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The Thin Man


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Friday, August 29, 2008

The Thin Man

I love the Thin Man movies so during vacation I thought it would be fun to read the book.

After about three pages I realized that The Thin Man is nothing without William Powell.

The words are the same but William Powell made them jump and gave them such life!

This is one of the few times that the movie is so much more entertaining than the book.

Am I wrong?

Comments on "The Thin Man"


Blogger said ... (9:28 AM) : 

the best part about the thin man movies... that cute dog!


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (9:31 AM) : 

looks great- just watched the preview on Netflix and added it to my queue!


Blogger meva said ... (9:38 AM) : 

I think you are wrong, I'm afraid. An actor is nothing without the words that are put in his mouth. He can make them live, yes! But the words give the breath.

I love Dashiell Hammett.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (9:38 AM) : 

Don't forget Myrna Loy and her fabulous, fabulous wardrobe. And the dog, Asta.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (9:54 AM) : 

I don't know about the Thin Man, but I find the same with P.G. Woodhouse's Jeeves and Wooster.

Though English myself, I'm not get the humour in the writing. I need Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry to make it real for me


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (10:12 AM) : 

I do love the Thin Man movies. Sometimes I wish I hadn't seen them all so that I could watch them all again for the first time!

I love the style in them, the irreverence, the mysteries, everything. I haven't read the book, though. Perhaps I should, to compare.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (10:12 AM) : 

You are absolutely right. I have been watching The Thin Man movies since I saw a kid and I love them dearly. I think it takes not only the capacity of Myrna Loy and William Powell but their great chemistry to bring the Charleses to the screen. Dashett's words combined with the alluring style of the studio era make for delicious classics.


Blogger the nike nabokov said ... (10:20 AM) : 

the thing about Dashiell Hammett is that his writing is so cinematic that the movie is a slam dunk. you don't NEED to see the maltese falcon, for instance, to actually SEE it.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (10:23 AM) : 

I had the exact same experience!


Blogger Amy said ... (10:35 AM) : 

i haven't read the book, but the movies are such a treat! such wonderful quirkiness from william powell!


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (10:38 AM) : 

i love the thin man movies! loy always whip smart and lovely and powell in a wide legged db suit, a highball almost always in hand.

don't make 'em like that anymore.


Blogger Chad said ... (10:39 AM) : 

Yes. You are wrong. Not wrong to love the movies, but wrong not to give the book a full shake. Dashiell Hammett is a great writer.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (11:09 AM) : 

Two different art forms---they shouldn't even be compared to each other. The movies are essentially thriller/romantic comedies. The books are some of the best noir ever penned. Rarely does a film live up to the book it's based upon--best to divorce the two in your mind. One recent exception: No Country for Old Men---great book, great film that was true to the book.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (11:09 AM) : 

You are right- he commands attention without you realizing it... and Myrna Loy is just as strong but everyone notices it.

William Powell plays Nick Charles with the most charming alcoholic wit.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (11:12 AM) : 

yes. you are wrong.


Blogger idiophonebox said ... (11:23 AM) : 

Ii could watch those a million times each. I haven't tried the books, but I'd probably hear the dialog in their voices.

I started a project editing together pieces of movies William Powell and Myrna Loy made separately to create more thin man movies. All I finished was this sketch (bottom of the page).


Blogger said ... (11:29 AM) : 

I haven't read the book, but I don't think I will after having read your comments. I love 'the thin man' and much more, William Powell. Has someone seen LaCava's 'My man Godfrey' with Carole Lombard? I absolutely recomend that movie, it is also soooo fun and stylish!


Blogger Rob Moore said ... (11:40 AM) : 

Wrong! I love the movies, but the books are better. Hammett is so good. The movies are really fun but come on!


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (11:52 AM) : 

I must disagree. Though I am a great fan of both the book and movie(s); Dashiell Hammett can both weave a masterful story and write the hell out of it. I adore both Powell and Loy but it was Hammett that created them together as the Charleses.


Blogger The Domina said ... (12:00 PM) : 

Check out William Powell in "Double Wedding" with Myrna Loy again if you like The Thin Man movie!


