"The Thin Man" Classic Movie List

Cocktails and Crime Solving with Nick and Nora

Few Hollywood franchises were as successful as The Thin Man series, featuring William Powell and Myrna Loy as sophisticated, witty detectives Nick and Nora Charles, solving crimes with a martini in one hand and their little wire-haired fox terrier Asta’s leash in the other. Nora is a classy society dame, while Nick's work puts him in touch with the world of cops and crooks, touts, safecrackers, and ex-cons, and they're never far from a shaker of dry martinis. The pair made 14 movies together, but are best known for these six "The Thin Man" movies.

The Thin Man Series Plots

The plots all follow the same basic formula as the first movie, "The Thin Man," based on a clever Dashiell Hammett story. Nick and Nora are in some glamorous spot, having lots of cocktails when they somehow find themselves in the middle of a murder or two, mixed up with Nick’s earthy pals. There’s usually a femme fatale, a pretty ingenue in a fix, a perplexed policeman, and a cast of Damon Runyonesque characters from the criminal demimonde. They’re all wrapped up in a mystery only Nick can solve, while Nora cooks up her own theories.

After a few bits of gunplay and detective work (often with Asta uncovering a key clue), it all unwinds when Nick gathers all the suspects in the same room and eliminates them one by one until he unmasks the killer. And wouldn’t you know, it’s always the person you least suspect. The plots are so predictable that the characters even start making fun of the whole shtick in the fourth movie.

The Popularity of the Thin Man Movies

The joy of the "Thin Man" movies comes from the easy relationship between the two stars, the light comic banter, the silly physical comedy, the dog, and of course, the drinking. Nora is fascinated by Nick’s rough-and-tumble life and especially his more unsavory friends. And while he constantly claims to have married her for her money, Nick is a rakish but devoted husband.

It doesn’t hurt that Powell is suavely charming as Nick, or that Loy parades around each movie in a series of slinky, gorgeous gowns and sharply tailored suits that show off her slim figure. She’s forever sporting a collection of ridiculous, adorable hats that showcase her perky little nose. They are witty, sophisticated and usually a bit tipsy, and Asta can do backflips. What more could you want in a famous detective?

The series is also fun for the peek at what fashionable rich people did in the 30s and 40s—or at least what the movie-going public expected of them: nightclubs and dancing, fashionable restaurants, the racetrack, pro wrestling, swanky dinner parties. The sets are actually fairly simple, shot mostly on soundstages and very inexpensively, but with fancy cars and clothes, and set design that was meant to look spare, elegant and modern.

Fun Facts

The film’s producers originally thought Loy was wrong for the part of the carefree socialite, claiming she was better cast as an exotic temptress. But after the first film was made, the public clamored for more Powell-Loy chemistry, and five sequels were produced after the original 1934 film. 

The “thin man” of the title in the original Hammett story actually referred to the murder victim, not to Nick Charles. But audiences assumed the reference was to the slender star, and the studio kept the franchise going by using the "thin man" mistake in the title of each subsequent film.

Check out this list of "The Thin Man" movies in order of production for more details on this engaging series.

The first and the best in the classic movie series, The Thin Man introduces the perpetually tipsy Charleses and the antics of Asta, a wire-haired fox terrier, and inveterate scene stealer. Tightly plotted and true to Hammett’s crime novel, it still feels fresh and funny. Don’t miss Nicky’s target practice with the Christmas tree in their posh New York apartment.

Almost as good as the first movie, After the Thin Man starts where the original left off, with Nick and Nora arriving back on the West Coast by train from their exhausting holiday vacation in New York. It features a juicy murder among Nora’s high-society relatives, Asta running off a competitor for Mrs. Asta’s ​attention, and a very young Jimmy Stewart in a key role.

The third film picks up after the birth of Nick, Jr. and takes the Charleses back to New York. Another Thin Man is not nearly as good as the first two films, but still engaging and entertaining. The murder mystery is pretty predictable, but it’s just too bad Nick and Nora, good parents that they are, can’t spend quite as much time drinking as they’d like.

The fourth entry in the series is so-so but still serviceable. In Shadow of the Thin Man, little Nicky is old enough to talk, but he’s still inhibiting his parent’s domestic drinking. (I do not watch these movies to see Nick Charles drink milk.) Thank heaven Nick and Nora leaves the boy at home when they head for the pro wrestling bouts and the horse races. The murder takes place at the racetrack this time, but the plot is pretty forgettable.

This may be the bottom of the Thin Man barrel. Nick’s got his flask all right, but it’s filled with cider, and he’s going home to Sycamore Springs to see disapproving, dear old dad. It’s all much too wholesome, and the murder at the ancestral door is kind of lame. The wartime release probably prompted the silly spy plot, and the wretched Hayes Production Code ensured that Nora’s once slinky gowns would be more prissy than revealing. Not my favorite, but it’s still Nick and Nora, cracking wise.

The last movie in the series is more like it - smoky clubs, hot jazz, and a floating gambling casino. Hot-cha! A bandleader gets whacked, and Nick, Nora, and Asta better gather the usual suspects and solve the caper. They’re joined by a fantastic cast - Gloria Grahame as the sultry singer, Jayne Meadows as a society dame, and Keenan Wynn as a juke-joint johnny who helps the sleuths get their man. Not quite as good as the first two, but not bad.

The Bottom Line

"The Thin Man" series is the cinematic equivalent of those detective novels that always have the same basic plot, but keep their audiences coming back because the characters are so irresistible. They feel like old friends—or at least, the kind of rich, amusing, good-looking and well-dressed friends we wish we had. Nicky, darling. Fix me another dry martini.