There are many different types of effective mysteries. From the straightforward detective mystery like “The Maltese Falcon” to the dark and disturbing thriller mysteries such as “Seven” and even film noirs like “Double Indemnity” that meet these two somewhere in the middle.
One of the more unappreciated and often overlooked types of mystery is the comedic mystery. Intriguing and thought-provoking films that will often make you laugh as much as they thrill you. Ones filled with characters that are often far different from the normal crowd of detectives and crooks. Mysteries that aren’t so much about solving the crime as much as they are about having a good and memorable time.
One of the crowning achievements of this genre is “The Thin Man.” While the setup of finding out the truth of a man being accused of a string of murders is compelling in its own right, the film truly shines when it follows its lead characters, the sleuth-hunter couple of Nick and Nora Charles (William Powell and Myrna Loy). Remove these two from the film and all the charm and grace of this film is gone.
The film follows Nick Charles (Powell), a retired detective who now spends his days being a socialite, spending his wife’s money and enjoying a good martini. But when an old friend is convicted of murder and everyone on the police force begs Nick to take the case, as he is the one best suited to crack the code, he contemplates aiding the issue but no further. It isn’t until Nora (Loy) steps in, excited at the prospect of something different in life, and persuades Nick to found out the truth about this thin man.
To be honest, the detective work and actual mystery is rather forgetful. Many clues and hints are lost due to all the comedic moments and character development. That is where the film also draws its strength. I can’t think of many mysteries where the characters feel like regular people instead of emotionless detectives or blabbering culprits.
The interplay between Nick and Nora, as well as the other characters, is what make drives the film. From the first moment they share together on screen, where Nick is drunk and badgers Nora to join him, you can tell they have a long history together. That they care for one another but still poke fun at each other, such as Nick’s need to continue his detective work and Nora’s want for more out of life.
This relationship grows even deeper when more characters are thrown into the mix and they are given a chance to shine. There’s a scene about halfway through the film, where the couple are throwing a party and the family of the suspected murderer come to visit them individually, unaware that the other family members are also at the party. Nick has to keep juggling back and forth between the grieving daughter, the greedy ex-wife and the murder-obsessed son, while also maintaining the party. It is handled just the right way, without being too over-the-top or silly yet still funny.
The crowning moment of “The Thin Man” comes at the end, where they throw the classic dinner party with all the suspects attending, in an attempt to find out who the murderer is. This scene may seem cliche nowadays, but it works for this film because of the friendly environment and Nicks’ social manner. Made even more enjoyable by the waiters of the party being cops in disguise. Watching these guys serve food as if they’re doing a good cop-bad cop routine is so amusing.
Overall, “The Thin Man” is a much different kind of mystery than you’d expect. If you want a thought-provoking and intriguing mystery with many clues and red herrings, then this isn’t it. If you want a good time with likable and interesting characters who aren’t afraid to make a joke occasionally and have a bit of mystery thrown in as well, then you’ll certainly enjoy “The Thin Man.”
Final Grade: B+