Blogger bs said ... (12:02 PM) : 

I have to disagree here.
Well...not exactly disagree because I do love the movies, but the book is really great.
They are so completely different that it's kind of hard to compare the two.
The book is kind of a slow starter, so keep reading, it's worth it.
Much darker mood than the movie though, so keep that in mind.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (12:06 PM) : 

Nope, you're not wrong, but Hammett nailed Nick and Norah long before William Powell got the script. Mr. Powell got lucky when Mr. Hammett took up the pen.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (12:14 PM) : 

I adore the Thin Man movies. I'd hate to break that "spell" by reading the book and being disappointed. But perhaps it would give me a better appreciation for Nick/William's, Nora/Myrna's, and Asta's craft.


Blogger Unknown said ... (12:15 PM) : 

I LOVE The Thin Man movies! And while they certainly couldn't do without William Powell (I know I can't picture any other actor in that role...), I agree with previous posters that the witty banter between Powell and Loy is what seals the deal (so props to the writers--wish they would bring some of that old hollywood crime mystery back to the screen).


Blogger The Film Doctor said ... (12:23 PM) : 

I liked the book as much as the movie. The Charleses make for an odd couple because they both appear to be cheerful alcoholics, and because Nick is such a reluctant easygoing detective. His success at solving the murder seems almost incidental compared to his desire for the next drink. The basic goofiness (if not amorality) of the premise makes the novel interesting, and the movie capitalizes on that, especially since it was released right after the repeal of prohibition.


Blogger vjperera said ... (12:29 PM) : 

The chemistry between Asta, Loy, and Powell in all 6 films is enviable. I would challenge anyone to find such a fine series these days. Apart from the first, the fact that such consistency can be held in the next five films is utterly mind boggling. Im sorry, but Hammett can't necessarily create chemistry like that.


Blogger nstraghalis said ... (12:31 PM) : 

The biggest difference is the movie is really a screwball comedy masquerading as a mystery, while the book is a hard-boiled dectevity story where everyone drinks a lot.

They're both great for what they are - I love the book and the movie. Although I think the Hammett Continental Op stories are better.

Oh, and Myrna Loy? She's pretty much my dream date (after my wife, of course!)


Blogger Unknown said ... (12:32 PM) : 

You are wrong. :)

I am a fan of the movies, but trust me, just keep reading - the book is much more sassy, nasty, and sophisticated than the movie. The movie seems so 1930s code naive in comparison!

I also beg to differ with regards to Wodehouse, who was probably the funniest writer in the English language. You don't need a Laurie & Fry filter to enjoy him!


Blogger Mrs. Blandings said ... (12:32 PM) : 

Powell is wonderful, but it's the combination with Loy that lights the whole thing on fire. Her delivery is sublime. And the sets, don't forget the sets.


Blogger ryder said ... (12:40 PM) : 

this is such an amazing film!


Blogger Eschate said ... (12:45 PM) : 

I’m going through the movies right now and absolutely loving everything about them—style, wit and suspense! William Powell actually looks like one of my late Greek relatives, which is kind of funny because I’ve heard that Nick Charles is described as being Greek-American in the book.


Blogger minouette said ... (1:21 PM) : 

I think you are wrong. The Thin Man movies are wonderful, but I love Dashiell Hammett and couldn't possibly agree that any of his books are "nothing" without any actor.


Blogger Maggie May said ... (1:24 PM) : 

i loooove the name Dashiell. it's on my baby list. :)


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (1:46 PM) : 

Don't forget The Talented Mr. Ripley...

The book is good, but has nothing on the film.


Blogger Jack Daniel said ... (1:48 PM) : 

wow, the poster is fantastic!!


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (1:48 PM) : 

I don't know, but you've made me go out and rent it!

ps Mr. Schumann,

Once in while you should answer questions posed to you in the comments because it will give people a THRILL. Believe me, it will enlive your blog.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (2:01 PM) : 

No you are so right! I too love the Thin Man movies, and picked up The Thin Man this summer for a fun read...I ended up having to slog through it. It felt so vapid (and not even in the gorgeous way) and mundane compared to the movies.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (2:08 PM) : 

Disagree with you there, Sart. Hammett's book provides both the structure and the essence of the film...


