Tea Tonic and Toxin: Mystery and Thriller Podcast and Book Club

Nick and Nora in The Thin Man

The Thin Man - Dashiell Hammett - All About Nick and Nora - Tea, Tonic & Toxin Book Club and Podcast
The Thin Man - Dashiell Hammett - All About Nick and Nora - Tea, Tonic & Toxin Book Club and Podcast
Tea, Tonic, and Toxin
Nick and Nora in The Thin Man

Nick and Nora in The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

The allure of THE THIN MAN lies in its timeless intrigue, captivating characters, and masterful storytelling. Dashiell Hammett’s novel is particularly known for its clever plot twists and witty dialogue. Of all the Dashiell Hammett detective stories, this one is perhaps most surprising for its blend of crime and comedy – and the enigmatic duo of Nick and Nora Charles.

Learn More: Read our starter questions on The Thin Man.

Get Excited: Check out the 2024 book list.

Be Heard: Tell us what you’re thinking here.

TRANSCRIPT: Nick and Nora in The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

Sarah Harrison: Welcome to Tea Tonic & Toxin, a book club and podcast for anyone who wants to explore the best mysteries and thrillers ever written. I’m your host, Sarah Harrison.

Carolyn Daughters: And I’m your host Carolyn Daughters. Pour yourself a cup of tea, a gin and tonic, …

Sarah Harrison: … but not a toxin …

Carolyn Daughters: And join us on a journey through 19th and 20th century mysteries and thrillers, every one of them a game changer.

Carolyn Daughters: Sarah, we are back to talk about The Thin Man, Nick and Nora, and all things Dashiell Hammett.

Sarah Harrison: I know with our super special guest, Julie Rivett, names are important.

Carolyn Daughters: Names are important. Rhymes with Corvette is what we have come to understand.

Sarah Harrison: If you haven’t listened to our first episode with Julie, be sure to catch that. And we are excited to do one more episode with her about The Thin Man and Nick and Nora.

Carolyn Daughters: The Thin Man is our first book selection of 2024. But before we get into the book and to our conversation with Julie, we want to thank our sponsor.

Sarah Harrison: Yes, we do.

Carolyn Daughters: Today’s sponsor is Linden Botanicals, a Colorado based company that sells the world’s healthiest herbal teas and extracts. Their team has traveled the globe to find the herbs that offer the best science-based support for stress relief, energy, memory, mood, kidney health, joint health, digestion, and inflammation. U.S. orders over $75 ship free. To learn more, visit lindenbotanicals.com and use code MYSTERY to get 15% off your first order.

Sarah Harrison: Thank you, Linden Botanicals.

Carolyn Daughters: Yes, one of our favorite sponsors for sure. We also have a listener award for this episode, which goes to Carrie Gilbert of Alberta, Canada. Thank you, Carrie, for being a member of the Tea, Tonic, and Toxin book club. What that entails essentially is that you’re just, you know, checking out our website, paying attention to our social media, and listening to the podcast episodes. We really appreciate you, Carrie, and to show our appreciation, we’re gonna send you a cool Tea, Tonic, and Toxin sticker.

Sarah Harrison: A gorgeous sticker. Is Carrie our first Canadian winner?

Carolyn Daughters: She’s not. We had one other. Yeah, we are, we’re global.

Sarah Harrison: We’re all over Canada.

Carolyn Daughters: We have three listener awards that we’ve given out to people in other countries, which is a big deal for us. As we start our third year, Canada, Switzerland, and England.

Sarah Harrison: Oh, awesome.

Carolyn Daughters: If you’d like your own on-air shout out, all you have to do is weigh in on the books we’re reading. You can comment on our website, teatonicandtoxin.com. Post to @teatonicandtoxin on Instagram and Facebook. We’ll also send you an awesome sticker. Be sure to also subscribe to the podcast so you never miss an episode. And we’d appreciate your reviews on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to Tea, Tonic & Toxin. Your reviews mean everything to us, and they help like-minded listeners find us.

Sarah Harrison: Absolutely. I get to introduce our guest today, Julie M. Rivett, who will tell us more about The Thin Man and Nick and Nora and great details about Dashiell Hammett. 

Sarah Harrison: Today’s guest is Julie M. Rivett. Julie is a granddaughter of Dashiell Hammett, an advocate for Hammett’s life and literature, a trustee for his estate, and an essayist, editor, and lecturer. Working with Dashiell Hammett biographer Richard Layman, Julie Rivett has edited six books by or about her grandfather, including Selected Letters of Dashiell Hammett (2001), Return of the Thin Man (2012), The Hunter and Other Stories (2013), and The Big Book of the Continental Op (2017). Her interviews and essays have been published at home and abroad, helping to maintain her grandfather’s legacy and introduce his writings to new generations. She lives with her husband in Orange County, California, where she has raised two daughters and earned degrees in American Studies and Communication Studies from California State University, Long Beach. She’s an expert on Dashiell Hammett detective stories and all things Dashiell Hammett! Welcome, Julie!

Sarah Harrison: Welcome back, Julie.

Julie Rivett: Thank you. I’m happy to be here.

