Murder, She Blogged: The Thin Man

Nick and Nora, with Asta their dog

The Thin Man gave us one of the wittiest crime-solving wife-husband duos of all time, retired detective Nick Charles and his wife Nora (Myrna Loy*), who spit one-liners, soak up a tremendous amount of alcohol and stumble around solving crime.

It’s one of the classics of the detective genre, and now is as good a time to talk about it as ever because a remake is in the works, starring Johnny Depp as Nick Charles (no one seems to have been cast yet to play Nora).

Based on a Dashiell Hammett story, the first film version came out in 1934, and sees Nick and Nora investigate the disappearance of an old friend. By general consensus, the sequels got progressively worse, but the first film is brilliant. 

From a feminist point of view, you might think at first there’s not much to love. For a start, one of the tropes of the series is Nick bundling off Nora in cabs and locking her in rooms so she can’t join him in the investigation; played for laughs, of course. The original story scores even worse—as this review sets out pretty clearly:

“Feminine brain-storms” cause hysteria in women. Italians and other foreigners are also prone to hysterics.

But it’s hard not to love the whip-smart, hilarious Nora; frankly, she’s a more three-dimensional character than most female detectives on screens now. There’s also Nick and Nora’s onscreen chemistry as an investigative couple. Yes, they are another straight white rich couple, hardly underrepresented. But their comfortable relationship with each other is nonetheless a joy to watch.

Actually, even though the married detective couple is now a bit of an archetype, I am struggling to think of any examples that aren’t straight white couples (no surprise there, unfortunately). There’s Hart to Hart:

And then there was McMillan and Wife.

Is that really it? When it comes to the written word, as you might expect, there’s a bit less erasure—for example, Sandra Scoppettone’s Lauren Laurano series. But when it comes to film and TV, can that be it?!

*A bit of background on Myrna Loy is worth adding here: the actress was initially hired by the studio to play “exotic” characters, mostly Asian women, at a time when they refused to give the roles to actual Asian actresses— as this essay about it at Persephone Magazine explains.

Because the politics of the studios didn’t stop at who got cast in what roles, it’s also worth noting that the second Thin Man movie takes place largely in a Chinese restaurant in San Francisco which seems oddly lacking in Chinese actors, except the co-owner who barely says anything. 

Previously: Why Detectives?, The First Female Detectives?  

by Jess Mccabe
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4 Comments Have Been Posted

Long Live Nick & Nora

<p>They are a fabulous couple and I think you'll find one couldn't do without the other. She keeps him in line and his quips about women are clearly made in jest since they so obviously do not apply to Nora. As for other female detectives, check out the great anthology called <a href=",,9780143106210,00.html?... target="_blank">THE PENGUIN BOOK OF VICTORIAN WOMEN IN CRIME</a>.</p>

The Undercovers

There's notably The Undercovers, from last year. The wife's role degrades from a strong, equal partner, into a person ruled mostly by emotions. It's been pulled from Hulu, so I can't check my impressions against reality. The couple, the Blooms, started a business based on the wife's cooking and hosting skills, and then are recalled by their former security agency. Also, strangely, the woman is fading into white. Check out the image on the left side of the series' homepage.
She is white by the bottom of the pic.

@thirdfloorisabel Yeah I did

@thirdfloorisabel Yeah I did wonder about including the Undercovers. It's not shown in the UK yet, I don't think, so I've not seen it, but my impression was it's more a spy show than a detective series?

It's really creepy what they did to the main female character in the picture on that website - ugh!

A few more..

All straight white couples since I'm not coming up with any others:
Mr and Mrs North--there were 26 novels, and it was made into a movie (with Gracie Allen) in the 40s, and also a TV series in the early 50s. Hart to Hart is actually loosely based on/inspired by these books. Here's a link to one of the TV episodes
Tuppence and Tommy Beresford--based on stories by Agatha Christie, there were a few silent movies made from them.
Harriet Vane and Peter Wimsey--Dorothy Sayers books made into a few movies by BBC (married in the one of the last books)

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