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (2:19 PM) : 

I agree. It's the same with the Maltese Falcon. The book was okay, but the movie was so much better because of Bogart.


Blogger TinTrunk said ... (2:22 PM) : 

Long term reader, first time commenter here. Hi!

I'm going to be very superficial here and focus on the book cover you've shown.

The top image is definitely J. C. Leyendecker, who ruled American male fashion illustration in the 1910s and possibly into the early 1920s. He did a famous campaign for Arrow Shirts that defined male elegance for the time.

Honestly, its worth looking him up and revelling in his fabulous work. You really must check his stuff if you're not familiar with it. If you've any interest in men's fashion history and 20th century style icons, at any rate.

The lower illustration is bugging me to death. I KNOW this picture, but I can't peg it yet. I'll report back if it comes back to me. Oh damn, this is painful!

Sorry, I'm a pedantic 20th century dress historian. I can't help myself.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (2:30 PM) : 


And no.

Two different animals.

While we're on the subject of classic movies: "Twentieth Century" with Carole Lombard and John Barrymore. So, so, so funny. And the clothes!

Lombard was married to William Powell (16 year age difference) for two years and they remained friends and worked together after the divorce.


Blogger The Curateur said ... (2:43 PM) : 

Yup, you're wrong. I'm a huge fan of Hammett's writing and the movies his fiction inspired, and both forms hold their own for very different reasons. I'm also a Chandler fan, and believe the same can be said of his creations.

Though it does raise the question, "Why did hard-boiled go out of style?" It's just so damn good!


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (2:57 PM) : 

And don't forget one of my personal style icons, the divine Myrna Loy!


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (3:26 PM) : 

I'm with Meva.

Sure the movies are entertaining but Hammett wrote them and made them jump of the page for Powell to do it on screen. His writing style and way with words make the book more entertaining to me.

Bogart as Sam Spade will always trump Powell anyways in my opinion


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (3:32 PM) : 

To add to the Jeeves and Wooster sideline going on here - i'm english too and adore Wodehouse (it's in our genes) but I do think of all the adaptations there have been Fry and Laurie did it by far the best, although they don't quite match up to the books. On a similar note Brideshead Revisited (Evelyn Waugh, yes - we love him too) skip the movie and watch the 1981 Granada TV adaptation which is brilliant, practically perfect. AND read the book...


Blogger Hebden said ... (3:44 PM) : 

I agree with one of the anon's...these are two different formats that shouldn't be compared. Books, and the film adaptations of them, are often dissimilar to each other...Breakfast at Tiffany's, for example, is vastly different yet each "version" is pleasing in its own way. As a side note, I've noticed that people who are familiar with the books and then come to know the movies tend to be more forgiving about differences. People who get used to the on-screen characters seem to have a harder time switching to the book...where they have the ability to visualize things for themselves.


Blogger indigo warrior said ... (3:53 PM) : 

William Powell was amazing. Who do we have even close to his style and charm today? Maybe Steve Martin? *sigh*


Blogger Poochie said ... (5:08 PM) : 

I'm going to have to read the books but have 2 of the Thin Man movies on my DVR right now.

I think there is a bit of a Thin Man thing growing. I was just talking about these movies the other day.

Love, love, love these movies, the characters and the actors.


PS Another great style/actor movie - Bell, Book & Candle. Top marks on my list


Blogger Leslie in Adams Morgan said ... (7:22 PM) : 

I agree with your assessment completely. In fact, I had the same experience reading the books after having loved the movies for so many years.

Nick and Nora in the books aren't nearly as interesting or as elegant as Nick and Nora in the movies.

It's all about presentation; isn't it?


Blogger Brian said ... (7:31 PM) : 

I love William Powell, but Myrna Loy as Nora Charles is the perfect female...


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (9:14 PM) : 

If you want to read Dashiell Hammett at his best, check out Red Harvest. It is a textbook example of hard-boiled fiction.


