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.