Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

Steven Marcus, editor of Hammett for The Library of America, said "In a few years of extraordinary creative energy Dashiell Hammett invented the modern crime novel." In referring to The Thin Man "His last novel, The Thin Man, a ruefully comic tip of the hat to the traditional mystery form, introduces Nick and Nora Charles, the sophisticated inebriates who would enjoy a long afterlife in the movies." So, call me a heretic. I didn't find anything particularly appealing about Nick and Nora. I am going to watch the movie since I'm leading a book discussion for "Adapted For the Silver Screen". With the book, I found Nick to be a bored man who married a younger wife. He quit his profession, drinks too much (constantly), and flirts too much. Nora just seems bored with her life, looks for excitement wherever she can find it, and, again, drinks, flirts, and pushes Nick into trouble.

And, trouble, naturally in the crime novels set in the '30s, comes in the form of a dame. In this case, it's a young, totally messed up dame, Dorothy Wynant, who is looking for her father, and wants Nick to help her. Nick once knew her father, but insists he gave up his private investigator status when Nora inherited a fortune. But Dorothy seems infatuated with Nick, and Nora takes the younger woman under her wing. As much as Nick opposes involvement with Dorothy and all of her crazy family, the murder of a secretary drags him into an investigation. Everyone but Nick seems to think Dorothy's father is the culprit. Nick suspects otherwise.

The Thin Man is the story of a world-weary Nick Charles who takes on a case to please his wife, a woman always looking for the next exciting moment. While they're visiting New York, they spend their days and nights drinking, attending shows, going to speakeasies, and to Nora's enchantment, mixing with criminals, cops, and suspects. I found it a sad story of unhappy people. No matter how much money they had, or the state of their marriages, no one in the book seems happy. And, honestly? By the end of the book, I didn't care who killed the secretary or where Dorothy Wynant's father was. I just wanted Nick to solve the case so he could dump those awful Wynants.

After reading the book, I watched the movie. It was much more enjoyable than the book. The relationship between Nick and Nora was better. And, Asta had a much larger role in the movie. The movie was better. As it is, I only found the book to be sad and depressing.

(I read The Thin Man in The Library of America's collection Hammett: Complete Novels.)


Reine said...

Lesa, I had the same reaction… not fond of the books at all but enjoyed the movies. I was surprised to learn that I feel much the same about most classic noir. There is the "woman's role" aspect, but I could look at that differently in the sense of historic setting if they weren't quite so relentlessly dark.

Lesa said...

I'm glad to know I wasn't alone, Reine. Thank you for your comment. I guess, even considering the time period, I noticed how much drinking went on, and, in the book, Nick and Nora didn't seem happy with each other. They did in the movie.

Reine said...

Looking back at those childhood saturdays watching movies on our old black and white TV… I think it was their happiness as a couple, and of course Asta, that got my attention.

Lesa, your reviews wouldn't be nearly as interesting if you didn't have an occasional misgiving.

Lesa said...

Oh, Reine! Thank you for that comment. I just watched a documentary about Myrna Loy and William Powell. I think I'm going to have to watch more Thin Man movies. And, I've never seen Mr. Roberts, so I think I'll have to watch that as well.