Nick & Nora Charles: Dynamic Duo

From the brilliant minds of Aurora of Once Upon A Screen (@citizenscreen) and AnnMarie of Classic Movie Blog (@ClassicMovieBlog), it’s the Dynamic Duos in Classic Film Blogathon. Of all the potential duos available- siblings, rivalries, best pals… my first thought turned to my favorite married couple of classic film, Nick and Nora Charles.

Portrayed flawlessly by William Powell and Myrna Loy, Nick and Nora Charles are fictional characters that came to life on the big screen in six films:

 But to know Nick and Nora Charles, you must start with Dashiell Hammett. He wrote ‘The Thin Man” in 1934- his last of his best-selling novels. The main characters were inspired by his own life and that of his longtime partner, Lillian Hellman. Hammett was an American writer who lived a rather fascinating yet tortured life. He was a veteran from both World Wars, an alcoholic, a left-wing activist, a blacklisted victim from McCarthy’s Red Scare (and imprisoned for it), a sufferer of multiple debilitating illnesses, and the best-selling novelist of such celebrated works as “Red Harvest” (1929), “The Dain Curse” (1929), “The Maltese Falcon” (1930), “The Glass Key” (1931), plus countless short story collections. His popular novels were the inspiration of many gangster and noir films of that era and continues to be to this day. But his characters from “Thin Man”, Nick and Nora Charles, were plucked from his own days as a private detective in the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Starting at the age of 21, he served as an operative for seven years when he wasn’t battling illness (The Spanish Flu and later, tuberculosis) in the War. The novel was an instant sensation not only because of the who-dunnit mystery style but mostly because of the incredibly charming Charles’ characters themselves. 

Nick Charles is a retired detective married to Nora, a wealthy socialite. Nick is a smart and confident man who oozes handsome charm. His prior life surrounded him with cops and less savory characters of society- the thieves, gangsters, henchmen and murderers – from when he worked on cases. Because he was so skilled as an intuitive and sharp private dick, both flat-foots and goons alike respected him and genuinely liked him. He was the type of fella that men from all walks of life wanted to be and the ladies wanted to be with. Nora’s background prior to becoming Mrs. Charles was a striking contrast. She comes from old money and high-society culture. She equals her husband’s charms and beauty in the female form. But there’s nothing stuffy about Nora. Her quick wit easily matches and keeps pace with Mr. Charles. And to keep them both down-to-earth, their adorable wire-hair terrier Asta steals every scene possible. 

In all of the six films of “The Thin Man” series, William Powell plays Nick Charles and Myrna Loy plays Nora Charles. Their chemistry is irresistible. When they walk into a room, they’re impossible to miss. While Nick is used to swimming in the hard-nosed part of society, he carries himself comfortably while mixing it uptown at black tie dinner parties. Everything about his mannerisms and vocabulary suggests he is just as cultured as Nora but took a detour when he chose his career so he comes across as the perfect blend. Nora is so intrigued by her husband’s edgier side that she is usually the driver of nudging her husband to take on new cases, despite his initial resistance. He claims to be retired, after all. With each new case he generally grudgingly takes on or falls into, Nora inserts herself as much as possible to assist in unraveling clues. She’s thrilled by the process. Quite a departure from her high-class upbringing. And despite her sometimes witty jabs at the low-brow company he keeps, she loves it all. And does so with the most stunning glamor and graceful presence. She too is the perfect blend of upper class adapting to a street-wise lifestyle.

One of the most appealing aspects of the Charles duo is their deep affection for each other. While the dialogue is hilariously sardonic as they tease each other, it’s also with the overt affection of a couple who are truly intimate. There is no doubt this pair wants nothing more than to spend time together. So convincing is their chemistry, Powell and Loy were assumed to be a real married couple outside of their fictional character roles (however, not true.) Another signature Nick and Nora Charles factor to all their movies was their penchant for drinking. There are so many references to their copious imbibing; demonstrating they go well beyond just the occasional social gathering. These folks were far from amateurs in this area. Here are some witty zingers:

Nora Charles: How many drinks have you had?
Nick Charles: This will make six martinis.
Nora Charles: [to the waiter] All right. Will you bring me five more martinis, Leo? Line them up right here.

