The Perfect Gift

Classic movies count among my favorites. -
Classic movies count among my favorites. –

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Prior to Christmas vacation, I endeavored to find a unique family gift for us. A Eureka Moment manifested itself as I rifled through our collection of DVDs. In haste, I ordered the recently released The Complete Thin Man Collection. The collection consists of seven DVDs, six of which are titled “The Thin Man”; “After the Thin Man”; “Another Thin Man”; “Shadow of the Thin Man”; “The Thin Man Goes Home”; and “Song of the Thin Man”. The seventh is “Alias Nick and Nora”, a documentary of “Thin Man” stars William Powell and Myrna Loy. The Complete Thin Man Collection proved a Christmas hit with my daugher!

While we did not watch all of our favorite Holiday movies this year, we did view all “Thin Man” movies in order of their release. The movies were made over a period of years, beginning in 1934, with the last in 1947. Filmed during The Great Depression, and then World War II, the strength of these films endure today for, I believe, an overarching reason: They are incredibly good. The sexy, witty repartee between the characters of Nick and Nora Charles is irresistible. Based on Dashielll Hammett’s novel The Thin Man, Nick and Nora are supposedly modeled on Hammett and his long-time lover Lillian Hellman. One can only imagine the conversations between these two great writers, but we are able to savor a bit of the flavor of it through Nick and Nora Charles’ erudite exchanges. My daughter found it hilarious that the married couple slept in separate twin beds in each movie, yet alcohol flowed freely, as did hangovers, throughout the six films. My take on it is that with the Twenty-First Amendment heralded an end to Prohibition in December 1933, and “The Thin Man” movies reflected a cultural reaction of the legal flow of alcohol. Nick Charles, former private investigator, married into wealth with San Francisco socialite Nora. Like Dashiell Hammett’s novel, “The Thin Man” movie was wildly popular. Dapper, cool-headed Nick and intelligent, beautiful, sassy Nora portrayed a new kind of relationship: One in which there was a true partnership, based on mutual respect and love, all of which comes across magnificently on the silver screen. Even Asta the dog, is an integral member of the Charles’ family. Asta accompanies Nick on dangerous sleuthing that keeps drawing him in its snare.

Since Dashiell Hammett died on January 10, 1961, it seems fitting to watch his movies again this month. While he wrote the stories “After the Thin Man” and “Shadow of the Thin Man”, he did not write their screenplays, but the films bear Hammett’s signature detective writing mark. Maybe Hammett’s own work experience with the Pinkerton National Detective Agency echoed in “The Thin Man” films since his fictional protagonist Nick Charles had worked for Pinkerton’s. Nora’s fashions, and elegant and breathtaking they are, seem au currant today, as does Nick’s classy suits and tuxedos. I love these black and white cinematic wonders that exude sophistication and charm. Compared to much of what is churned out in today’s underwhelming movies, it is small wonder that I turn to Nick and Nora Charles to see how movies could be sophisticated, articulate, coherent, and simply entertaining, thanks to the superb pairing of William Powell and Myrna Loy in fourteen films, including the six “Thin Man” films. On this cold winter night, I think I’ll pour myself a glass of wine and watch the first “Thin Man” movie.

Ciao for now.

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