Sarah Harrison: Our first book of 2024, is The Thin Man. For those of you that haven’t read it yet, or if you just need a refresher, I have a short summary a quick summary of The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett. It’s a classic detective novel that introduces charming married couple Nick and Nora Charles and their pet schnauzer, Asta. Nick is a retired private detective, and Nora is his wealthy, sophisticated young wife. Set in prohibition-era in New York City during the holiday season, the story begins as Nick learns about the disappearance of his former client, Claude Wynant. To uncover the truth behind the disappearance, Nick will have to draw upon his investigative savvy and navigate quite a few parties and speakeasies. The novel is known for its charismatic lead character, stylish prose, and witty dialogue. In the end, The Thin Man is less of a hardboiled noir in the vein of Red Harvest and The Maltese Falcon than a highly entertaining blend of mystery and social comedy. Today, we’re excited to talk about The Thin Man, our first book selection of 2024. You can find all our 2024 books for the Tea, Tonic & Toxin mystery book club at teatonicandtoxin.com. You can also comment, weigh in, and follow along with what we’re reading and discussing @teatonicandtoxin on Instagram and Facebook. And you can subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

Sarah Harrison: Let’s get into it. This was a really fun book.

Carolyn Daughters: It’s so different. One reason we chose it for our 2024 book list, which is going to range from 1934 to 1939, is it’s so different than Red Harvest and The Maltese Falcon, which we read last year. It’s startlingly different. You wouldn’t know it was from the same person. It’s funny. It’s light. It’s got this charming married couple, Nick and Nora. What was your take on it, Sarah?

Sarah Harrison: Yeah, it was… All three of the novels were a little bit different to me. Red Harvest, the one we started with, came in and I was a little bit like, is this a mystery? What is this? This is like a shootout. Then The Maltese Falcon was its own very unique, very noir. And then this one did have a lot more jokes. Nick and Nora are delightful.

Sarah Harrison: And what was interesting to me, and I’d love to hear Julie’s take on this too, is we actually got some mental commentary by Nick Charles, whereas I felt with like the Continental Op and Sam Spade, we got the actions, we got the dialogue, the sort of inner workings we were left to interpret. But Nick actually did give us kind of little tidbits of his assessments of situations and his feelings and thoughts. What do you think about that, Julie?

Julie Rivett: I think that you’re right on the money with Sam Spade. We never see inside Sam Spade, which is one of the fascinating things about the book, that it’s told from a very limited perspective. He did this, he did that. What I find fascinating to do with The Maltese Falcon is to contrast the words that Sam Spade says or others and their facial expressions.

Julie Rivett: Because his teeth are showing, it doesn’t necessarily mean smiling, his teeth are showing. Or the eyes are glittering or there’s a vein throbbing or a hand shaking. And those are not at all in the dialogue. So, it’s kind of like the dialogue is telling one story but the body is telling a truer story.

Sarah Harrison: Yes.

Julie Rivett: But you never see inside. I think one of the only times he says, Brigid had chosen her dress because it matched her eyes. And that’s about as introspective as you get. So, the rest of it, you have to be the detective also and observe closely. Yeah, Nick Charles, it’s just a looser style. He did not adhere.

Julie Rivett: I think to write The Maltese Falcon the way he did was such hard work to keep that kind of tight control over every view. Give me an example for where he does reveal some of his inner self.

Sarah Harrison: I’m so glad you asked. I started actually marking it in my book. The first time I noticed it, I put a square around it because I was like, what? I actually saw a thought that he thought. And then so I kind of kept marking it and I was surprised that it was as frequent as it was.

Sarah Harrison: And it’s not like I wouldn’t say any kind of sort of deep. Here we go. So, on this copy. Towards the end of Chapter 10. Just a big doll. It’s a shame. “We had dinner and went back to the Normandy. Dorothy was there. I felt as if I had expected that. I was like, what?”

Julie Rivett: I felt.

Sarah Harrison: You felt? You expected it? And so, I started marking it. And then I was like, I’m going to count up. Maybe it’s only three times. But it was actually a lot more.

Julie Rivett: Definitely.

Sarah Harrison: It’s not emotional. It’s not like deep and probing. But hey, it’s more than Sam Spade.

Julie Rivett: It makes it easier to write the book, I think, when you can say that. It isn’t such a, you know, so tightly prescribed. So no, I think that’s a great observation. I’m going to have to look for it next time.

Julie Rivett: Yeah, it’s funny. I’ve been listening to the audio book of The Thin Man, which is different because I can listen to it. I’ve been, you know, while I’m out walking and driving and such. And so, it gives a little bit different perspective on it and on Nick and Nora, which is kind of fun to sometimes read and sometimes listen. Although it’s always disorienting when it’s not, you know, William Powell’s voice or, you know, Humphrey Bogart’s voice. You have to kind of get over that.

Sarah Harrison: Tell me more about the different perspective of the audio book. How does it feel different?

Julie Rivett: I think sometimes the emphasis is a little different or maybe things that I would have naturally kind of just passed by and read quickly. It’s suddenly, oh, you know, I didn’t, Dorothy said what? Or it just draws my attention to different factors.

Julie Rivett: And maybe the style of reading can be different than what I was hearing in my head, which isn’t either right nor wrong, but maybe makes you think about a passage in a different way or a character in a different way. So yeah, no, it’s good. And I listened to a lot of audio books lately. They’ve become hugely popular. And so anyway, I think it’s worth doing both to get the additional input.

Sarah Harrison: Yeah, I love what you were saying about The Maltese Falcon and like the contrast of the words with the body. I definitely noticed that.

Sarah Harrison: And when we had our episode, we had Mike Nugent on as a guest. So, listeners, if you haven’t listened to The Maltese Falcon episodes, go back to that. But one of the things that keeps coming up in that episode, and I would say even in just conversation with Carolyn and I, is that we had different takes on what was actually happening or who this person was.

