Filmed on what MGM considered a B-picture budget and schedule (14 days, which at Universal or Columbia would have been considered extravagant), The Thin Man proved to be sleeper, spawning a popular film, radio, and television series.
Contrary to popular belief, the title does not refer to star William Powell, but to Edward Ellis, playing the mean-spirited inventor who sets the plot in motion. The recently divorced Clyde Wynant (Ellis) discovers that his new girlfriend, Julia Wolf (Natalie Moorhead), has stolen 50,000 dollars and is carrying on with other men.
Not long afterward, he disappears. Anxious to locate her father, Wynant' daughter, Dorothy (Maureen O'Sullivan), goes to private detective Nick Charles (William Powell) for help. Having just married the lovely and wealthy Nora (Myrna Loy), Nick has no desire to return to sleuthing, but the thrill-seeking Nora eagerly talks him into taking Dorothy's case.
Shortly thereafter, Wynant's lady friend is murdered; so far as police detective John Guild (Nat Pendleton) is concerned, the still-missing Wynant is the guilty party. Nick is unsatisfied with this deduction, and with the help of his wire fox terrier, Asta, he manages to uncover several vital clues -- including a decomposed corpse.
At a fancy dinner party, between cocktails and the first course, Nick solves the mystery and exposes a hidden murderer. The story itself, lifted almost verbatim by scenarists Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich from the Dashiell Hammett novel on which The Thin Man is based, hardly matters.
The film's strong suit is the witty repartee between Nick and Nora Charles, who manage to behave like saucily illicit lovers throughout the film even though they're married.