That Skinny Guy

The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett. Vintage, 1989. 9780679722632. 208pp.

Sarah: So I texted you when I was part way through this book because you recommended this as the next detective book for my mystery reading series. You said to read the book and then watch the movie, that it’s the best movie adaptation ever because it captures the feeling of the book.
Gene: Yeah. The pace and the dialogue are really similar.
S: And I picked it up and started reading and texted you that the writing was so good I wanted to punch things. Its beautiful, spare language is so evocative. You can see there’s a huge talent behind how little there is on the page.
G: It’s the couple, too. It’s Nick and Nora Charles. They have a great back-and-forth banter.
S: And such a great…”positive relationship” doesn’t even cover it…a great romance that you can totally believe. And at the same time they’re a crazy couple. She comes from money in the West. He is a Greek immigrant who changed his name and became a gumshoe.
G: But he’s famous, right?
S: He’s known. And he’s much older than her, and he’s given up his work to manage her family’s sawmill or money or whatever, but then they get pulled into a murder case against his will.
G: In New York?
S: Yes. They’re there for Christmas and New Year’s. She’s super excited by the investigation because it’s murder and detective stuff and she never gets to see her husband do that.
G: She’s more than a little turned on.
S: Yes!
There’s lots of stuff that was in this book that did not make it into the movie…. Their relationship is there, the banter is there, the pacing, the mystery. It was interesting to watch the movie right after reading the book, because there were some awesome lines that were used in their entirety, including a short speech by a woman who is leaving her criminal boyfriend. In the movie it’s filmed as a close-up so she can deliver Hammett’s dynamite lines.
G: I remember that the whole band is in black face at the end of the movie, there are other tasteless period details that I don’t remember from the book (but they may be in there).
S: There’s so much drinking in the book. And in the movie.
G: There’s a cocktail glass next to his bed, and he starts drinking and smoking whenever he wakes up.
S: “Something to cut the phlegm,” as I believe he says. In the book they’re going to speakeasies. But by the time the movie came out Prohibition was over so they’re just drinking a lot. There’s also a lot of drug use in the book, and physical abuse in the family of the missing scientist. No one talked about any of this in the movie. Remember the weird son? In the movie, he comes across as a bookworm, and he’s always telling people weird facts. In the book he asks Nick things like Do people still do cannibalism? Creepy, probing questions. He’s thinking about moving to California and he asks Is there much incest out there? If anyone in your life asked these questions, you’d think something was wrong, that someone needed to speak to his parents or a professional. But the kid’s mother is out of control — we know she beats her daughter and gives her huge bruises — and at some point she’s threatening to beat her while having some kind of fit. Nick has to sit on her (in the book) to keep her from scratching and hitting.
G: I’m sure none of that will be too much for a remake.
S: And there’s this awful darkness in the book that doesn’t all get resolved. The movie is way lighter.
G: What’s the cleaned up movie version of what you just described?
S: The kid is just kinda weird.
G: Are you going to read The Maltese Falcon next? You should. It’s nothing like this.
S: That movie is one of my less favorites. The noir mystery film I like most is The Big Sleep.
G: That’s Chandler?
S: Yes. I read the book and took notes while reading it because my film professor said after they finished the movie someone said wait a minute, there’s still a murder that we don’t know who did it. And Chandler apparently said oh, I guess I missed one. So there’s an extra corpse.

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