back in their hometown, San Francisco. At a New Year’s Eve dinner with Nora’s upper-crust family, Nick is asked to investigate the disappearance of Robert Landis, the philandering husband of Nora’s cousin Selma.

Robert is soon located, but shortly afterward he is murdered and Selma is wrongly seen as the likely suspect. Nick must now find the true murderer from among a list of suspects that includes Selma’s admirer David Graham, played by James Stewart. After Nick wraps up the case, Nora reveals that she is pregnant.

Once again, the plot of the movie takes a backseat to the sparkling dialogue, especially the comic repartee of Nick and Nora.

After the Thin Man received an Oscar nomination for Best Writing – Screenplay for the husband and wife screenwriting team of Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich.

3. 'Another Thin Man' (1939)

Title lobby card for 'Another Thin Man'

Title lobby card for 'Another Thin Man,' 1939. (Public domain, via The Thin Man 1934)

The third of the Thin Man movies, 1939’s Another Thin Man, is based on Hammett’s story “The Farewell Murder.” The movie follows Nick and Nora, with their baby son Nickie, Jr., and of course, their dog Asta, back to New York. They are asked to go to the Long Island estate of Colonel Burr MacFay, who was Nora’s deceased father’s business partner.

MacFay has been receiving threats on his life from a former employee and ex-con, Phil Church (Sheldon Leonard). When MacFay is found dead, Church is of course suspected. Nick, however, has other ideas, and he is ultimately able to identify the real murderer.

This time, the dramatic revelation of the killer is made at Nickie, Jr.’s birthday party, attended by a bunch of very colorfully named hoodlums, including Wacky—played by an uncredited Shemp Howard of The Three Stooges fame. Nick and Nora’s relationship has evolved. They are still flirtatious with each other, and Nick enjoys his scotch as much as ever, but they are both also doting parents to Nickie, Jr.

Another Thin Man continues to display the trademark wit, clever banter, and comic situations of the first two movies. And again, watching Powell and Loy exchange quips as the mystery is solved is a real treat.

4. 'Shadow of the Thin Man' (1941)

Title lobby card for 'Shadow of the Thin Man'

Title lobby card for 'Shadow of the Thin Man,' 1941. (MGM, Public domain, via The Thin Man 1934)

The fourth movie of the series, Shadow of the Thin Man, was released two weeks before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Nick and Nora are back in San Francisco with Nickie, Jr., and Asta. They are now enjoying family life and living in a flat instead of a mansion. Despite their new domestic circumstances, though, Nick and Nora are still the charming sophisticates they’ve always been.

Nick takes Nora to the racetrack for a day of relaxation, but their enjoyment is interrupted by the shooting death of a jockey with connections to racketeering. Nick refuses to get involved until a journalist is murdered, and Nick’s friend Paul Clarke (Barry Nelson) and his fiancée Molly Ford (Donna Reed) are suspected.

Nick and Nora solve the case of the dead jockey with Asta’s help, and then Nick identifies the murderer in his usual fashion—by gathering all the suspects together and waiting for one to make a mistake.

The trademark witty banter of the Thin Man series continues in this film, with maybe a slightly more light-hearted tone, as a new screenwriting team wrote the script. Several scenes highlight Nick’s dedication to his new role as a father. At dinner one evening, Nickie prompts Nick to (reluctantly) replace his cocktail with a glass of milk. And when Nick takes Nickie for a ride on the carousel, Nick gamely mounts a carousel horse to stop other kids from teasing Nickie.

The combination of comedy and crime-solving, along with some warm-hearted family fun, makes Shadow of the Thin Man a very entertaining viewing experience.

5. 'The Thin Man Goes Home' (1944)

Movie poster for 'The Thin Man Goes Home'

Half-sheet movie poster for 'The Thin Man Goes Home,' 1944. (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Public domain, via The Thin Man 1934)

The setting for the fifth movie, The Thin Man Goes Home, is Nick Charles’s hometown, Sycamore Springs. Nick and Nora are there on vacation visiting Nick’s parents, despite the certainty of everyone in town that Nick is actually working on a case. But when a local man is shot as he is approaching Nick, Nick cannot help but try to find the killer.

The murder investigation becomes entwined with a case of a missing painting, and ultimately Nick is able to solve the murder in his typical fashion of inducing a mistake by the killer. In doing so, he finally manages to impress his father, who had never approved of Nick’s choice of profession.

This fifth movie is a bit of a change from the earlier ones, as Nick and Nora encounter new situations in a small town setting that is far different from their usual surroundings. They remain urbane and sophisticated as always, although they are not drinking as they visit Nick’s parents. The movie was a hit when it came out and remains an entertaining entry in the Thin Man series.

6. 'Song of the Thin Man' (1947)

Movie poster for 'Song of the Thin Man'

Movie poster for 'Song of the Thin Man,' 1947. (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Public domain)

Song of the Thin Man, the sixth and final installment in the Thin Man series, finds Nick and Nora at a charity benefit party aboard Phil Brant’s gambling ship S.S. Fortune. Soon after bandleader Tommy Drake tells Brant that he is leaving for a better job, Drake is murdered. Brant is the prime suspect and turns to Nick for help, but Nick turns him in to the police and starts investigating.

Nick discovers that there are numerous people who disliked Drake and may have had a motive to kill him, including a loan shark, an unstable clarinet player, Brant’s wealthy father-in-law, and a jealous promoter. In the course of the investigation, there is another murder. Finally, Nick gathers all the suspects together at another party on the Fortune, and the killer is unmasked.

Although this is the last of the Thin Man movies and was a disappointment at the box office, it continues to showcase the witty repartee of Nick and Nora Charles as they work to solve another murder mystery. Song of the Thin Man also adds another dimension to the comedy, as the urbane and sophisticated Nick and Nora try to mix—with humorous results—with the new bebop world of 1940s jazz.

Enjoy the Sophisticated Comedy of the Thin Man Movies

The six Thin Man movies had great success with the movie-going public for a decade and a half. The first of these clever mystery comedies came to the screen at the end of Prohibition in 1934. The series continued to entertain audiences through the Great Depression and World War II and into the post-war years. Now available on DVD and sometimes on streaming services, these movies are just as pleasing to modern audiences.

The Thin Man and its sequels owe their enduring success to the appealing characters of Nick and Nora Charles that Dashiell Hammett created, the sophisticated dialogue created by the screenwriters, and the perfect on-screen embodiment of the characters by William Powell and Myrna Loy.

Nick and Nora’s world is well worth a visit, or even six.

Copyright © Brian Lokker 2018, 2023. An earlier version of this article was published on HubPages.com in 2018 and was subsequently featured on ReelRundown.com.

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