Friday, December 16, 2011

Cinema Style File--Toasting William Powell and Myrna Loy in 1934's THE THIN MAN

For many years, 1934's The Thin Man has been one of my favorite films.  There is a lot to love about it.  First, as the daughter of a police officer, I have practically been raised on mysteries in print and on film.  Thin Man is both.  It was based on a novel by the talented Dashiell Hammett, who most know from his classic--again, in both print and film--The Maltese Falcon.  And still a third, Hammett's personal favorite The Glass Key, was turned into a film noir starring Veronica Lake.   All are in my personal library as there is little to me that's more comforting than a detective story. It's especially true when it's blended with the wit and sophistication found in director W. S. Van Dyke's The Thin Man.

Much of the pleasure of watching the film comes from its dashing leading man, William Powell.  Powell is an actor who embodies a smooth sophistication, confidence, and charm.  Despite coming from the Midwest, he seems urbane.  He seems worldly.  You get a sense that there isn't a situation this man can't handle, like the steady stream of criminals he puts behind bars (and somehow keeps as friends) as detective Nick Charles. Powell is also a perfect partner for all of his leading ladies--including Kay Francis, Carole Lombard, Jean Harlow, and of course Myrna Loy--dancing with each of them through delicious dialogue often filled with sexy double entendres.  

Though he was once married to Carole and deeply in love with Jean before she died, Myrna truly seemed to be his perfect partner.  They were ultimately paired in 14 films together.  But they are best known for playing libatious Nick and Nora Charles, this onscreen partnership the result of their genuine friendship offscreen.  When Van Dyke witnessed their natural chemistry and playful nature with one another, he immediately recommended that they take on the roles of Dashiell Hammett's famous married couple.  

Part of the appeal of Thin Man is certainly sartorial.  Dolly Tree was its costume designer, one of MGM's bright talents who was responsible for much of the studio's polish in the 1930s.  She worked with Powell and Loy on many of their movies, starting with The Thin Man.  Because the characters of Nick and Nora were extraordinarily wealthy, Dolly could do as she pleased in creating the most tailored and luxurious ensembles for them both.  Myrna, for example, was frequently floating around in elegant gowns and fur is found in many of her outfits.  Powell wears his costumes extremely well, too....his six foot frame and broad shoulders carrying the double-breasted pinstripe suits better than many of his contemporaries.  His innate sophistication made them seem natural...even when he was done up in a three piece suit, he looked as comfortable as he did in a pair of pajamas.  

Turner Classic Movies chose William Powell as their Star of the Month for December, and it's a perfect time to celebrate him.  The Thin Man and After the Thin Man, the second in the series, have actually become holiday movies for me since they celebrate Christmas and New Year's Eve, respectively.  All six of the series will be shown on TCM on the 22nd starting with the original.  So pour yourself a favorite cocktail or two (or six), get cozy, and join the Charles family on all of their stylish adventures together.

Our introduction to Nick a bar with drink in hand, of course

Then Nora Charles makes her grand entrance...chasing after Asta chasing after Nick

The elegant family with Nora in her fur-trimmed coat and Nick in a double-breasted suit
while chatting with Dorothy Wynant (Maureen O'Sullivan) about her missing father

Nora pays the price for keeping up with Nick--six martinis means one heck of a hangover

Already embroiled in a mystery--Nick calls Dorothy to say he thinks her father is safe

Dorothy's mother Mimi, always scheming for money, in a silk gown with white fur-trimmed winged sleeves
changes into a smart suit with fur stole and hand warmer to visit her ex-husband's lover

Unfortunately she arrives too late 

Nick and Nora throw a holiday party for his friends,
many of whom are ex-convicts he sent to prison during his days as a detective

Nora in a bias cut striped silk chiffon gown with ruffles everywhere and
Nick in his usual pinstripe suit, silk tie, and pocket square

Nora in an elegant silk charmeuse fur-trimmed robe with winged sleeves for one of their late night talks in bed

A late night visitor threatens the couple

Nick ends up being shot, but it's nothing a drink can't handle

Christmas morning with Nick and Nora

Off to follow a lead in the investigation--Nick in a trim wool coat, silk scarf, silk shirt, and silk tie
and Nora in her Christmas present (fur coat) over a plaid skirt and matching hat

Back at the Wynant household acting as referee to all the family fighting

Dorothy keeping her chin up in a trim skirt and cropped jacket

Nora, in an elegant sheer chiffon robe over a black nightgown, worries when 
Nick throws on his trench coat to do more investigating at Wynant's warehouse at night

