Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett


When Clyde Wynant goes missing, his daughter Dorothy, tries to get Nick Charles to find out where he is.  When Wynant's secretary/lover, Julia Wolfe, is gunned down, Nick is slowly dragged into the investigation.  With the helpful prodding of his wife, Nora, Nick quickly finds himself at the center of an ever growing mystery.

This is going to be a case where the movies comes close to ruining the book for me.  "The Thin Man" starring William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick & Nora Charles is one of my favorite movies of all time, and one I never get tired of watching.  The witty banter that flies back and forth between the two is a lot of fun to watch.  They are my all time favorite screen couple.

That wit is still in the book, some of the one liners come straight out of it, but the movies takes it to a whole new level.  It's too the point that I felt the book version of Nick & Nora were almost shadows of the movie version.  The basic characters were there, they just weren't as solid.  They still slam the drinks back like alcohol is about to go out of business, they still have a rapport between them that is amazing to behold, and they still do it with a style all their own; they just aren't Powell and Loy.

The basic story is the same, of which I'm very grateful.  I guess I've gotten used to the idea that when a book is made into a movie, they change it, sometimes to the point it's unrecognizable.  That's not the case here.  The characters are the same, the deaths happen in the exact same way, and killer and his motive are unchanged. 

With that being said, not every detail matches up perfectly.  Claude Wynant and Julia Wolfe who are only names in the book are fleshed out into actual characters in the movie.  They don't have big roles other than those already given to them, but in the movie we are given a chance to know them and form opinions about them.  Asta, Nick & Nora's dog, is changed from a female into a male for the movie.  I'm not sure I get the reasoning behind it unless they already had his cuckolded scene in the second movie mapped out. 

The biggest change, the one I sort of had a problem with, was how Dorothy is depicted.  In the movie she is a slightly neurotic daughter who is worried about her father.  He had promised to be back before her wedding and when he doesn't show, she starts to fall apart.  When Julia is killed and the investigation gets underway, her fear of being as crazy as the rest of her family comes through.  By the end of the movie though she is well under way to marital bliss.  The book has her as crazy, manipulative, and scheming as the rest of her family.  She uses the image of herself being innocent and naive to her advantage and tries to manipulate both Nick and Nora with it.  They see through it and know her for what she is, but they still feel a little sorry for her and agree to help her out on more than one occasion.  While I think I know the reason behind the switch, to give the movie audience a sympathetic character to relate too, I'm not sure I really have a preference between them.  If anything, I may actually lean towards the book version of the character.

I really didn't mean for this to be a contrast between the book and the movie, but since I have the movie so ingrained into my head, I'm not sure it could have been done any other way.  What I don't want to do is leave you with the impression that I didn't enjoy the book, because I did.  If I had never seen the movie, I would have loved it.  It has everything in it that I enjoy; great characters, a complicated murder plot, and fantastic dialogue.  It's just I love the movie even more.

Challenges: A-Z, M&S, VM


bermudaonion said...

As much as I've heard about The Thin Man, the movie, through the years, I've never seen it and I didn't realize it was made from a book. Your review has made me want to see the movie!

Bev Hankins said...

My reaction to the book mirrored yours. I saw the movie long before I ever read it. I like the book, but I like the movie WAY more--which is unusual.

Staci said...

I never watched the movie nor read the book..looks like I got some homework to do!!

Yvette said...

I felt the same way, Ryan. You almost have to shut down the part of you that saw the film and proceed from there. Hard to do. But it's still terrific reading.

I wonder if you'll have the same reaction when you read THE MALTESE FALCON. Or have you read it already?

Yvette said...

Meant to add: LOVE the covers of these new reprints. The top half of this one is obviously the work of J.C. Leyendecker one of my all time favorite illustrators. The bottom half, I don't know.

Heidenkind said...

I agree completely. The movie is so good and the book was really kind of boring!

Julie said...

I have this as an eBook, but haven't read it yet. Don't hate me, but I'm not a big moviegoer or watcher, and I've never seen the movie either. Reading your review still makes me want to move it nearer the top of the TBR list!

Michelle (Red Headed Book Child) said...

Thanks for linking your reviews, Ryan!

Anonymous said...

Ryan, have your read Devil’s Garden by Ace Atkins (

The main protagonist of this historical fiction books is Hammett while he was still working for Pinkerton.

Bev Hankins said...

Got you updated at the Progress site!