Sarah Harrison: And as I’m reading in my head, I think it’s the definitive take, like obviously. And I was really surprised when Carolyn had a different viewpoint and our guest Mike had a third viewpoint. Do you run into that a lot? Is that kind of part of the charm or how does that work?

Julie Rivett: Yeah, and I think it’s part of the frustration too, because sometimes people do the same thing they do with my grandfather. Oh, he’s a drunk. Oh, he’s crooked. And it’s like, did you actually read the book? He’s never drunk in the book. He drinks. But Sam Spade is never drunk. I mean, he does drink, but he’s never out of control the way Nick and Nora Charles are out of control. And he’s crooked.

Carolyn Daughters: Really? In what way?

Julie Rivett: You know, he said he likes the crooks to think he’s crooked. He gives back all the money. He doesn’t really do anything, you know, that he can’t tell the cops. Well, maybe it fudges a little bit here and there. But that’s a sloppy, a lazy reading sometimes on Sam Spade.

Julie Rivett: Or they just have this image in their head, you know, from having halfway watched a little bit of the movie. And so they don’t. You know, some people will say that The Maltese Falcon is the first American existentialist novel.

Sarah Harrison: Oh, tell me about that.

Julie Rivett: Sam Spade is surrounded by lies. He can trust nothing. And he’s kind of shed the rules of society, you know, in the way existentialists … He doesn’t care about tradition so much. He doesn’t care about, you know, what he’s supposed to do. He knows the things he has to do. He has to do his job and protect himself and his client, and then to serve his city because he lives in San Francisco.

Julie Rivett: And he has the rent to pay. He has an obligation to help make his city safe. So, I don’t find him amoral or immoral. I think he just has a different set of rules that he lives by personally, and they don’t necessarily match up with what society would expect.

Carolyn Daughters: There’s a hard-boiled, very cold element. I think some people draw from that. After Miles Archer, his partner dies, Sam Spade immediately starts putting up new signage. There’s not a lot of love lost, but there’s also not really any sense of human mourning there. It just really feels very cold.

Julie Rivett: Of course, he and Miles didn’t like each other.

Sarah Harrison: Yeah, it’s weird they were partners. Nick and Nora are better partners than Spade and Archer.

Julie Rivett: Yeah, it’s funny. If you get a chance, go back and read Joe Gore’s Spade and Archer, and it’s a prequel. So, Joe kind of invents some backstory on that. It’s very well done. Joe was a friend of the family and a well-regarded crime fiction writer. He died on the 50th anniversary of my grandfather’s death.

Julie Rivett: But obviously there’s no love lost between Spade and Archer from the beginning. So that doesn’t bother me, but I’ve read the book so many times now that it would be hard to tell. So, I think it bothers me that people say, well, if you really loved Brigid, you wouldn’t have turned her in.

Sarah Harrison: Oh, I know.

Julie Rivett: I get so mad at that. Serial murderers.

Sarah Harrison: He was totally pragmatic about that.

Julie Rivett: She was a sociopath.

Sarah Harrison: Thank you, everyone. Julie agrees with me. That’s all I want to say.

Julie Rivett: What are you going to do? Let her loose on society so she can keep doing what she’s doing?

Carolyn Daughters: Exactly.

Julie Rivett: You know?

Sarah Harrison: Exactly. Well, they act like it’s his fault for not loving enough. And I was like, she’s killed every single person that gave her an inch.

Julie Rivett: And she could kill him just as easily.

Sarah Harrison: She definitely will. She will kill him.

Julie Rivett: My collaborator, Rick Layman, will always point out that some people will call the Maltese Falcon a MacGuffin, which isn’t really accurate, because a MacGuffin is meaningless. It’s just a token.

Julie Rivett: Where The Maltese Falcon is not meaningless, it actually goes back to the 1530s when the Knights of Malta truly did pay the rent with a live falcon each year to the emperor of Spain in order to live in Malta, Gozo, and I think it’s Como, the Maltese islands. So that part of the story is true. They paid and they did supposedly actually do make a jeweled bird that was lost. A lot of that story is accurate.

Julie Rivett: So, if that was their rent to the emperor of Spain, Sam Spade is willing to give up that Maltese Falcon and turn it over to the cops because that’s how he pays the rent to live in the city and cares for his city. So, it is not so meaningless as just a shaggy dog. So, but yeah, it’s all just fascinating and there’s rabbit holes all over the place.

Sarah Harrison: Yes. What are some from The Thin Man? I love that you’ve been so deep in this work. I love hearing you set the record straight. Is there anything about The Thin Man or Nick and Nora you want to set straight?

Julie Rivett: How about Asta?

Sarah Harrison: Yes.

Julie Rivett: Yeah, so I love the Fox Terriers were all the rage back in the 1930s. I’m not sorry, not Fox Terriers, Schnauzers. There was Schnauzer societies and things in New York. And so that was kind of a fashionable breed back then.

Julie Rivett: My grandfather loved dogs and he would have known the difference. It has to be a fairly large Schnauzer, too, because he jumps up and puts his paws on Nick’s belly. But in the movie, of course, they changed it to Asta, a Wirefox Terrier. That dog’s name was originally Daisy and was already a well-regarded movie dog. But they eventually changed the dog’s name to Asta and did that.

Julie Rivett: So then everybody forgot that it was a Schnauzer in the story and they just think it’s the Wirefox Terrier. So that’s always nice to set straight. And Asta probably named after the dog owned by a friend of my grandfather, Lillian Hellman, Laura Perlman. My grandfather loved dogs, so he would have known. And he probably enjoyed writing about the dog. How about that? Don’t you think?

