The 1930s in American film was the height of the Screwball Comedy; a special kind of sub-genre that exists in a very small space of time during the 1930s and to an extent, the early 1940s. It was preoccupied thematically with the “war of the classes” where lower to middle class people often teach the upper class a lesson or else the storyline itself results in a moral message, usually of “money isn’t everything”. The seriousness of this message is feebly disguised in a plot so zany and fantastic that you just have to laugh or else fall into a trap of over-analyzing the seemingly ridiculous. You simply cannot question the validity of events, you just to allow yourself to be dragged along with them for the absurd and hilarious ride!
In the 30s The Great Depression was at it’s full strength and so the “class wars” were of particular interest to society. The movies were a place where the public, “down on their luck”, could go to dream about luxury and decadence and the “upper class” portion of the Screwball Comedy film lent itself to some of the most breathtakingly beautiful costumes to fantasise about indeed!
The Thin Man series (six films in total) presents lower society as crime riddled and dangerous but it also shows many of it’s inhabitants to be honest and real. It presents high society as a world of pure class but it’s also filled with spoiled and false people. Nick and Nora Charles are stuck between both worlds. With the handsome and debonaire William Powell as Nick, a detective who’s wife came into money and therefore doesn’t have to work but does because Nora craves excitement, and the lovely Myrna Loy as Nora, his feisty wife and self-appointed sidekick. Nick is suavely dressed in his day suits, tuxedos, top hat, white tie and yes… tails, and Nora is elegant and chicly dressed in her beautiful in vogue day wear and her stunning evening gowns with all the trimmings!
Nick and Nora are smart and sophisticated but they’re also down-to-Earth. Their appeal lies in their ability to be both and their working-class audience forgives them their frivolities because they’re genuinely nice people.
In the 1930s, the fun-loving flappers had mostly grown up and when the Depression hit, the time for care-free living was over. Skirt hems were lowered to the ankles or just above and the close-fitting, bias cut gown came into fashion.
Over-sized collars and cuffs, interesting hats, large buttons, ruffles and fur were also in vogue and all of Myrna Loy’s beautiful costumes in the first Thin Man film, created by her favorite designer Dolly Tree, reflect these extravagant trends.
The Thin Man and it’s several sequels made within the decade are perfectly representative of 1930s glamour and the sophisticated style that was so very “in” at the time. The films are witty, the high-brow banter between Loy and Powell is unsurpassed and the costumes are to die for! The 1930s in film was a time for sophisticated glamour and Nick and Nora Charles deliver it in spades!