Time to revisit the gentleman detective genre with what is arguably the most iconic of them all: The Thin Man. The adventures of Nick and Nora Charles spanned six films between 1934 and 1947, and as you can imagine, the ones from the 1930s will be featured a bit more prominently in this update. The story is as old as time itself, one of a wealthy socialite marrying a retired private eye and ending up involved in most of high society’s murder cases over more than a decade.
The Thin Man – 1934
The original film is based on the book by Dashiell Hammett of the same name. There were no more books; all the subsequent film sequels were original stories. It introduces William Powell and Myrna Loy in what would become their most well-known of a great many film collaborations. Nick is pulled back into the detective game by an old friend becoming involved in a murder. Technically, the friend in this film is “the thin man,” but audiences assumed it was lanky William Powell, and thus it stuck.
Socialite Nora Charles appears first in this short hair collar and cuffs, which would have been amazing had the fur grown a couple of inches and turned into a fox.
Say, for instance, something dark, plush, and very full, attached to a cape, as we see here worn by Minna Gombell. It is pretty much the best fur in the film. Suffice to say, the series got off to a bit of a weak start, especially for 1934.
Nora appears again in a short-haired fur, about as brown paper bag as you can get; a mink that would be fashionable at any church service or funeral.
Finally, Minna returns in this wrap for what will become traditional-ish, having someone in fur during the big summation/name the perp scene.
Fur Runtime: approx 6 minutes
Film Runtime: 93 minutes
On-Screen Fur Ratio: 6%
After the Thin Man – 1936
Fortunately, a couple of years later, the MGM costume department is on its game. Set in San Francisco, Nick and Nora help out Nora’s family with a missing person case that ends up leading to… MURDER! Nora’s cousin Selma is the prime suspect, and Nick has to clear her name. Nora brings along much better furs when she travels, lucky for us, and she’s not the only one.
Leading up to murder is greed, as we see Polly (Penny Singleton) in a lovely fox collar and cuffs out for an evening’s blackmail.
The target of said blackmail is slain moments later, and Nora’s cousin Selma (Elissa Landi) suddenly appears over the body holding a gun and wearing a very nice lynx collared coat, in no way looking the least bit suspicious. If you hadn’t noticed, the film is set in San Francisco, so it’s foggy. It’s the kind of crack meteorological realism Hollywood is known for.
The lynx train rolls on to even better places as Nora arrives at the big summation in this lynx-trimmed coat. This is how to do a fur collar, from the top all the way down to the bottom.
If anything deserves a second look, it’s Myrna Loy’s face framed by an oversized lynx fur collar.
Penny attends in this rather distressing-looking fox stole, the kind with the extra bits still attached, and even worse for them being on display the entire time she’s on camera.
We get brief glimpses of both furs on screen at once. There is another fur in this sequence, but not only is it a church lady fur, but it also’s on a church lady, and we don’t talk about them.
Side note that the murderer in the film was Jimmy Stewart, whose appearance here as a homicidal manic ended up coloring his entire career and getting him typecast as a psycho killer all the time (or not).
Fur Runtime: approx 8 minutes
Film Runtime: 113 minutes
On-Screen Fur Ratio: 7%
Another Thin Man – 1939
Nick and Nora, and now Nicky Jr. (a hell of an accomplishment considering the sleeping arrangements documented in previous films: see I Love Lucy) return to New York and the estate of Colonel Burr MacFay. He is receiving threats from local low-life Phil Church. Burr ends up dead, and Phil’s the prime suspect, but Nick’s a little smarter than that and ends up figuring out who really done it. It’s 1939, so this better be good.
This is pretty good, Virginia Grey wearing a silver fox fur jacket as she plays (spoiler alert) murderess Lois MacKay / Linda Mills.
It’s a decent bad girl fur, but I would have gone straight black fox. Still, it works very nicely with those blindingly bleached blonde locks.
Nora’s fur closet is upgraded yet again as she and Nick investigate. This fully fringed blue fox cape would only be better if it forwent the formally of having parts that weren’t blue fox.
Now that’s a blue fox collar. This piece is quite similar to the white fox version worn by Jean Hagen in last week’s update, Singing in the Rain.
Virginia attends the big summation (she has to, she did it) in this comparatively pedestrian version of the “standard” 30’s silver fox stole, a bit of a letdown.
Fur Runtime: approx 6 minutes
Film Runtime: 103 minutes
On-Screen Fur Ratio: 6%
Shadow of the Thin Man – 1941
A day at the races ends up getting Nick and Nora involved in the murder of a potentially shady jockey. The police ask Nick for help since he was in the general vicinity when it happened. It’s now the 40’s, and things are starting to slow down, but this one still packs some good furs in, enough to earn it a tepid “costumed like it’s 1939” tag.
Stella Adler plays Clarie Poter, girlfriend, to suspected racketeer Link Stephens, and does a lot of the fur wearing in the film. She starts with the best thing the film has to offer, this rather full silver fox wrap.
Costumers do love those broaches on fur. Not only do I find it rather unfashionable, but it’s also generally not recommended you stick pins in fur as it damages the leather. Lord knows I’d never want anything bad to happen to a thick, soft fox fur like that.
Stella dials it back a bit with this silver fox muff. Certainly not the largest on record, but a nice one nonetheless.
I like this pose, that is all.
So we arrive, once again, at the big summation. Nora attends with another example of the standard 30’s silver fox, one I presume she borrowed from Lois MacKay in the previous film since Lois is now cooling her heels in the woman’s lockup.
Stella really dials it back for the big summation, attending in what may be the same church lady fur I didn’t burden you with back at the end of After the Thin Man. At least she looks better wearing it.
Fur Runtime: approx 5 minutes
Film Runtime: 97 minutes
On-Screen Fur Ratio: 5%
The Thin Man Goes Home – 1945
I mentioned it was the 40’s, right? Well, the Thin Man went home in 1945, got involved in a murder plot, and solved it. Along the way, Nora wore another church lady mink for a few minutes around the beginning of the film. Still, lacking any other marginally redeeming fur fashion, I skipped capturing the film. It was purely a safety consideration, as I may have dozed off and fallen out of my chair in the process, inducing grievous bodily harm.
Song of the Thin Man – 1947
The final Thin Man film provides one last fur of note, as Nick and Nora investigate a murder on a gambling ship amidst the ship’s entertainers. Nora does show up in a single mink very reminiscent of the one I skipped in the previous film, and it’s very 40’s, suffice to say. It seems someone decided that Nora should get out of the ostentatious fur-wearing business, sadly.
Here it is:
Okay, on to the good stuff; this full fox wrap of shade I believe probably has “marble” in the name. Patricia Morison plays Phyllis Talbin, who wears this wrap for a grand total of about 30 seconds on screen, so don’t get attached.
There’s a nice close-up of Miss Morison in the wrap for about 5 seconds.
Fur Runtime: approx 3 minutes
Film Runtime: 86 minutes
On-Screen Fur Ratio: 3%
I have to say, while the Thin Man films are the more iconic of the gentleman detective genre, I think The Falcon and The Lone Wolf both have him beat, fur-wise. Still, the entries from the late ’30s are both very nice and nearly rated single film inclusions.