Julie Rivett: Lillian Hellman tells the story. You have to always take a couple spoonfuls of salt with Lillian Hellman’s stories. But she says that my grandfather told her that she was Nora. And she was all flattered and happy. And he also added that she was also the villainess and the silly girl. So, she was elements of all of them. And she says, I’m not sure if he was kidding. It still bothers me. So that was fine. But he did write people he knows.

Julie Rivett: Let’s talk about Nick and Nora. We had mentioned earlier, there is no physical description of Nora. Very, very little anyways. She has dark, sparkling eyes, a nice smile. And he once kind of halfway jokingly describes her as a lanky brunette with a wicked jaw.

Julie Rivett: If you go back to Red Harvest or The Maltese Falcon, when somebody walks in the room, there’s a close description. You know if their ears are wrinkled or they’re tall or short or how their clothes fit. There’s none of that with Nora. And she knows she’s fairly tall. She’s taller than Dorothy at least.

Julie Rivett: I think that the reason that there is no close physical description of Nora is because she is modeled on Lillian Hellman. And if my grandfather had to write a close physical description of what Lillian Hellman looked like, it would not be especially flattering. She was a very stylish woman.

Julie Rivett: She knew how to dress and carry herself. And she was very proud of her tiny feet. And she had lovely hats. But just to physically describe her was not going to make anybody sloping shoulders, weak chin, fat nose. It was not going to come off well.

Julie Rivett: So, I think my grandfather did the judicious thing and just left it out.

Julie Rivett: He also doesn’t describe himself, which is harder in the first person. He manages to do it sometimes with the Continental Op. The Continental Op will say something like, well, he was an inch or two taller than I was. That would make him, you know, five foot nine or, you know, things along those lines.

Julie Rivett: But he doesn’t bother with Nick. So maybe because he didn’t describe Nora, he kind of leaves himself a blank slate as well, because there’s even less description of Nick. The absence of clearer physical descriptions of Nick and Nora is interesting.

Carolyn Daughters: But we get this sense in the book that he is an attractive man. Dorothy, age 20, is in love with him or thinks she’s in love with him. And he has some sort of past with Mimi and he has this reputation as a ladies man. We don’t know the degree to which that reputation is warranted. But even at the end of the first chapter, you know, Nora is sort of teasing him about, you know, at the last part, at the Harrison’s party or the Quinn’s party that we went to yesterday.

Julie Rivett: The redhead.

Carolyn Daughters: Yes.

Julie Rivett: So, it does seem to be kind of an open marriage. They’re both kind of experimenting on the side or at least, you know, having flirtatious relationships at least. She’s off with going to the movies or the show with somebody else. And yes, yes, yes. So that was interesting. And he’s quite a bit older than she is. I mean, he’s what? 41 and she’s maybe 26. So that’s quite an age difference. And she would have been only 19 or 20 when they got married.

Carolyn Daughters: Right.

Julie Rivett: Right. Because he hasn’t worked as a detective for six years.

Carolyn Daughters: Nick and Nora are an interesting couple. Nora would have been Dorothy’s age, essentially. To me, Dorothy comes across simultaneously as sort of this teenager, not fully formed, and this sort of very dangerous, sort of vixen-like femme fatale. She’s this interesting mix of the two, at least on the page, not in the movie, but on the page.

Julie Rivett: And she’s kind of coming into her own sexuality and figuring out what to do with it. And she’s playing, and they’re obviously, you know, oh, she has a lovely little body, or who’s that little, and they’re obviously admiring her physically.

Julie Rivett: So, yeah, it is strange. Somewhere you had mentioned in your notes the line about getting excited. Which was bowdlerized. I had to double check because, you know, in the current Random House book, it says something, you want to read the line, if you got it there, about getting excited.

Sarah Harrison: Yeah, I have it here. Nick and Nora are talking, and she says, “Tell me something, Nick. Tell me the truth. When you were wrestling with Mimi, didn’t you get excited?” And then you put that in the original.

Julie Rivett: Well, let me read the original.

Sarah Harrison: Yes, please.

Julie Rivett: This is from, not a first edition, but an early printing. “Tell me something, Nick. Tell me the truth. When you were wrestling with Mimi, didn’t you have an erection? So, the Canadians, he was refused publication in Canada until they changed it. At some place, yeah, and somewhere down the line, Random House changed it, which is kind of interesting.

Julie Rivett: They originally took advantage of that, and in the ads, they would say, well, you know, people say it’s that five-word question on page blah, blah, blah, and that’s why people are buying the book, but it’s way more than that.

Julie Rivett: So, they were doing this, but at some point, it’s funny, there’s a, forget, I think it’s an e-book coming up, a British publication. We do these all the time in different languages or countries, and there was a question, because the N-word is in here.

Julie Rivett: And do we change it? And I didn’t even think, I should go back to the editors and say, you know, maybe when we’re keeping the N-word, we have a disclaimer at the front, you know, but we need to put back in the erection line, too.

Sarah Harrison: I love that approach.

Julie Rivett: That’s what it was originally.

Carolyn Daughters: In the Canadian Gutenberg online, it uses the word “erection.”

Julie Rivett: Oh, does it? Yeah, I don’t know. But yeah, in this, the contemporary paperback, it’s not there. Which is kind of interesting. And this one is an original printing, a sixth printing of the first edition. So, it’s not anything valuable, and it doesn’t have a jacket. But it is the real deal from 1934.

Sarah Harrison: This might get in the weeds a little bit. But as a trustee, Julie, how do you navigate these sorts of things when people have changes or suggestions? What’s your guiding philosophy behind it?

