Johnny Depp, who recently was named the #1 Box Office Star in America for the third time, is developing a remake of the 1934 classic The Thin Man. Depp will star as former policeman turned amateur sleuth Nick Charles, a role made famous by William Powell.
The legendary Myrna Loy, a Top Ten box office draw herself in the 1930s, co-starred with Powell as his wife Nora Charles in the original movie and in five sequels released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer from 1936 to 1947. If the first Thin Man remake clicks, Depp could be looking at another franchise to replace the Pirates of the Caribbean series that propelled him from a highly respected actor who made his name in cult films to true cinema superstar status.
The Thin Man remake is being developed by Johnny Depp’s own Infinitum Nihil production company, and by producer Kevin McCormick’s Langley Park company. Langley Park is behind the remake of Arthur starring Helen Mirren, with Russell Brand as the eponymous lead in a role that made Dudley Moore a top star.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the producers are in talks with director Rob Marshall, whose most recent movie was Depp’s own upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides to helm the project. Depp has hired novelist-screenwriter Jerry Stahl to pen a screenplay.
Both Nick and Nora Charles in the original films were loveable alcoholics. Stahl made his name with a memoir about addiction, albeit it of a more pernicious kind than dipsomania: heroin use.
Making boozers palatable for the health-conscious 21st Century may be a key to the success of the project.
The Thin Man was written by the great crime novelist Dashiell Hammet (1894-1961), who can be considered the godfather of the hard-boiled American detective novel. Published in 1934, the same year the movie came out, it was Hammett’s last novel. Despite writing scores of short stories for Black Mask and other pulp magazines, he developed a severe case of writers’ block and never again published any fiction.
In 1934, Hammett was so famous that the cover cover of the book’s dust jacket featuring a full-length photograph of the author, right up front rather than on the back. The dust jacket with Hammett’s photo was featured at the beginning of the movie, as the credit’s began to roll.
Hammett’s other novels were Red Harvest (published in 1929), The Dain Curse (1929), The Maltese Falcon (1930), and The Glass Key (1931).Both Red Harvest and The Dain Curse feature Hammett’s detective “The Continental Op.”
Red Harvest was made into a 1930 movie improbably starring zucchini-nosed comedian Jimmy (Da Schnozz) Durante as The Continental Op in a bastardized version of the novel. The Dain Curse was not adapted until 1978, when it was made into a TV mini-series.
His latter two novels were made into motion pictures, and the third screen version of The Maltese Falcon (the 1941 version helmed by John Huston) that made Humphrey Bogart a superstar in the role of gumshoe Sam Spade is considered a major classic of American cinema. The 1942The Glass Key, which starred Alan Ladd in a star-making turn, is a minor classic, though a major work of what would be considered film noir.
The Cohen Bros. remade The Glass Key as Miller’s Crossingin 1990.
Dashiell Hammett’s world in his first five novels is one of a society characterized by depravity and corruption in places both high and low, a Hobbesian world red in tooth and claw. The cynical world limned by Hammett was rooted in his experience as a private detective for the Pinkerton Agency, which employed him as a strike-breaker and union spy. Union-busting often involved murder.
The Thin Man was lighter stuff.
Nick and Nora Charles deal with eccentrics and dastards, including murderers, in the novel and the six films they appear in. (They also appeared in a TV series in the late 1950s and a Broadway musical in the ’80s.) Yet, it is not a heavy atmosphere that was part and parcel of the hard-boiled school of writing of the first novels.
Nora is a lovable, alcoholic heiress who marries the policeman Nick, a hard-drinker himself whose marriage enables him to leave the police force to join his wife in the carefree existence of the very rich. Yet, once a sleuth, always a sleuth, and Nick in the original novel solves the murder of the “Thin Man” of the title, an eccentric inventor.
The mood of the movie also is lightened by the antics of their dog Asta and the numerous eccentrics, many of them crooks that Nick has pinched in his former life as a cop, as the go about their adventures. Eventually, they had a baby boy in their sequels, but that development need not concern Johnny Depp now, as he develops a new movie franchise to further burnish the luster of his stardom.