Why a Thin Man Remake is Doomed to Fail

Oh, how I was hoping talk of this remake would just go away.  But nope, it looks like they’re serious about remaking The Thin Man with Johnny Depp. *sigh*  When I first heard about this, I think I yelled, “NO!” the exact same way Myrna Loy did in that scene from the first Thin Man movie where Nora is very hung over and Nick offers her a pick-me-up.

To me, The Thin Man is a movie that simply can’t be remade in a way that would do justice to the original.  There are a lot of reasons that the original movie is so perfect.  You’ve got Myrna Loy and William Powell, who are both simply divine in their respective roles.  But Johnny Depp is a good actor, right?  I do like Johnny Depp, but when you’re best known for playing a Keith Richards-inspired pirate and being a muse to Tim Burton, I have a very hard time picturing you in any role originated by William Powell.  Then there’s W.S. Van Dyke’s direction.  But Rob Marshall is an Oscar nominee, so he must be good, right?  OK, so I don’t really have a problem with Marshall directing.  And I can’t forget the razor-sharp writing of the original movie!  Considering the article I linked to names Jerry Stahl as the writer for the remake, then cites him as being a writer for CSI and Bad Boys II, I’m rather concerned about just how genuinely witty and sophisticated this will be.

But the acting, direction, and writing aren’t the only reasons why The Thin Man was excellent.  The real glue that brought the movie together was that spectacular chemistry between Myrna Loy and William Powell.  Their chemistry is always a joy to watch in any movie, but when you put that spark together with that director and that ultra witty script, you get cinematic perfection.  Even if Johnny Depp surprises me and does a great job as Nick Charles and the screenplay is truly delightful, they will never be able to recreate that infamous Loy/Powell chemistry.

I believe that remakes, in theory, can work.  But when a huge part of the appeal of the original hinges on an intangible quality, I really don’t have much hope for the success of a remake.  The part of Nora Charles has yet to be cast, but whoever it ends up being could have fabulous chemistry with Johnny Depp, but it could be the wrong type of chemistry for something like this.  Just try to imagine The Thin Man with some other classic film duos as Nick and Nora.  It just wouldn’t have worked as well starring Bogie and Bacall, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, or Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.  Even though I don’t think a Tracy/Hepburn version would be so bad, it just wouldn’t be the same without Loy and Powell.  They were made for movies like The Thin Man and trying to recapture that is like trying to make lightning strike the same place twice.

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15 comments

  1. You make some excellent points, and I agree with you wholeheartedly. While Depp is a pretty good actor, I worry that his Nick Charles will reflect some of the idiosyncrasies that seem to be part and parcel of any Johnny Depp role. I cannot think of one actress in Hollywood right now who can fill Loy’s shoes, either. And as Depp tends to overpower his on-screen partners (he really is a larger-than-life persona in so many ways), she’ll have to be a strong, adept performer to match him step for step.

    For me, the thing that’s also worrisome is how they’re going to set the film. Are they going to leave it in the 30s, or try to “modernize” it? If it’s the former, the movie might have a better chance of succeeding, at least in my eyes. Nick and Nora are such a product of their time period–it’s hard to imagine them boozing it up nowadays with the same kind of nonchalant, matter-of-fact consumption without someone in their lives trying to nudge them into AA.

    1. I was wondering about the era, too. I’m kind of thinking they will keep it in the 30s just because every other Rob Marshall movie I’ve seen like Chicago, Nine, and Memoirs of a Geisha were all set in other eras. And you’re exactly right, they need to keep it set in the 30s to get away with all that drinking. A sober Nick and Nora would be the worst remake offense since that remake of The Women where they tried to make Sylvia Fowler nice.

    1. The Thin Man and After The Thin Man are both absolutely worth seeing. After the Thin Man is one of those rare instances of a sequel being just as good as the original. The other Thin Man movies are enjoyable, but not as good as the first two.

  2. So I completely missed any mention of this before and am equally upset. I hate hearing about remakes of hit classic movies. If you want to redo something old, go with a movie that flopped but had a good concept to it. I think you should maybe think of Depp as John Dillinger for a better idea of how he would look in this role (assuming it is still set in the 40s). Despite that, however, Depp has never put off the sophisticated feel Powell just walked around with. I also think that whoever plays Nora is almost more critical. I absolutely agree that no one really had the comedic chemistry down like Powell and Loy, but Loy also created this character that was so understanding and hip to situation in addition to bringing just as much if not more humor and toughness to the film. Arg. Only time will tell.

  3. William Powell was not handsome, but had great charm. Johnny Depp is handsome but has no charm at all.

  4. First, I hated the idea because TTM is one of my favorite movies…then I use my Pollyanna kind of thinking: “well, more ppl is gonna find out about the original and the leading actors, media is going to talk about them, etc”…then I saw “Public Enemies” and made this trailer:

    No one could ever do justice to the original, but if it’s made in a respectful way, with talented ppl like Marion & Johnny, I think it could be a contribution to the saga.

  5. Oh gosh. I didn’t know the writer was the guy who did CSI and Bad Boys….
    I feel like it’s going to be a shoot ‘em up action movie rather than a chic and witty detective story.

    1. Ever since I found out this guy was a writer for CSI, I keep imagining this movie being full of Johnny Depp saying slightly snappy lines while putting on sunglasses and cutting to “Who Are You” by The Who.

  6. Oh, man. This is the first I’ve heard of this. Well, it’s got to be better than the proposed version with Nic Cage and Patricia Arquette would have been.

    The again, maybe not. Nick calls for a Clooney type. He has to be played fairly straight. I fear Depp will just be too damned wacky.

    As for Nora…Uma? Probably past her days as a viable leading lady. Zooey Deschanel? She’s got the deadpan thing down, and she comes across as bright.

    In any case, they’ll have the same problem that dogged the ARTHUR remake: modern audiences just aren’t that inclined to laugh at gags about drunks — and as Angela said above, you can’t really expunge the spirits without losing the spirit. It would be like making a new version of Absolutely Fabulous with Patsy and Edina guzzling vitamin water throughout.

  7. Actually, Patricia Arquette would be perfect as Nora. She is the perfect age to star w/ Depp, and they have worked together before with great chemistry: ‘Ed Wood’. She is terrific in drama and comedy, and has a good sense of comic timing. See “Goodbye Lover” and ‘Flirting with Disaster”, and often in her 7 year Emmy winning ‘Medium’. Her leading lady days are on their way back.

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