William Powell is to dialogue as Fred Astaire is to dance. His delivery is so droll and insinuating, so knowing and innocent at the same time, that it hardly matters what he’s saying.... Powell plays the character with a lyrical alcoholic slur that waxes and wanes but never topples either way into inebriation or sobriety. The drinks are the lubricant for dialogue of elegant wit and wicked timing, used by a character who is decadent on the surface but fundamentally brave and brilliant. After Nick and Nora face down an armed intruder in their apartment one night, they read about it in the morning papers. “I was shot twice in the Tribune,” Nick observes. “I read you were shot five times in the tabloids,” says Nora. “It’s not true,” says Nick. “He didn’t come anywhere near my tabloids.”
(Read Ebert’s delightful full review of The Thin Man here.)
The six Thin Man films are based on the Dashiell Hammett novella (the last he wrote) called The Thin Man, but the movie of the same name follows the book only in bare-bones plot. Whereas Hammett’s work is more of the hard-boiled school of detective stories, the film is light-hearted and full of comedy, and one barely notices that there’s even a murder mystery going on underneath all the beautiful sets and costumes and witty dialogue.