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    « Recycling the Oldies | Main | Searching for "The Thin Man" »

    June 17, 2013


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    Margot Kinberg

    Les - I just love the give-and-take between Nick and Nora in this novel. I've often wished that Hammett had written another novel featuring them. You're right too about the drinking. There is a lot of it in that novel and I think it reflects the era.

    Les Blatt

    Margot, Prohibition was ending right around the time the book was being written and published (end of 1933, if I'm not mistaken), and the book, as we have both noted, is pretty well soaked through with alcohol! If you haven't seen the movie version, by the way, I think it's still available - it's really the template for the sophisticated mystery-comedy movie of the 30s and 40s.



    Hammett wrote story treatments on which the first two sequels were based. These have recently been published under the title _Return of the Thin Man_. They're pretty complete, and it shows he did most of the plotting and dialogue from the first two sequels.

    It's interesting that you link Nick Charles with the hard-boiled detective - he's more of the hard-pickled detective, and it doesn't take much interpretive effort to see The Thin Man and sequels as satires on the detective story as it was becoming. YMMV, obviously, but it's pretty much a run of the mill "whodunit?" to most critics. The commentary in _Return of the Thin Man_ comes right out and says that Hammett did the whole lot for the money. Ironically, that's where he got the money which sustained him until the IRS broke him for being a communist (and lax about his tax). Citations available on request if you're interested.

    And while Chandler did describe Hammett as "the ace performer", he closes out _The Simple Art of Murder_ with the comment that "all this (and Hammett too) is for me not quite enough.". Chandler saw Hammett as a nearly-successful prototype, rather than as the completed product (that was probably how he saw himself).

    Les Blatt

    I had heard about the story treatments being published, Alasdair, but I must admit I haven't read then yet. Hammett's story post-Thin Man, except for his days with Lillian Hellman, are a fairly sad story. You raise a number of interesting points, particularly in the way Chandler saw Hammett's work. But I still think much of Hammett - all right, the Continental Op and Sam Spade - are in the hard-boiled line, although, given today's preoccupation with serial killers and torture-prone sadists, they're pretty mild by comparison.


    Sorry if I wasn't clear - I agree that the Continental Op and Sam Spade clearly are hard-boiled detectives. Just, not Nick Charles. Ned Beaumont is an interesting one to discuss in that context too. :)

    Incidentally, both of the Sam Spade stories published after _The Thin Man_ are recycled from earlier Op stories (as is the second Thin Man sequel).

    Les Blatt

    On the other hand, you do have the episode in the book where Nick is shot and, essentially, shrugs it off - won't even agree to press charges against the shooter. I'm going to have to look up the sequels.


    Does that make the question: what happens when you put a hard-boiled detective in a golden age mystery?

    Les Blatt

    Hmm...we still may not know the answer... ;-)


    I've loved the Thin Man movies for a very long time so I was always a little hesitant to read the book. When I finally did, I enjoyed it, but not as much as the movies. It's been hard for me to leave my affection for the way William Powell and Myrna Loy played the characters, and not compare it to the book. I'm glad I read it, but I'm sure I won't reread it as much as I rewatch the movies.

    Les Blatt

    Ryan, you're not alone in preferring the movie version. I'm currently engaged in discussing the book over at the 4MA (For Mystery Addicts) Yahoo mail group, and a LOT of the comments over there are from people who make it quite plain that they prefer the movies.

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