We’ve had Cagney and Lacy, Castle and Beckett, Marshall Dillion and Miss Kitty, and countless other wisecracking couples to entertain us over the years, but the granddaddy and grandma of them all are Nick and Nora Charles.
Nick and Nora first appeared in 1934 in Dashiell “Hammett’s final novel, The Thin Man.
Allegedly based on Hammett’s own relationship with his long time lover, Lillian Hellman, Nick and Nora, their witty banter, and their dog, Asta, became the model for most of the romantically linked detective duos to follow.
OK, OK, So Cagney wasn’t in love with Lacy.
Considered one of the seminal texts of the mystery novel genre, the novel gave way to a series of movies starring William Powell and Myrna Loy.
The plot line leads us to solve the mystery as we fall in love with Nora’s sarcastic, boozy banter and we watch a reluctant Nick get dragged along.
The film adaptation of the book was a huge success, and though Hammett never wrote another novel with Nick and Nora Charles in it, there were five movie sequels.
The original film, unlike much Hollywood fare, followed the novel closely. One major change was the casting of William Powell. Nick Charles in the book is described as “…overweight and out of shape.” Powell was neither.
Nora, portrayed by Myrna Loy, was the driving force in all the intrigue and mystery.
The thin man character in the title was actually Clyde Wynant, a murder victim Nick and Nora are hired to find. But over time, the viewing public began to see Nick as the thin man of the films.
The on screen chemistry between the two, who often improvised and who were often mistaken for a real couple, was key to the success of the films.
But, The Thin Man didn’t just entertain us, according to historians; it changed the way we looked at marriage.
Marriage in film had been portrayed as staid, earnest, solid. Nick and Nora invigorated it with youth, irreverence, and sex appeal.
And of course, there was the dog.
Who doesn’t love a dog?
Asta helped solve murders, find killers, and made us love wire fox terriers more than we should.
Nick and Nora may not have been real, but the characters entertained us, enlightened us, and made us smile a little.