Our friends Vincent and Lindsay gave Sean and I the great honour of speaking at their October 2012 wedding. We had free rein apart from the general request that we provide insight into relationship longevity. Sean and I both chose to read something we'd written on the subject. Since our 15th wedding anniversary just passed two days ago, I figured it was worth posting the piece I wrote for our friends. To commemorate 15 years of marriage, Sean and I ate cake, hiked in Bon Echo Provincial Park and, inevitably, watched The Thin Man.
I met Sean in San Francisco when he was a committed patron of a film noir series at the Castro Theatre. He's thorough about his interests, so the knowledge he gained of pulp directors and screenwriters inevitably spread out to quests for the books and locations that inspired the films. Dashiell Hammett became a favourite. He lived in San Francisco in the twenties and depicted it as the quintessential hard-boiled town. Sean and I explored the city together as if it was a living Hammett novel or a film you could move through. Its hills, tunnels and spectacular bays seemed engineered to foreground our drama of finding each other and falling in love.
Admittedly, Dashiell Hammett is a peculiar subject for a wedding. He was a crank, and a tubercular, philandering alcoholic. The majority of his artistic output is known for its mercilessness and profound mistrust of society. But Hammett converted this darkness into something better than himself. In 1934 he published The Thin Man, his last book.
The Thin Man is exceptional in Hammett's body of work because of its optimism and levity. The book centers around the spirited couple Nick and Nora Charles, a casual but capable private detective and an unpretentious heiress who marry each other and have a wonderful time. The characters are enchanting, principally because of their repartee. Hammett is said to have based Nick and Nora on his his on-again off-again relationship with writer Lillian Hellman. Their thirty-year union was turbulent. But through his work, he attached the galvanizing effects of their intelligence and wit to a fictitious lifestyle that had much more peace than their real one. He located the security, appreciation and acceptance life CAN offer in marriage.
The Thin Man was quickly made into a movie starring William Powell and Myrna Loy, possibly the best onscreen lovers the cinema has ever produced. Though Hammett only wrote one book about Nick and Nora, they appear in six pictures and Loy and Powell always played them but with far less cynicism than Hammett might have meant. Powell is mustachioed and nonchalant with bulging features. Loy is statuesque - never a shrinking violet. They stand shoulder to shoulder and see eye to eye. The actors and their characters were adored by their fans - I'm far from alone in finding them so attractive. Most married couples have a song or a site that's tied to their sense of togetherness, to the origin story of how they came to be. For Sean and I, that binding agent is a movie because The Thin Man represents everything that's great about being part of a pair.
Nick and Nora constitute a meeting of equals who are madly in love and always having fun. They're more interested to talk to each other than anyone else around. Their backgrounds are dissimilar but they find their differences fascinating. Their's is a match of utter confidence, a whole-hearted fusion, but never at the expense of individuality. Nick Charles assumes a droll tone in The Thin Man, as though he needn't be ruffled or give in to seriousness because he has Nora and, therefore, he has ease. They encourage one another, laugh with one another, and bullishly provide the other's safety. It's a murder mystery, so there are police and gangsters in the hallways of their apartment building, but home is a sanctuary. I'd be remiss if I didn't say that part of the film's appeal is its thirties elegance. It's decidedly aspirational. But the desire it engenders is grounded too, based in the thrill of knowing that such earthbound, undramatic things as support, simplicity, and commitment can be electric when they're shared with a spouse.