Julie Rivett: You know, we try to stay true to the original. I mean, that’s, you know, as much as we can. And, you know, we can’t be that putting in a disclaimer at the front is people have to understand. You can’t understand history by changing history. So, yeah, we do try to keep it.

Julie Rivett: When Rick Layman and I worked on the short stories, we had to work from the original Black Mask pages, so magazines, so we had PDFs of the original pages. And sometimes there’s typos in there. And sometimes there’s little things you can’t read. And so, we very cautiously corrected what were obvious typos. But we tried not to editorialize when we do it. We try to stay as close to the original as we can.

Julie Rivett: And then if you need context, you provide context. But I don’t think it’s right or fair to go back and change to modern sensibility. And there’s some things, even now. You watch The Thin Man film, and Nick pretends like he’s going to backhand Nora at one point. It’s an interesting Nick and Nora scene. And it’s like, oh, no, no, no, don’t do that. But in those days, that’s where it was. So, you can’t whitewash history.

Carolyn Daughters: That’s sort of Honeymooners’ humor, that why I ought to kind of humor, which is in with modern sensibility is harder to watch. But it was popular at the time. And when we were watching it yesterday, I knew even just seeing the face, their physicality and their faces, they were always scrunching their faces up and making faces at each other.

Carolyn Daughters: And so even when they were, you know, he was pretending to backhand or she’s scrunching her face up at him. So, you knew this was a common sort of way that they engaged and that there was no fear there on either part. There was this sort of implicit trust, not trying to excuse or defend it. It’s just as a viewer, I didn’t feel like horrified by it. I just thought, oh, well, we wouldn’t do that today is what I was thinking. But I wasn’t.

Julie Rivett: Yeah, but it was a game for Nick and Nora. And yeah, it’s not a game we would play now, but it was a game for them back in those days.

Sarah Harrison: So, this comes up a lot. I’d love your broader take. So, it’s been a big story recently. Netflix bought all of Roald Dahls’ work and edited out much of his offensiveness and reissued. Of course, being me, I went back as soon as I heard that and bought older editions so that I would have the originals on like off eBay. I’m like, give me the full collection so that it’s not lost. But yeah, that was Netflix’s choice.

Sarah Harrison: And I think they’re going to, you know, move forward with that owning that IP, which when it was weird to me that a streaming service now owns IP like that rather than like a literary trust. And then, but people are making obviously like really different choices than the kind of choices you’re making. How do you think about that?

Julie Rivett: No, I had not heard that story. That’s interesting. So, you know, he was married to the actress, Patricia Neal, and they had several children, one who was killed by a taxi cab in New York. And I think another and then she had a stroke and was in very bad way. But it’s interesting. My grandfather was good friends with Pat Neal.

Julie Rivett: Matter of fact, he used to babysit for her sometimes when she would go out on auditions. Never liked Roald Dahl. He thought he was a real jerk.

Julie Rivett: So, after reading Pat Neal’s memoir, I would kind of agree with them. So, it’s interesting. Netflix probably made them a very lucrative offer. Sometimes it’s a matter of making the compromise or letting the work die. So that might have been a way of keeping the works alive. It’s hard to judge.

Julie Rivett: There is more to managing a state thoughtfully than one might think. People come in and say, I have this great idea, I want to do blah, blah, blah. You turn them away and you can’t tell them why.

Julie Rivett: But maybe there is something else going on over here that’s in the works, or over here that’s in the works, and I can’t tell you about that stuff. Some people are very understanding and some people not so much. It is part of management. It really is a management decision.

Carolyn Daughters: There are a lot of differences between The Thin Man book and the movie. Nick and Nora are very much the way I pictured them, but some differences start with the very first minutes of the movie. We meet Claude Wynant. We see him working on his invention. His daughter rushes in with her fiancé to announce that she’s engaged, and she’s extremely affectionate with her father, who she adores. And it’s interesting, because the movie comes out so soon after the book, I was wondering what would have initiated or necessitated these kinds of changes on screen?

Julie Rivett: Well, I think they were trying to set up, so from a movie maker’s perspective, trying to set up that understanding that, you know, who Clyde Wynant was, that he was a real person. I don’t know. The things that struck me when I read, listened to the book this time, was what was missing. I love the scene in the movie where Asta and Nick go in the basement at the workshop, and Asta starts sniffing around.

Julie Rivett: And I love the look on William Powell’s face, where it like, click, and like the light bulb goes off and he knows what’s happened. And it’s not in the book. And the other scene at the end, the denouement, where in the movie they have that lovely dinner party with all the cops dressed up as waiters.

Carolyn Daughters: I wanted to bring that scene up for sure.

Julie Rivett: Yeah, it’s a great scene between Nick and Nora. But in the book, it’s just Nick and Nora talking and him explaining everything to her. You know, this is a film. This played much better. The screenwriters had been given the task of kind of developing the love story between Nick and Nora. My grandfather had given them the mystery story, but it was their job to expand on the relationship between the two people. So, you can, and they were good at it.

Carolyn Daughters: They were good writers, good writers and good actors. I love William Powell and Myrna Loy. The end of the movie is really remarkable in the sense of how Agatha Christie it’s like you gather everybody into the drawing room or the dining room. All the entire cast of potential murderers is sitting right there. And it was like Hercule Poirot is about to reveal the truth. Only it’s Nick Charles who’s going to do it.

Carolyn Daughters: So, it became this cozy mystery on screen, even more so than in written form. It felt to me a little bit like it was borrowing from that and all the more interesting for me because it did.