Blogger Cambra said ... (9:38 PM) : 

two words: Myrna Loy. that satin dressing gown in the first movie (with the fur trim and looooong train) defines fabulous.


Blogger Susan B said ... (10:23 PM) : 

For style, yes you need William Powell. However the movie leaves out my absolute favorite line from the book: "Just a drop to cut the phlegm." (Spoken while mixing a morning cocktail.)


Blogger 99 said ... (10:32 PM) : 

You are wrong. Hammett was genius and Powell only added hiccups....


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (12:23 AM) : 

You are wrong! The movie may be wonderful, but so is the book! You must have read it looking for a personification of William Powell, but really it was William Powell who personified the character. I read the book long before seeing the movie, and thought it was tight,elegant,yet edgy. The character impressions remain with me to this day.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (2:14 AM) : 

The book is fun, but you're right: it really can't hold a candle to the films. I love William Powell, but don't discount his fabulous co-star Myrna Loy. I've never seen another screen couple who worked better together... not to mention all those gorgeous clothes and tasty cocktails.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (4:52 AM) : 

Are you wrong? Yes. Keep on reading. I found the movies entertaining enough, but they don't have the darkness and depth that the novel has.

Besides, if Dashiell Hammett hadn't written all those great books in the first place, the movies wouldn't exist. Enough said.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (7:22 AM) : 

You´re wrong. Book and movie are two different stories, different colours, taste, perfume...although there are the same words.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (6:21 PM) : 

I much preferred the book. Of course, I read the book first. You might have had a different opinion if you had done it in the other direction.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (9:55 PM) : 

The best thing about The Thin Man movies was the on-screen chemistry and partnership of Myrna Loy AND William Powell. One was not complete without the other. Way to get a picture with her hidden in the background.


Blogger Kelly said ... (5:29 PM) : 

Obviously I love the movies. I own the box set and watch them over and over. And we (Mr. J and I) loved William Powell and Myrna Loy so much that last year for our Halloween soirée we dressed up as them.( But now I'm going to have to get the book in order to come to my own conclusions...
but really their chemistry was legendary.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (12:15 AM) : 

I had the same experience. the book was not meant to be comical. its not just william powell. myrna loy was a brilliant commedienne. What makes the movie great is the two of them playing off each other.


Blogger Unknown said ... (12:35 PM) : 

You're wrong wrong wrong! But you are allowed your own tastes. I think we must all agree to differ and be thankful we have the same taste in movies.


Blogger Eric Schaefer said ... (1:22 PM) : 

The book is definitely different. There Nick's character is an embittered Hammet's self-portrait.

The movies are definitely more fun, especially playing catchup with Martinis...


Blogger said ... (3:06 PM) : 

Unfortunately, I do think you're wrong. The movies are wonderful, but Dashiell Hammett's books are even better. However, because The Thin Man is such an iconic movie, I can see that it might be hard for a newcomer to the book to judge fairly. Maybe you should give The Maltese Falcon a try.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (6:16 PM) : 

I agree--I've seen several of the old Powell and Loy Thin Man movies on TV and loved them, but was not as impressed by the book. I don't think those movies would have been as good had other actors been chosen to star in them.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (9:13 PM) : 

You are definitely wrong. There's a lot of reading between the lines that goes on in Dashiell Hammett's (and Raymond Chandler's but that's one of the things that makes classic crime noir so fun and funny. Both Hammett and Chandler are clearly influenced by understated contemporaries like Hemingway, so the prose isn't going to be flashy or floridly descriptive.

But you strike me as much more visual than verbal, so I'm not sure you're going to appreciate the prose the way I do.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (11:24 PM) : 

Right you are. I studied scriptwriting for film in graduate school and the Thin Man series is THE classic example of how a movie can actually be better than a book. It's not only William Powell, but the noir elements and other aspects of the art form that are particular to film -- which create an experience not available in the reading of a book. I usually don't comment, but want you to know. You are RIGHT about this one ; )


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (7:35 AM) : 

William Powell and Myrna Loy--both! She is bloody fantastic, and yes, I also love the clothes and the dog and the cocktail glasses.

Great series that carries on even after the baby and the house in the 'burbs. Great style bible.



