Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on December 31, 2015
If you are planning to spend New Year’s Eve at home this year you will find some great company on TCM where Nick and Nora Charles, as played by the dapper William Powell and charming Myrna Loy, will hold court while sipping cocktails, trading quips and solving crimes along with their lovable dog Asta. The party kicks off at 8PM EST/ 5PM PST beginning with the original The Thin Man (1934) followed by all five of the Thin Man sequels airing in chronological order; After the Thin Man (1936), Another Thin Man (1939), Shadow of the Thin Man (1941) and Song of the Thin Man (1947). Tune in and you’ll encounter some holiday cheer as well as lots of laughs and mysterious goings-on set amid the urbane elegance of nineteen thirties New York and San Francisco.
There are many reasons to love the Thin Man films. They’re smart, funny, sophisticated and flat out entertaining mysteries but I’m particularly fond of the way they make marriage look so damn fun. Nick and Nora are best pals as well as romantic mates and their breezy back-and-forth banter suggests an intimacy that is sadly missing from many depictions of marriage on screen. Best of all, they share a similar sense of humor and as the old maxim goes, “a couple that laughs together, stays together.”
I hesitate to be so simplistic in my generalization but from my own experience (I’ll be celebrating my 20th anniversary next year) I’ve found that humor is often the best medicine for what ails you. A couple might enjoy different movies, different food, different books and have different friends but if they don’t share a similar funny bone life together can get a bit miserable and downright dreary, particularly when things take a turn for the worse.
Of course, it is worth remembering that in Nick and Nora’s comfortable and carefree world they rarely have to break a sweat unless they’re chasing down a murderer and even then, it is merely a diversion. Nick is a retired gumshoe who prefers being at the racetrack and Nora is a contented heiress. Neither of them needs to work due to an abundance of family funds at their disposal so they don’t suffer the typical plights that plague most marriages such as job insecurity or worrying about whose turn it is to clean the bathroom. Money flows freely in the Charles’s home as does the liquor. The love drunk duo seems to remain perpetually high on life and luxury while their only serious health concerns are an occasional hangover.
Despite the fanciful nature of their relationship, we love them all the same because they represent a romantic ideal based on trust and understanding. Their respect and admiration of one another is undeniable and I like to think that their marriage would continue to thrive, as would their shared sense of humor, if their fortunes faded. Nick and Nora are wonderful reminders to keep smiling even in the face of danger and to laugh whenever the opportunity presents itself.
My favorite of The Thin Man movies are the first two where the childless couple is at their most footloose and fancy-free. There are no babies to consider, unless you count their pet dog Asta, and they share a genuine bond without the need for “family glue” that children typically epitomize. That’s not to say that the later Thin Man films with Nicky Jr. in tow don’t hold their own appeal. They absolutely do! However, the Charles’s cocktail infused late night adventures seem somewhat hampered by the knowledge that they have more responsibilities to consider. That said, having a baby on board does not change the delightful dynamic of the couple’s unconventional relationship one bit. They still share plenty of witty barbs and their affection for one another seems palpable thanks to the extraordinary screen chemistry shared between William Powell and Myrna Loy.
Modern audiences might take The Thin Man’s sophisticated and sexy view of marriage for granted but back in 1934 it was a genuine revelation. Before The Thin Man (conceived and directed by W. S. Van Dyke) became a major hit that spawned five sequels, Hollywood commonly believed that sex and marriage rarely mixed despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. Screen couples would typically have to overcome a complicated love triangle or fight their way towards reconciliation before they were allowed to be together. And once they were married, the romance was often stripped from their relationship and sex was no longer part of the equation. In a 1937 issue of LIFE magazine, Photoplay writer Gilbert Seldes opines that while watching The Thin Man for the first time:
The Thin Man proved once and for all that there is sex, love and laughs after marriage. Especially if you’re a fun-loving couple like dapper Nick and charming Nora. And despite the film being more than 80-years-old, the Charles’s relationship remains one of the most progressive and enchanting on screen marriages to date. The modern movers and shakers in Hollywood, which often portray marriage as a joyless and resentful affair, would benefit from watching tonight’s Thin Man marathon and I hope you will tune in as well. Whether you’re happily married or serenely single, we could all use a little more of Nick and Nora in our lives. And in a year that finally saw the Supreme Court legalize same-sex marriage in America, I can’t think of a better way to ring in 2016. Happy New Year!
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