Julie Rivett: It’s interesting. I hadn’t thought about this. My grandfather wrote the screen treatment for the second and third movies in the second one, the one that features Jimmy Stewart. He ends up being – spoiler alert – the bad guy at the end of the book. They do the same thing. They gather everyone in this apartment up in Telegraph Hill in San Francisco. And they have this big confrontation with everyone.

Julie Rivett: Jimmy Stewart in the screen treatment goes out the window, I believe, and crashes into the rocks below. There’s a big fight scene half in and out of the window, which got eliminated. But the scene where everyone gets the same kind of thing. It’s everyone gathering together for the denouement. And it’s very cinematic. I don’t think he would necessarily appreciate the parallels with the English cozies, because that really wasn’t his thing. But you had to make good movies. So, it was a big moneymaker.

Sarah Harrison: Along those lines, like the call of making something cinematic seems challenging. One of the big changes that I feel like I kind of get but I didn’t love from the movie was the shrapnel in the leg, which was not in the book. I went back and checked. So, in the book, he’s solving this largely through intuition. He never, they don’t actually the bones. They don’t see. He knows.

Sarah Harrison: Nick knows it’s him as soon as they find the body and he explains the only way it could work together. And to me that I love that, like that sort of logical unraveling that this is the only way it fits. And Nora the whole time, she’s like, “What?” It’s an interesting dynamic between Nick and Nora.

Carolyn Daughters: I don’t know.

Sarah Harrison: Are you sure? I thought detectives really had more to go on than that. And he’s like, Nah, this is it.

Julie Rivett: We make our guess best and then we make it work.

Sarah Harrison: Right. But then in the movie, that’s like, they didn’t do that. They found an actual evidence to detect and it was a shrapnel and they x-rayed it, you know, and it’s like the clue, the clincher. But yeah, that’s not in the book and it kind of bummed me out.

Carolyn Daughters: One of the challenges that I have is that I’m conflating the book and the movie, especially since I’ve read the book several times now. I’ve seen the movie more than three times. And after a while, they start weaving in together and I’m like, well, Dorothy’s fiancé. Okay, there is no, like if you’ve only read the book, you’re like fiancé for Dorothy. So that does get a little challenging.

Julie Rivett: Yeah, I feel the same thing. And actually, when I listened to the audio book, I was waiting for those two scenes because I had seen them in the movies so many times and they weren’t there. And it was like, yeah, okay. I had to really think. But then when I got to the end and read the as I I’ve been going back and forth and I went to the end in the book and was reading it, it was like, okay, now I understand why they did the dinner party scene because you just couldn’t have him talking that long.

Sarah Harrison: Well, and I do love it, but I feel like Nora, it all just fits. It all just fits in the book. And her last line, I just thought hit the nail on the head. She goes, that may be, but it’s all pretty unsatisfactory.

Julie Rivett: So right. It is a little loosey goosey. And, you know, that goes to the time in my grandfather’s life. It goes to Nick Charles being kind of the semi-retired, you know, retired detective who’s willing.

Julie Rivett: But again, a lot of it, I guess, with all these detectives, it’s really powers of observation and watching, which Nora does also. She fills in a few blanks. Nick and Nora are an interesting pair.

Julie Rivett: But, yeah, it’s really those powers of observation and understanding human nature that really make the difference for the detective. And I think that’s important. And it’s a reflection of my grandfather’s training as a private detective and a shadow man. Apparently, he was a pretty good shadow man back in the day, which is considering it was, what, six, one and a half.

Carolyn Daughters: He was a Pinkerton detective. And then, the Continental Op, of course, works for the trans Continental. And Sam Spade works for himself. And then Nick, who had worked as a detective.

Julie Rivett: And I think he worked for the trans America, something trans. I think that’s the other name.

Carolyn Daughters: Yes. Sam Spade is a little bit of an outlier because he’s self-employed. What do you think Dashiell Hammett was drawing on there? Because you could see with the Continental Op, he can draw on his experience having worked for this agency. And now he’s got this guy who calls his own shots.

Julie Rivett: Well, maybe it goes back to the way he described Sam Spade, that he is the dream detective that most detectives thought they could be, and a few in their cockier moments thought they approached, I think is how that goes. So, right, he’s the pure detective.

Julie Rivett: In the archives in Texas, there’s a story called Magic, which we’ve since published in The Hunter and Other Stories, and it’s a strange story with a true magician who calls up demons and things, but there’s a line in there that the magician is talking to his apprentice, and he says, to the extent that one becomes a magician, one ceases to be a man, just like in this profession you ceased.

Julie Rivett: Your job is who you are, that is your identity. And it’s very clear in the Continental Op, because he never even is given a name. He is simply the op, and he has, it has subsumed his personality.

Julie Rivett: So, if you take that and then distill it down kind of even further, Sam Spade is a detective, and he says that, right? Like dogs chasing rabbits, you can’t change who you are, so he becomes that detective and sheds almost everything else. So, it just doesn’t apply with Nick Charles. It’s kind of like he’s lost his way.

Julie Rivett: He’s been distracted, and it’s why I see my grandfather in it, but it’s a sad kind of version of Nick. Which is too bad, because it is that merry mayhem that people just ate up, and they loved it. They absolutely loved it, although even Nora didn’t want to do it.

Julie Rivett: During World War II, she would, she was said, No, no, no, I’m going to go volunteer with the Red Cross, not going to do this anymore. I can’t do it again. They were just too happy, too jolly. And, you know, during those difficult times, maybe the story of Nick and Nora began to feel cloying and false.

Carolyn Daughters: Very detached from the reality. So that detachment is fun, perhaps to a limit, and then maybe it’s not quite as fun anymore. It seems a little too odd and a little too detached from reality.

