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Holiday Traditions, Mulholland Style: From Duane Swierczynski

Dec 19, 2011 in Mulholland Authors

Christmas!Dashiell Hammett’s final novel, THE THIN MAN, mostly takes place between in that lazy week between Christmas and New Year’s. So about six years ago I decided that I would re-read THE THIN MAN during that same week. I did it again the next year. And the next. Each time was like stepping into a well-loved bar and seeing a crowd of friends raise their glasses in salute:

“I was leaning against the bar in speakeasy on Fifty-second street, waiting for Nora to finish her Christmas shopping, when a girl got up from the table where she had been sitting with three other people and came over to me.”

But like a junkie, I was hooked and wanted more. So the next year I added a viewing of W.S. Van Dyke’s 1934 adaption starring William Powell and Myrna Loy, which sparked a man-crush on the former and an honest-to-God, oh-if-only-I-had-a-time-machine crush on the latter. I won’t lie to you; the first chunk of the movie is kind of snoresville because it’s all prologue. (Why do movie producers insist on these things? I’ll never know.) THIN MAN only comes to life when we cut to that speakeasy, and Nick Charles and is shaking his dry martini to waltz time, and Nora bursts in the door with Asta… and we never want to stop hanging out with them.

And I still haven’t, because my new Christmas tradition is to re-read the novel and *then* watch the entire THIN MAN movie series, from the original (oh, Ms. Loy, you can shoot me in the tabloids anytime) to AFTER THE THIN MAN (the San Francisco-based sequel, and the sequence detailing Nick and Nora’s return home is better than any known antidepressant) to ANOTHER THIN MAN (Nick and Nora have a kid!) to SHADOW OF THE THIN MAN (something about a race track murder, whatever, pass the martinis) to THE THIN MAN GOES HOME (Nick goes on the wagon? Thinman say whaaaa!?) to the final installment, SONG OF THE THIN MAN (which, like SPEED 2: CRUISE CONTROL, takes place on a boat and brings a franchise to a screeching halt).

You can enjoy them all in a long boozy binge, but I recommend watching one a day, starting the night of the 25th, and ending on New Year’s Eve with a viewing of ALIAS NICK AND NORA, the double documentaries about Powell and Loy that’s included with the THIN MAN box set. Also, I’d recommend pairing each film with a Manhattan, but remember… you need to shake those to fox trot time.

Duane Swierczynski is the author of several acclaimed crime thrillers, including Severance Package (Minotaur, 2008), which has been optioned by Lionsgate Films. A regular contributor for Marvel Comics. His books FUN & GAMES and HELL & GONE were published in 2011 by Mulholland Books, POINT AND SHOOT will be published in 2012. he lives in Philadelphia with his wife and children. Learn more at www.secretdead.blogspot.com.

4 Responses »

  1. I just finished a rewatch of the Thin Man movies. I’d watched them before, but usually in a haphazard fashion whenever they showed up on tv or whichever one was available at the library. I don’t think I’d watched them in the order they were filmed, so it was interesting seeing the series evolve. I loved the early movies before Nick Jr came into the picture. I really need to reread Hammett’s “Thin Man” at some point for a comparison.

    My odd Christmas tradition is “Desk Set” with Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. While not explicitly a Christmas movie, there is a long sequence set during their Christmas party, punctuated by the usual Christmas related reference questions. It was particularly apt one year when I was working as a contractor where *every* department had a Christmas party and people seemed to move gradually from one to the other.

  2. I just bought THE THIN MAN last week, thinking, I should read this at some point. Now I know when I will.

  3. I read The Thin Man for the first time a month ago and thought to myself that my timing was juuuust off.

    My Christmas viewing tradition is to watch Die Hard. I started this tradition a few years ago when the thought of spending a few days in a row with my extended family put me in a bad mood. To cheer me up I watched Die Hard and when tension was tight with the fam I just remembered Die Hard and thought “Well at least I’m not spending the holiday under attack by a German terrorist group.”

    Since that first year my attitude towards spending time with my family has changed and so has the tradition. I still watch Die Hard but it is no longer an attempt to steel myself for the holiday. It has become a fun exercise in determining what I would do for family members. Would I fall down and crawl through duct work to save my grandmother? Yep. Would I walk barefoot on glass for my brother? No, I’d wear one of the dead guys’ shoes from earlier. Would I tie a fire hose around me and jump off a tower to save my parents? Oh Yeah. Even though I’m not the favorite child.

  4. Just a Manhattan? I recommend an entire pitcher of martinis and a pack of cigarettes. See if you can keep up with all the smoking and drinking onscreen.

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