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?


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  1. dreworama

    August 29, 2008 at 9:28 am

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

  2. milda

    August 29, 2008 at 9:31 am

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

  3. Hissy Stitch

    August 29, 2008 at 9:38 am

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

  4. meva

    August 29, 2008 at 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.

  5. Pandora

    August 29, 2008 at 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

  6. SaLu

    August 29, 2008 at 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.

  7. jamie.

    August 29, 2008 at 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.

  8. michael nagin

    August 29, 2008 at 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.

  9. Anonymous

    August 29, 2008 at 10:23 am

    I had the exact same experience!

  10. amy

    August 29, 2008 at 10:35 am

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

  11. the gsg

    August 29, 2008 at 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.

  12. Chad

    August 29, 2008 at 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.

  13. Anonymous

    August 29, 2008 at 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.

  14. Anonymous

    August 29, 2008 at 11:12 am

    yes. you are wrong.

  15. Catherine

    August 29, 2008 at 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).

  16. Gabriela

    August 29, 2008 at 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!

  17. Rob

    August 29, 2008 at 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!

  18. Anonymous

    August 29, 2008 at 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.

  19. The Domina

    August 29, 2008 at 12:00 pm

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

  20. bs

    August 29, 2008 at 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.

  21. Kate G.

    August 29, 2008 at 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.

  22. Gwen

    August 29, 2008 at 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.

  23. Adam

    August 29, 2008 at 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).

  24. FDr

    August 29, 2008 at 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.

  25. vjperera

    August 29, 2008 at 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.

  26. static city

    August 29, 2008 at 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!)

  27. Mrs. Blandings

    August 29, 2008 at 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.

  28. kpf

    August 29, 2008 at 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!

  29. ryder

    August 29, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    this is such an amazing film!

  30. Eschate

    August 29, 2008 at 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.

  31. Ele

    August 29, 2008 at 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.

  32. Maggie May

    August 29, 2008 at 1:24 pm

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

  33. Felix

    August 29, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    Don’t forget The Talented Mr. Ripley…

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

  34. Anonymous

    August 29, 2008 at 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.

  35. Jack Daniel

    August 29, 2008 at 1:48 pm

    wow, the poster is fantastic!!

  36. Devon

    August 29, 2008 at 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.

  37. Anonymous

    August 29, 2008 at 2:08 pm

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

  38. Anonymous

    August 29, 2008 at 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.

  39. Trevira

    August 29, 2008 at 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.

  40. desertwind

    August 29, 2008 at 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.

  41. the Curateur

    August 29, 2008 at 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!

  42. Anonymous

    August 29, 2008 at 2:57 pm

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

  43. o.p.

    August 29, 2008 at 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

  44. Anonymous

    August 29, 2008 at 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…

  45. hebden

    August 29, 2008 at 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.

  46. indigo warrior

    August 29, 2008 at 3:53 pm

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

  47. Princess Poochie

    August 29, 2008 at 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

  48. Leslie in Adams Morgan

    August 29, 2008 at 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?

  49. Brian

    August 29, 2008 at 7:31 pm

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

  50. Anonymous

    August 29, 2008 at 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.

  51. camdiggidy

    August 29, 2008 at 9:38 pm

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

  52. Deja Pseu

    August 29, 2008 at 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.)

  53. 99

    August 29, 2008 at 10:32 pm

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

  54. Anonymous

    August 30, 2008 at 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.

  55. Anonymous

    August 30, 2008 at 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.

  56. Anonymous

    August 30, 2008 at 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.

  57. Anonymous

    August 30, 2008 at 7:22 am

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

  58. Anonymous

    August 30, 2008 at 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.

  59. Anonymous

    August 30, 2008 at 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.

  60. K

    August 31, 2008 at 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 soirĂ©e 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.

  61. Anonymous

    September 1, 2008 at 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.

  62. Amy

    September 1, 2008 at 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.

  63. Schaefer

    September 1, 2008 at 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…

  64. katie

    September 1, 2008 at 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.

  65. Anonymous

    September 1, 2008 at 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.

  66. Anonymous

    September 1, 2008 at 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.

  67. Anonymous

    September 1, 2008 at 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 ; )

  68. Pearl

    September 2, 2008 at 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.


  69. jaci

    September 2, 2008 at 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!

  70. Anonymous

    September 2, 2008 at 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.

  71. Ardsgaine

    September 2, 2008 at 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.

  72. el guapachoso

    September 2, 2008 at 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

  73. el guapachoso

    September 2, 2008 at 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.

  74. [email protected]

    September 2, 2008 at 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.

  75. Anonymous

    September 4, 2008 at 12:13 am

    ….what would Myrna Loy do/ say?

    such elegant chic

  76. Mark T

    September 5, 2008 at 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?

  77. MrRonfeld

    September 6, 2008 at 3:06 pm

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

  78. Anonymous

    September 6, 2008 at 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.

  79. Anonymous

    September 8, 2008 at 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.

  80. Anonymous

    September 11, 2008 at 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!

  81. Anonymous

    September 14, 2008 at 3:13 pm

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

  82. Anonymous

    September 15, 2008 at 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.

  83. Meredith

    September 16, 2008 at 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!

  84. Feargus "City" McCaughey

    September 18, 2008 at 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.

  85. Kevin

    September 20, 2008 at 1:03 am

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

  86. la femme

    October 18, 2008 at 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.

  87. Clara

    February 26, 2010 at 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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