In 1934, a great detective duo made their way into American pop culture, swigging drinks and jabs at each other like no married couple on screen before.
Five years later, in 1939, a great detective who offered up jabs on the chins of criminals would make his debut, dressed in an outrageous costume that resembled a bat.
40 years later, the three would meet, albeit briefly, and The Thin Man would come face to face with The Bat-Man.
Nick Charles was a hard-drinking, fast-talking, retired detective, who, with his beloved wife Nora at his side, constantly found himself pulled back into the crime solving business. Unlike any other couple on screen at the time, The Charles’ comedic rapport and crime solving adventures were such a hit, that they were featured in five sequels over the course of 13 years.
While the original novel that the first film was based on, “The Thin Man” by Dashiell Hammett was referring to the suspect in its title, “The Thin Man” quickly became synonymous with the character of Nick Charles (played by William Powell). It was so synonymous that it was used in the titles of all the sequels: “After The Thin Man,” “Another Thin Man,” “The Thin Man Goes Home” and “Song of the Thin Man.”
While the films blended comedy, adventure and mystery, they usually culminated with Nick Charles gathering everyone involved in the case in a room, and running through every motive and likelihood until the killer was revealed.
A favorite among move fans for decades, the original Thin Man film was added to the National Film Registry and Roger Ebert added it to his list of Great Movies in 2002.
In 1939, just a few years after William Powell and Myrna Loy left their indelible mark on Nick and Nora as well as pop culture, Bob Kane and Bill Finger introduced a very different type of detective in the form of Bruce Wayne, a billionaire playboy by day and a man who dresses like a bat and hunts criminals at night.
To try and sum up Batman’s place in pop culture could not even be contained to one article, let alone a single paragraph, as full books have been written on the topic. So it isn’t too surprising that, even if it was four decades after Batman’s debut, that the Bat-Man would cross paths with Nick and Nora Charles.
It was the late 1970s in Detective Comics #481, during the time when The Batman Family was prominently displayed on each cover of the comic, highlighting an adventure for everyone. Among those is “Ticket to Tragedy,” a tale written by Denny O’Neil and illustrated by the great Marshall Rogers. In it, Batman promises Alfred’s cousin, a renowned doctor in England that he can track down a killer and restore the doctor’s faith in humanity before he burns up his notes for a new technique in heart transplants.
Batman accomplishes his mission, of course, but along the way, while chasing the killer on a train bound for Gotham City, he comes across none other than Nick and Nora Charles. Nora instantly recognizes Batman and Nick asks Batman if he has a moment to compare crime solving notes. In typical loner fashion, Batman gives Nick the brush off.
For some, it’s about making sure they’re at the right party, with the right person, and the right drink in their hand.
For others, it’s a time to reflect on the past and look to a future yet to be written.
These past few years, my wife and I have developed our own New Year’s Eve tradition, which doesn’t include a ball drop, but does include a couple of timeless boozehounds solving a murder or two.
A few years ago we unknowingly began what has become this New Year’s Eve tradition of ordering (yes, we know how unhealthy it is for us) Chinese food and watching a movie from “The Thin Man” series.
For the uninitiated, “The Thin Man” was a series of films starring the great on-screen duo of William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles, a married couple with sharp tongues, sharp wits, and a love of alcohol that they often put to use as they solved crimes across 1940s American night life.
The second film even takes place on New Year’s Eve, with a brilliant performance by a young James Stewart in a supporting role. Chinese restaurants also play a role in that film, which added the food portion of our tradition and has carried over ever since.
This year, we’re on film #4, “Shadow of the Thin Man” from 1941.
These films encompass so much of what we love about that era – the style, the architecture, the atmosphere. The time when a man wore his suit and hat even to travel to the market, and when a vacation was just a train ride away.
As the film series went on, Nick and Nora became parents and their son, Nicky Jr, would begin going along with his parents on their adventures. So, it’s even more appropriate that as our tradition has carried on each year, our own family has grown along with the Charles’.
Our little guy enjoyed some oatmeal and apples before going to bed (and falling asleep relatively quickly for a change) and mommy and daddy enjoyed ringing in the New Year with classic Hollywood at its finest.
It may not sound too exciting to some, but for us, it’s like re-visiting old, classy friends as we leave another year in the books and begin writing our own adventure for the next.
Happy New Year to you all. Whatever your traditions, resolutions, whatever, enjoy them.