Nora Charles: [suffering with a hang-over] What hit me?
Nick Charles: The last martini.

and then…
Nick Charles: Come on, let’s get something to eat. I’m thirsty.

Nora Charles: Are you packing?
Nick Charles: Yes dear, I’m putting away this liquor.

or better yet…
Reporter: Well, can’t you tell us anything about the case?
Nick Charles: Yes, it’s putting me way behind in my drinking.

As you can see, their witty dialogue, banter and delivery were as dry as their martinis. And it’s my opinion, along with quite a few classic movie fans, their first three films stand firmly as the best out of the six. The writing and direction in these first three films really stands out in contrast to the last three as razor sharp and near perfection. All of these films in the series were spin-off film adaptations from the one novel Hammett wrote, ‘The Thin Man” because the Charles duo were so incredibly popular. In addition to a great original story by Hammett, I credit excellence in writing and direction in this series, but most certainly for the superb performances by Powell and Loy for the success of this classic film duo. I own the DVD collection of all six ‘Thin Man” films and highly recommend to anyone that they watch these treasured classics. For my review of the very first (and some say the best), THE THIN MAN (1934), you can read my thoughts here. And if you want to enjoy a fun mystery parody featuring this classic couple, I suggest a silly movie, Robert Moore’s MURDER BY DEATH (1976).         

*For more delightful Dynamic Duos, be sure to check out all the entries in the Dynamic Duos blogathon via Once Upon A Screen and Classic Movie Blog … enjoy! 



12 thoughts on “Nick & Nora Charles: Dynamic Duo

  1. You chose a doozy of a dynamic duo!The host of a movie night on PBS in Buffalo introduced "The Thin Man" by saying when he was a kid he always hoped Nick and Nora would move next door and be his best friends. I think that's the way most of us fans feel. We'd like to be part of that world and we can be with these fun movies.Well done.


  2. Thanks!! And yes- I totally agree. They were so infectiously charming & fun that we all want to magically be right there with them. How great fun to be a guest at one of their cocktail parties, eh? (Better than a dinner party guest because that might result in being a murder suspect! LOL!)


  3. Great choice for a couple to write about! Powell and Loy were wonderful together – so far I've just seen the first three Thin Man movies, and will soon be enjoying the rest of the box set, though I had been warned that the first ones are the best, as you say here. Really enjoyed your piece, and I will also be reading your review of 'The Thin Man'! Judy


  4. TY Judy!! I'm so glad you enjoy hanging with Nick and Nora as much as I do. I'm curious if you'll agree with my assessment on the 1st 3 vs. the last 3 of the series. Be sure to let me know! Hope you enjoyed my review of "The Thin man" too! Thanks again… 🙂


  5. I totally love them! For sure any classic film fan wants to be in a relationship like Nick and Nora's. They are witty, classy, smart and hava a lovely terrier. You couldn't have chosen better!Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)Kisses!


  6. Love love love the witty lines in these movies and am pleased to see you've included a few gems here.They really were one of the most charming movie couples, weren't they? Now I'm in the mood to see a Thin Man movie!


  7. When this blogathon was first introduced, I admit Nick and Nora were the first to come to mind. I had a bunch of those Thin Man posters in my dorm at college. The other movies Low and Powell made together were also pretty solid. I love the pics you included in this post.


  8. That's so cool that you had Thin Man posters in college! I'm very happy you enjoyed my photo pics here too- Thanks so much, Margaret!! (Now I gotta get caught up on my reading all the other lovely posts…)


  9. I'll be damned if you didn't pick the cream of the dynamic crop, Miss Thang! Great duo, great post and THOSE LINES! The chemistry between these two was just stupendous! Really fun post, Kellee!Aurora


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