The cinematography of James Wong Howe, one of my all-time favorites, 
really sets the scene when Nick hears an intruder go bump in the night

Elaborate ruffles on Nora's blouse underneath an equally elaborate silk coat
as the couple discusses the case and its clues...and plans a dinner to find the murderer

The couple's secret weapon at a dinner party to find the murderer--
Nora in her "loo loo" of a black silk halter gown with strategically placed brooch 

The suspects are equally outfitted, and I especially envy Mimi's gown (above)
with its boatneck and brooch fastened opposite a slightly gathered shoulder

Nick at the head of the table in a tuxedo as he ferrets out the murderer

Dorothy reacts to news that her mother was helping 
(and sitting next to) her father's murderer

On a train heading home to San Francisco for more adventures


Marline said...

Well, this couldn't be more timely! I'll be introducing The Thin Man and After the Thin Man on New Year's Eve. Reading the new Myrna Loy bio for goodies, but your screen caps are mighty inspirational as far as my costume is concerned. Gee, those starched ruffles are sublime and you're so right "Mimi" has the most wonderful brooch. I wish all your readers a Merry Martini and a Happy New Hangover, Thin Man-style! Love, Kay

Rosemarie Keenan said...

I recently reread The Thin Man and was impressed all over again with how well the movie captures its playfulness and wit. William Powell and Myrna Loy are the ideal (and ideally stylish) couple.

Kimberly Truhler said...

How fun, Kay! You'll be wonderful and can't wait to see what inspired frock you wear for New Year's Eve. :)

Kimberly Truhler said...

The book is great, isn't it Rosemarie? All of Dashiell's books are quite good...better than the movies, really, but the movies are fun in their own special way. I certainly love being able to celebrate their style.

I've read that Dashiell based Nick and Nora Charles on him and Lillian Hellman...lord knows the amount of their drinking is spot on accurate, but I suspect Nick and Nora (especially played by Powell and Loy) got along much much better than he and Lillian did. I've heard they were pretty famous for their fights.

Yes, the movie just has such a lovely playful way about it and it's great to see a married couple that loves one other like that!

Melissa Clark said...

Another wonderful post about another of my favorite movies. When it comes to sophistication and true glamour in movie fashions, you can't beat the 1930s. The costumes in "The Thin Man" are a great example of that. The furs, the jewels, the over-the-top quality of the clothes and hats. Not to mention how slinky and revealing the evening wear is. It's a fantasy of wealth, luxury and sybaritism that must've been so appealing to Depression era audiences. Escapism at its finest, and it still works to take us away from our dreary troubles today. "The Thin Man" makes me want to slip on a satin gown and fur stole and hit the town!


Kimberly Truhler said...

Agree with every single one of your comments 100%, Melissa! Amazing how our challenges today make us so empathic to those during the Great Depression. Watched MY MAN GODFREY for the zillionth time the other day and it's never had as much meaning as it does now. Unfortunately. lol

But yes, the fantasy of the Charles' luxurious life is really wonderful to dive into and, as you mentioned, the slinky gowns and jewels adorning the women are just something to behold. AFTER THE THIN MAN has some more doozies, so I just may have to do another post. ;)

DorianTB said...

Kimberly, I'm delighted but not surprised that you're a THIN MAN fan as well! Now that I've read and enjoyed your AFTER THE THIN MAN blog post, I'm happy to catch up with your post about the original THIN MAN!

Your comments and photos are absolutely divine. Still, I'm glad that nowadays, those beautiful clothes can be made with more comfortable fabrics! :-) I always enjoy seeing those great hats. My late mom could really rock a great hat; she was a good inspiration. and Mimi's corsage is delightfully over the top!

We've shown the THIN MAN movies and other classic movies to the youngsters in our lives, and the girls always get a kick out of it. I'll never forget the day we taught our then-little nieces how to say "Have a cocktail!" like the waiter in the THIN MAN dinner party scene. I wish I had a picture of my dear late mother-in-law's face when the girls proudly gave her a plastic cup of apple juice while delivering that line! :-) Thanks for a fun and fab post, Kimberly, as always!

Kimberly Truhler said...

The hats are fabulous, aren't they Dorian? Though they've gotten more popular in recent years again, they will never look like THAT again...unless you're buying from Phillip Tracey or another talented milliner. THE THIN MAN movies are so wonderful, so modern while taking you back to that earlier time. I escape in them more often than I care to say, and can tell that you feel the same. Thanks for your own posts on the movies and for sharing your thoughts here!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...