Blogger Jaci S said ... (9:32 AM) : 

Oh yes! I love William and Myrna- these movies have been my favorites as long as I can remember. the smarts, the fashion, the fun!


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (10:57 AM) : 

the sartorialist so right on clothes and photography oh so so wrong on this.
one of the masters of american popular fiction.


Blogger Ardsgaine said ... (5:48 PM) : 

I didn't notice a huge difference, but I was reading the lines as they were read in the movie.

To get an idea of how much difference in tone a different reading can make, check out the earlier Maltese Falcon movies: Maltese Falcon ('31) and Satan Met a Lady ('36). The same lines, but very, very different from the Bogart version.


Blogger el guapachoso said ... (7:33 PM) : 

you're not wrong, sart.

everyone on this thread is praising dashiell hammett, who was certainly a master of his art, but The Thin Man was far from his best work, in my humble. I


Blogger el guapachoso said ... (7:34 PM) : 

you're not wrong, sart.
everyone on this thread is praising hammett, who is most certainly a master of his art, but "the Thin Man" is far from his best work, in my humble. the movies are much more memorable.


Blogger said ... (10:23 PM) : 

Just today I went to the Flamingo Library here in Las Vegas to see Libeled Lady starring William Powell ,Myrna Loy and a very young and hot Spencer Tracy.

The clothes and sets were great and the dialog was crackling.

Just so your readers know, every Tues afternoon the Flamingo Library in Las Vegas (just off the strip) plays rarely seen classics for free.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (12:13 AM) : 

....what would Myrna Loy do/ say?

such elegant chic


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (7:53 AM) : 

Both masterpieces, of course. The book is an icon of noir, along with The Maltese Falcon, but I think it's fair to say that the first-person narrative takes a little of the spotlight off Nora, who leaps into sparkling life in the movies. Maybe as a photographer, Mr S, you're more of a visual person, so those chiaroscuro images inspire you more than words on a page?
In any case, thanks for printing such a fabulous book cover.
Is it too early for a jug of martinis?


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (3:06 PM) : 

very right actually. the books are really unimpressive compared to the smart syncopation of the sets, the costumes, and the acting


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (3:55 PM) : 

Dashiell Hammett actually wrote the that witty dialogue that Powell (whom I also love) breathes life into is the author's own rendition of his novel.
Have another look at the book once the movie has faded from memory a bit. As someone else said, books & movies should not be compared.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (5:06 PM) : 

I whole heartedly agree!!! I am addicted to movies from that era and have seen all of the Thin Man movies multiple times. I decided to read the book and while very good, it didn't pack the same punch as the films.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (10:54 AM) : 

It's not just William Powell (although given, he's brilliant), the magic in the dialogue comes from the chemistry between Powell and Myrna Loy.
I love all the Thin Man movies!


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (3:13 PM) : 

yes you are wrong, Dashiell Hammett is a world of his own


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (7:28 PM) : 

I completely agree. I found the movie much more entertaining than the books. I was surprised by this, because as a book-lover, I often dislike film-adaptations.


Blogger Meredith Wallace said ... (9:44 PM) : 

I LOOOOVE The Thin Man. My boyfriend and I are thinking of dressing up as Nick and Nora for Halloween. All I need is a 30's gown and a haircut and we are set!


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (1:11 PM) : 

Yes, you are wrong. Those movies strip away the depth and grime of true Hammett. Your sartorial taste seems questionable from what I have seen on this site as well. About sixty percent of the time you eschew good taste for shock value and trends.


Blogger Kevin Zamira said ... (1:03 AM) : 

The book is fantastic in its own right. I thought the two were different, but equally great.


Blogger la femme said ... (5:26 PM) : 

I was addicted to the Thin Man movies as a kid, but never got into the books. William Powell was great, but Myrna Loy was the clincher for me.


Blogger Unknown said ... (11:58 PM) : 

Powell is impeccable. Love the book! Hammett is alpha and omega of the genre. AND the movie is something else entirely. Powell's Nick is that delicious combo of a grit and grace. Style - not as something precious and apart but style that gives authority to his presence and actions.


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