Julie Rivett: But on the other hand, that’s why audiences went to see the films, because it was an escape from reality.

Sarah Harrison: Well, it’s the perspective, right? If you’re watching it, you want the escape. But if you’re making it, I could see asking, “Is this what I should be doing? Is this the valuable work to do?”

Julie Rivett: And there are so many other troubles in the world. I think the context does add a lot. The more you know about when you can appreciate them just on the page. But I think the context adds a lot to this, which you guys know, because that’s what you’re doing, right? Adding context.

Sarah Harrison: Yeah, you remind me kind of this is a stupid parallel, but I’ll go ahead and say it. You remind me after 9 11, I think it was Zoolander came out. And it’s such a stupid movie. It’s like ridiculously funny. Ben Stiller, the star and the producer and the director, he felt like, is this the movie I should be putting out right now? You know, it’s, is this the time in history that I should be making this movie?

Carolyn Daughters: Right.

Sarah Harrison: But it was wildly popular. I think it sort of detached humor from the reality of the world.

Carolyn Daughters: You just needed something silly. In The Thin Man, Nick and Nora are very lighthearted, and there are all these really quirky details. And one of the quirky things is, is Dorothy’s brother. He’s so strange. And he’s, at one point, he’s fascinated with anything having to do with odd psychology and mother fixation and you know, what, what, what have you. And then he’s fascinated also by cannibalism. And so, Nick Charles and incest and, and Nick Charles reads about Alfred Packer in the Duke Celebrated Criminal Cases of America.

Carolyn Daughters: And he reads about Alfred Packer, the man-eater who murdered his five companions in the mountains of Colorado. What’s the deal with this character? And then pages of the book are allotted to pulling this description of Alfred Packer and what happened on this expedition.

Julie Rivett: Lillian Hellman said he was just padding the book to add some more pages to it. I don’t know. I think there’s probably a lot of truth in that.

Julie Rivett: There’s also the Packer story has a lot to do with greed, which is also, you know, a theme that runs through my grandfather’s work. It’s like all these, almost always the problem is greed. That Duke celebrated cases is a real book. My grandfather had owned a copy.

Carolyn Daughters: Sam Spade has a copy in his apartment.

Julie Rivett: I have a copy here, actually, that came out of a law library in San Francisco that I bought from the, at a public library auction in San Francisco. But it is real. But yeah, probably he’s just kind of padding the book a little bit. It’s Gilbert. Gilbert is quite the character. I like him, but he’s so odd.

Julie Rivett: So, my grandfather wrote, I told you, the first two screen treatments. He also wrote a partial one for another sequel. And in that, it’s only eight pages and it wasn’t produced. But in that one, which we also published in Return of the Thin Man, Gilbert is the murderer.

Sarah Harrison: I wondered if he was going to murder somebody.

Julie Rivett: Gilbert inherited control of all the money. And Macaulay has escaped from New York and he’s gone to San Francisco in women’s clothing. Gild completely doesn’t notice and helps him on the plane because he thinks she’s a little old lady. And then they’re all running around San Francisco.

Julie Rivett: And who gets shot? Macaulay? No, Chris Jorgensen I think gets shot. And it turns out it’s Gilbert and he says, well, don’t I have a responsibility to protect my mother from these people who are trying to take all her money, which is really my money because I’m in charge of it and will inherit. So, he kind of goes off the deep end. But they knew better than to produce that movie and blame it on the kid.

Sarah Harrison: Well, I’m glad you brought that up. Towards the end, when they were wrapping things up in the book and Nora’s statement about it all being pretty unsatisfactory to me was like broader than how it wrapped. I felt like there were a lot of loose ends. A lot of things went unanswered with this Nick and Nora mystery.

Sarah Harrison: Harrison Quinn is still missing at the end of the book. There seems to be some implication of incest between Gilbert and Dorothy. The Bigamy Charge, they just kind of like, well, we’ll move on from that. There was the sparrow that kind of comes in and vanishes. To me, it felt like he was almost setting up follow-up stories. I just thought, well, the next one will be about Harrison Quinn and how he swindled his money and got murdered or something. And then there weren’t any more stories. Am I imagining that or what’s the deal?

Julie Rivett: Yeah, probably. I don’t think my grandfather could have stood to write another one of these.

Sarah Harrison: Really?

Julie Rivett: I don’t think he could stomach it. He really wanted to write a political novel. And he tried a few times. The problems that he had when he wrote political novels was that he was setting them, as he often does, he cites newspaper headlines. And he was citing newspaper headlines in that day. Well, what happens? It takes you six months.

Julie Rivett: And in that time, there’s, you know, the book, Things Are Happening in South America and the Socialist governments. And six months later, there’s been a complete turnover. So, the story doesn’t really work anymore. But yeah, he tried a number of other things. He wanted to get away from the detective genre. But he needed he needed to make money. So, this made him way too much money. He is a man who dealt much better with adversity than he did with success.

Sarah Harrison: Why did he want to get away from writing detective work when he’s getting compared to Hemingway? It’s not like he’s non-literary about it.

Julie Rivett: Well, he said it was kind of a dead end. What do you say? He writes books about people. It’s up to the readers to figure out what they’re about. But I think he felt he’d been kind of corralled into this. And I think there’s a lot of writers, even contemporary writers. You know, you write three books with this one character, and that’s what your readers want, is more of that character.

Carolyn Daughters: Now you’re beholden to that.

