Movie Night

Posted By 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.

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4 Responses to “Movie Night”

  1. Debbie White says:

    Would you explain to your dumb cuz what “post-code” means??

  2. admin says:

    You apparently spend your time on something other than movies! In 1930, the Motion Picture Code was enacted, essentially to regulate what might be “decently” shown to the American public. It wasn’t really enforced until 1934 (when The Thin Man was produced), but then Will Hays took over and managed to crack down on what was shown: less explicit innuendo (though it’s definitely still there), no nudity, no success if one has acted in an illegal manner, no legitimizing adulterous relationships–at least not without great suffering. (I’m thinking of a movie called In Name Only, where Clark Gable, saddled with a truly heinous wife–almost dies before the wife agrees to the divorce she’s refused him, and then only because she’s faced with public humiliation. So, not a matter of hanging on in the hope that love solves all.)

    The Thin Man feels to me as if it’s on the cusp. They haven’t quite decided how far they can go in cutting what would later have been snipped for sure. Unless maybe the rules were more lax for a melding of cosmopolitan/hard-boiled detective. Although the Saint and Falcon (kind of pre-cursors to James Bond) movies were tame, compared to any of the Thin Man movies. I really don’t get censorship as I feel capable of deciding for myself what I should and shouldn’t read or watch, but I’m curious about what was going on in the Hays office when they saw The Thin Man.

    One of the girl’s and my favorite lines ever comes from the second Thin Man movie. Nick Charles always had more friends from the convicts he’d “sent up” than the society Nora occupied before they married. Nick and Nora are celebrating New Year’s at a nightclub when some convict friends of Nick’s come in, and they ask him if they can hang out with him because a newly released convict is trying to prove to his parole officer he knows respectable people. They’re sampling hard liquor with a champagne chaser, during a loud song, when Nora’s trying to tell Nick she’s worried about her cousin whose husband is at the club with another woman. She’s still shouting her concern as the song ends, and the convict in question (clearly a believer in censoring), looks aghast and announces “I don’t like a dame who gets noisy after a few snifters!”

    Brace yourself for a Thin Man marathon when next I see you!

  3. Debbie White says:

    You’re right about the amount of time I spend on movies. I’d never heard the term post-code before. I’m looking forward to that Thin Man marathon!!!

  4. admin says:

    Excellent! This is a plan!

    Merry Christmas, you, to you and yours and all of ours! Love ya!!!

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