Posted By admin on December 21, 2010
The Thin Man is on TCM right now. I was watching Elf with my daughter, but she fell asleep, and I slipped out to watch this–another movie that buffs off the rougher edges of the book. I wonder why. I see reasons for changes to movies made from current books, but I find those choices harder to understand in movies adapted 76 years ago.
I think it must be just post-code. There are still code-questionable relationships and scenes (frank innuendo–if there’s such a thing, a magazine in which a woman’s clothing dissolves to reveal lingerie, a mistress being mistress to more than one man, a wife who’s clearly paying a man to stay with her–and she brutally slaps her daughter.) And yet the movie isn’t as violent as the book. The relationship between “the thin man” and his daughter is definitely backed off in the movie. And frankly, the plot is simpler than in the book.
I’m always surprised when people talk about the drink being taken in this movie. I’m not suggesting everyone in America was so happy to greet the end of prohibition that they met it with martinis raised, but there’s no more liquor in TTM than there is in The Sun Also Rises or The Great Gatsby.
I’m more curious about the woman married to a gigolo, raising a son who’s dying to view dead bodies, smacking her daughter who’s almost literally dying for a “normal” life. Around the same time, actresses like Norma Shearer, Bette Davis, and Barbara Stanwyck appeared in a series of melodramas about women who’d fallen on bad times–or embraced them–as revenge on a cheating husband or a desire to live outside the double standards of the time.
But The Thin Man is different. Nick and Nora, loving each other, choosing to be together in a world where there were other choices available for both of them, give this story humor and a steel, but soft center. In the book and the movie, they see the world as clearly as the villains and the wasters do, but they bring heart. A brittle society whirls around them, but they are at the center, choosing to be fine.