Julie Rivett: And you go to your publisher and go, I want to write this other stuff. And they’re like, you know, people, that’s not what anybody wants. They want more of this same stuff. It is a hard thing. We do see writers try to break away.

Carolyn Daughters: We discussed this in our last episodes with Dan Drake about Dorothy Sayers, The Nine Tailors, where Dorothy Sayers also wanted to maybe get away from the mystery form, and she wanted to start writing other stuff. And, you know, her readers want more Lord Peter Wimsey.

Carolyn Daughters: You can see why these six movies of Nick and Nora Charles, The Thin Man, and all the variations are so popular. We want more. We want to spend more time with these people. And so, this is a book, certainly, that could have spawned an entire series if Hammett had been inclined.

Julie Rivett: There was a TV series in the mid-50s. I’ve never actually seen it. I need to do that, at least a few episodes. But yeah, it could have, but I think it burned itself out and certainly wasn’t what my grandfather wanted to do. He said this book bored him. And he also said The Glass Key was his favorite, but that The Maltese Falcon was his best. So, in different interviews over the years.

Sarah Harrison: How did he differentiate his favorite from his best? Why was that his favorite?

Julie Rivett: Well, a personal favorite. But then I think he felt that The Maltese Falcon was the most literate, the best writing that he did. But he liked The Glass Key. The Glass Key is kind of a political novel as well because it deals with corrupt politicians and party infighting. In the Baltimore, pseudo-Baltimore.

Sarah Harrison: Well, Julie, we are amazingly so close to time again. We have had a blast talking about Nick and Nora Charles! But before we close, I want to talk a little bit about what’s going on in the estate now. I hear there’s talks of more things in the works. You mentioned a couple beforehand, but I’d love you to tell us about what creative projects might be upcoming or in conversation.

Julie Rivett: Well, in general, I don’t talk much about those things. There are some reissues coming up. There is stage adaptation being shopped. There is another discussions on a TV project. As you noted, there are discussions between Margot Robbie and her husband Tom Ackerley’s film company and Brad Pitt’s film company and our people to do a remake or some kind of a thin man movie. We’re excited about the possibilities. Can’t really, you know, bad juju to talk about stuff. You don’t want to talk, bad juju to talk about your eggs before they’re hatched. So, but yeah, watch.

Julie Rivett: So, starting, well, we’re recording on the 6th, so starting on the 14th on AMC, AMC Plus and Acorn will be, and I’m very excited about this, Miss Your Spade, a six-part limited series written by Tom, written and directed by Tom Frank with Tom Fontana. So, this is Sam Spade living in the south of France in 1963, I think it is, trying to live quietly, of course, in his little village, but trouble follows him. Like Nick Charles, he is dragged back in to an investigation.

Carolyn Daughters: And starring Clive Owen, I think.

Julie Rivett: Yeah, starring Clive Owen, so very exciting. He looks great in the role. I’ve seen the trailers, I’ve read a draft of the first episode, I have not seen the rest of it. So, I’m waiting until next week from tomorrow. Yeah, so soon. Reviews have been embargoed. I think Monday the reviews can come out. So, we’ll see, but I’m reading between the lines, and I think it’s going to be a hit.

Carolyn Daughters: Yeah, we’re looking forward to it.

Sarah Harrison: Sounds fascinating.

Julie Rivett: Yeah, that’s pretty exciting stuff. It is funny, you know. There’s always something percolating.

Sarah Harrison: And Julie, if folks want to find you on social media or a website or anything about the estate, where can they do that?

Julie Rivett: Yeah, we don’t really have an estate page. The best thing I could do, which just sounds slightly self-serving, my Facebook page, you have to make sure you put in Julie M. Rivett.

Julie Rivett: That is my Hammett-focused page, so I do announce things and sometimes just post fun stuff, quotes from letters or photos or different little tidbits. Post it on the Facebook page. If you scroll down a bit, there is an audio tape. There’s a clip, a YouTube clip on there, which is the only known recording of my grandfather, voice and video, so he actually had a little cameo appearance on a television show.

Julie Rivett: I think it was Two Sharp Knives, so he’s Slim, they call him, and he’s working in the railroad station. But it’s fun to see, and that’s literally the only clip that has surfaced of him in anything. There’s not even a voice recording. Anyways, Julie M. Rivett on Facebook. Like me, and I’ll like you back.

Carolyn Daughters: Next up is our second book of 2024. It’s The Postman Always Rings Twice. It’s a very different book from The Thin Man, and the couple in the book are very different from Nick and Nora.

Julie Rivett: A groundbreaking, excellent novel.

Carolyn Daughters: Groundbreaking noir by James M. Cain, published in 1934 in a dusty roadside diner, Love and Lust Ignite a Murderous Plot. As secrets unravel, two lovers are drawn deeper into a web of crime leading to a shocking climates, climax. Learn more about The Postman Always Rings Twice and all our 2024 book club selections at teatonicandtoxin.com and share your thoughts on our website or Facebook and Instagram at teatonicandtoxin.

Carolyn Daughters: You can learn more about The Thin Man, The Postman Always Rings Twice, and all our 2024 book selections at teatonicandtoxin.com. You can also comment, weigh in, and follow along with what we’re reading and discussing @teatonicandtoxin on Instagram and Facebook. And you can subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. An be sure to listen to our other episode with Julie Rivett on The Thin Man.

Sarah Harrison: Yes, it’s going to be an exciting 2024. Thank you so much, Julie. This has been fascinating.

Carolyn Daughters: So much fun.

Julie Rivett: It has been fun.

Sarah Harrison: And until next time, listeners, be sure to stay mysterious.

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