I got away the other night. Gasoline is $5-plus a gallon. I think it’ll hit close to $9 in California. But, for a while, I got away. Escaped from the unbelievable, end-of-days murder spree in the Ukraine. Put distance between myself and the abject vulgarity of an America gone insane.
Last week, my dear pal Signal Editor Tim Whyte and I were sharing levity. I confessed that my dream girl lived nearly a century ago, in a time that never existed. Few today could tell you who was Myrna Loy. She was the co-star of “The Thin Man” series. The movie was released in 1934 and the last spinoff, “Song of the Thin Man,” came out 13 years later in 1947, three years before I was born. The pulp fiction god, Dashiell Hammett, penned the novel and confessed he based the quick-witted banter on his Need You/Kill You relationship with playwright Lillian Hellman. The husband-and-wife team of Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich adapted book into screenplay. That first movie? Nominated for a Best Picture Oscar in 1934.
I always thought “The Thin Man” stood for the scarecrow figure of the dapper detective hero, Nick Charles. Actually, the title refers to the slight-of-build person for whom Nick was hunting.
The other night, fed up with woke vampires, 86 different kinds of genders, political correctness, bureaucrats with blank-you attitudes, headlines to make Jesus weep and man’s inhumanity and rudeness, mine included, I watched “Another Thin Man.” It was the third in the series. A life’s theme is I’m a hopeless romantic doomed to unrequited love. I still have a crush on Mrs. Thin Man, a woman, a time, who never existed. Myrna Loy was, and forever will be, a gossamer image on a screen blessed with “suchness.” Dear me, she smoldered.
In the days of just black-and-white cinema, you’d never know Myrna was a redhead.
She played Nora Charles and I was surprised, watching the movie, alone in my office, how I howled at the comedy, adored the cleanness and clarity of the message. Those madcap, Why I Oughta detective movies? I never want to know if there’s any Behind Hollywood Scenes gossipy perversion on either Loy or Powell, whether in their private lives one slept in a baboon cage or the other was married to a bagel. I’d rather visit with their dashing alter egos of Nick & Nora and their wonderdog Asta, grin in a dark room and be transported to a world where there was good and evil, everyone knew the difference and good won.
You know one of the nice things about “good?” It feels — good. The movie rolls to an end. An invisible orchestra plays peppy, hopeful music, reminding that life indeed is a comedy and happy endings are the way things naturally should be. Even the corpses are polite and non-grotesque, well-dressed and usually deserving of their Serves-Ya-Right desserts.
I liked how Nick and Nora in that mythical land of the black-and-white big screen not only loved one another — they liked each another. Husband and wife, they helped each other solve homicides and hold babies, were lovingly jealous in a flirtatious, clever way. The backstory on Nick was that as a single man, he was a rascal, drank and partied too much, hung out with an oddball turnip truck of sordid sidekicks from dumb cops to clever criminals, gun molls, millionaires, jockeys, organized crime hitmen, taxi drivers, shoe-shiners, palookas, thieves, bartenders, fallen torch singers and even, hock, ptooey, politicians. In the movies, it was so obvious that, no matter what, Mrs. Nick Charles not just loved her husband, but adored him. He was the fountain of her amusement, object of her affection and life’s partner. And he for her. They danced well together. She embraced all his peccadillos and both did what all couples should do over the years — keep each other slightly off balance and interested.
To be loved so. Mutually. To have such a friend, an equal, the yin and yang of master fencers. She made him a better man. He made her a better woman.
Nick and Nora Charles were the epitome of High Class.
There was something in that glance of Myrna Loy/Mrs. Charles. Strikingly, effortlessly beautiful, Myrna Loy had that I Know You’re Up To Something And I’m 20 Minutes Ahead Of You Bosco squint that still floors me. It comes with forgotten qualities in modern culture like charm, wit and elevation without being haughty or superior.
Imagine. I sat through a detective movie without seeing a single nipple, buttock, tongue, spit or reproductive organ. No one, not even the bad guys, vomited F-bombs. Through solving mysteries, husband and wife managed to be so effortlessly — kind — to one another.
That was another undercurrent my heart just yearned for. Nick and Nora? They — got — one another. That’s rare. They didn’t tolerate, weren’t long-suffering. Without being saccharine or in a state of denial, they were that rare quality — happy together. It’s an amazing love story — of what happens after the Prince captures the Princess’ heart. Nick and Nora glided on a polished ballroom floor in what should be all our romantic relationships — effortlessness.
We’d all do well to practice swashbuckling. Daily.
It’s a metaphor we’ve misplaced in our culture. Zorro. Captain Blood. The Crimson Pirate. Scaramouche. Cyrano. Nick and Nora. These long-ago-heroes all had that ability to be surrounded by unbeatable odds and death. Yet, they didn’t curse their luck or lot. They managed a winning, can-do smile, a wisecrack and took the moment to pluck a flower and inhale the perfume before battling the tyrant’s guards. To be in the glorious Moment. To smell the rose before one’s possible last duel and find beauty in both. It’s profoundly beautiful. It’s a reminder of how, daily, we should approach life.
I’ve always felt a little wickedness makes us interesting. Nick and Nora have that quality. A close synonym? Playful.
Ironic, isn’t it?
Today? We’re surrounded by entertainment and not much playfulness…
John Boston is the most prolific satirist in Earth’s history. Visit his bookstore at johnbostonbooks.com.