Hiring Jerry Stahl to write “The Thin Man” is, frankly, one of those might-be-a-masterstroke ideas that makes me reassess my original reaction to an announcement.
I love “The Thin Man” movies. I love the Dashiell Hammett novel, which is totally different from really any of his Continental Op stories. I have always thought Nick and Nora Charles are the greatest example of movie marriage of all time, and I find myself able to rematch any of the movies any time, something that’s true of very few film franchises.
If you’re not familiar with “The Thin Man,” it tells the story of Nick Charles, a former police detective who married Nora, a society girl whose family money allowed Nick to retire and live a debauched life. He’s older than her, and one of the things that the first movie clearly demonstrates is that Nora is fascinated by Nick’s former life, by the way he knows everyone from the lowest criminal to the highest elected official, and by the idea of him solving a crime. It’s a turn-on for her to see him in action, and all Nick wants to do is keep drinking, keep relaxing, and keep loving Mrs. Charles up as much as possible. When a family friend disappears, his daughter draws Nick out of retirement, reluctantly, a drink in one hand the entire time, and the result is a great mystery with some of the best rapid-fire smart dialogue of its era.
It does not remotely surprise me that Johnny Depp would want to take a shot at the role, especially if you do it period, because it’s another variation on the type of character that he’s played in “Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas” and the “Pirates” films, that wobbly, boozy, hilarious archetype. Hunter S. Thompson and Capt. Jack Sparrow are on the same continuum as Nick Charles, guys who manage to perform even though they seem like they’re one sip away from incapacitated.
And with Stahl, you’ve got a guy who is blisteringly funny and acerbic and quick-witted, and who certainly understands the appeal of just-a-few-too-many as a life choice. If you’re not familiar with him, he is probably best known as the guy who wrote Permanent Midnight, a revealing look at his own struggles with addiction that is jet black and hilarious in equal measure. He’s the credited writer on “Bad Boys II,” although there were a whoooooole lot of fingers in that pie, but in general, he’s a fairly untapped resource, and this could be a strong match of writer and source material. The first film in the MGM series is a fairly faithful adaptation of Hammett’s book, right down to the dialogue. I’d compare it to the way “Fletch” managed to hew fairly close to much of MacDonald’s novel. According to Borys Kit, the job for the studio was finding a writer to give the film a “contemporary attitude but retain the period setting.” This might in fact be the right guy for that.
I wish I could just scowl and grumble and invoke the fact that they’re looking at Rob Marshall to direct and dismiss the film completely, but I have too much affection for “The Thin Man” in general, and they’re getting a lot of things right in terms of big choices. So for now, I’m still sort of interested. And getting moreso, damn it.