Wednesday, December 30, 2020

The Thin Man by Daschiell Hammett

 The Thin Man has long been a favorite movie. A delightful screwball comedy masquerading as a crime picture. Powell and Loy are seemingly effortless as Nick and Nora Charles. The dialog is sharp and they deliver it so well. I think I’ve seen at least one of the sequels, but I can’t say for sure. But if I say I’ve watched the first one a dozen times, I’m probably not exaggerating. A few years ago I was lucky enough to see it on the big screen as part of a double feature with Sorry Wrong Number at the Carolina Theater in Durham a few years ago and won a copy of the book as a giveaway. I finally got to it last week, and while it has the bones of the same story and much of the wit, it is something else entirely.

Having read The Maltese Falcon years ago(though I should reread it as I don’t remember it well) and Red Harvest (among the best things I read this past year), I thought that the Thin Man movie was significantly different tonally from his work. And that is very true. The film version of The Thin Man is a masterful comedy that happens to have a mystery plot. The book is far darker than the film, or at the very least the darkness pushed far deeper into the subtext of the film. That’s not to say that the book isn’t funny; it is. It’s just that the book is a sleazy noir that happens to be very funny. All the caricature and innuendo that made it to the film is spelled out a little more here. 

All in all I loved this. Between it and Red Harvest (a flat out masterpiece), Hammett has risen in my estimation, and I’m regretting not having read more after The Maltese Falcon. I’m also thinking that I probably underestimated that novel. Hammett’s prose is masterful, and his dialog is up there with the Coens (who clearly have read him) and Elmore Leonard. A couple more this good and he’s up there just behind Leonard at the top of my crime writers list. Next up is The Glass Key and a probable reread of The Maltese Falcon, but I plan to read them all eventually.

Highly Recommended/Canon Worthy

Owned But Previously Unread 2020 83/75

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