Nick and Nora Redux

12 Apr

Okay, so when I opened up my current issue of Entertainment Weekly (dated April 13, 2012), I was surprised to find an article all about how director Rob Marshall (Chicago, 2002) has apparently signed a deal to direct a big screen reboot of the classic Thin Man series.  According to the EW report, Marshall will be joined by none other than Johnny Depp as dapper detective Nick Charles. Of course, anyone who knows anything about The Thin Man knows that a “Nick” is only as good as his “Nora,” and that’s where we might have a problem.

Besides their six films together in The Thin Man series, Myrna Loy (l) and William Powell were a frequent--potent--onscreen duo and were paired for a total of 14 films (though one of those consists of only a cameo on Loy's part). Some of their more notable features include Manhattan Melodrama and Evelyn Prentice, both of which came out in 1934, the same year as the Oscar nominated The Thin Man. Among other highlights are two 1936 Best Picture contenders, The Great Ziegfeld and Libeled Lady; the former won the top award.

Let’s back-up: created by Dashiell Hammett, the original Thin Man novel was published in 1934. It told the story of a retired–boozy–detective (Nick), his funny loving heiress wife (Nora), and a case in which the bad guy–not our Nick Charles–turned out to be the titular “man.” MGM snapped up the rights and released a big screen version soon afterward that was so well received that it cinched a Best Picture nod and spawned a handful of sequels–or further adventures, if you will. For some reason, the “Thin Man” moniker stuck, and all the remaining films were titled accordingly however misleading. The witty Charleses were famously played by William Powell, whose  pitch-perfect performance earned the actor his  first Oscar nomination, and Myrna Loy, who always gave as good as she got though she was not accorded the same respect from her peers that Powell was; indeed, despite a career that included over a hundred film and television credits, 1946’s Best Picture winner The Best Years of Our Lives among them, Loy didn’t receive her due from the Academy until she received an honorary award in 1991–when she was almost 90 years old. I’m sure she appreciated the tribute. I saw her receive the award on TV. She said she was very happy, but I’m not sure that she had that much clarity. She died two years later.

The Thin Man formula of a sexy hetero couple enjoying the good life and solving crimes while trading clever quips has spawned scads of copycats, especially on TV, per the likes of Hart to Hart, Remington Steele, and Moonlighting, as well as  J.J. Abrams’ recent Undercovers. I’ve watched all of them at one time or another, and I think there’s no reason not to mention such big screen pairings as Manhattan Murder Mystery (which reunited Woody Allen and Diane Keaton) and Undercover Blues (boasting the especially pleasing pairing of Kathleen Turner and Dennis Quaid). I guess some enthusiasts might count the Angelina Jolie-Brad Pitt vehicle Mr. and Mrs. Smith, but I don’t know that I’m well enough to make that comparison.

I’m definitely keen on Marshall heading this project. He’s been in a bit of slump, so maybe this will be turnaround for him.  He’s got a great sense of style, and he works wonders with actors per the Oscar nominations for the likes of Chicago‘s Renee Zellweger, Queen Latifah, John C. Reilly, and Best Supporting Actress winner, Catherine Zeta Jones, not to mention the nod that Penelope Cruz snagged for her scene stealing work in Nine–and the acclaimed, if Oscar snubbed, performance by Gong Li in Memoirs of a Geisha. At the same time,  I’m actually a little afraid of Depp as Nick Charles. There was a time when I thought Depp could do no wrong. He’d been around for a few years by the time he fully caught my attention with a heartbreakingly brilliant performance as Edward Scissorhands (1990). From there, I was hooked–and for the next several years, Depp rarely disappointed: Benny & Joon (1993), What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993), Ed Wood (1994), and Donnie Brasco (1997). I regret that I somehow missed him in Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man (1995).  I was thrilled when Depp hit the commercial jackpot as Captain Jack Sparrow in 2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean:  The Curse of the Black Pearl. The first installment of the extremely lucrative series was a rollicking delight, a wonderful big screen extravaganza with a little something for everyone: adventure, romance, suspense, comedy, over-the-top effects, lavish production design, and, of course, Depp’s gloriously weird performance. It’s not easy portraying a character who is at once mincing, swaggering, and falling down shit-faced. On the other hand,  as subsequent outings have shown, a little of Jack Sparrow goes a long way. (I skipped the last one altogether.) Since then, I’ve come to the conclusion that Depp acts from the outside-in; that is, the look of the character is established first, followed by a few defining tics, and that’s that. Nothing he has done lately comes anywhere close to suggesting the emotional depth of Edward Scissorhands–who operated from a distinct disadvantage–or the quiet grace of Gilbert Grape.  Most of his recent work has been insufferable: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), Sweeney Todd (such a wasted opportunity, Oscar nod or not), and Alice in Wonderland (2010).  He was relatively subdued in his Academy nominated role of playwright J.M. Barrie in Finding Neverland (2004) and even earned his second of three Oscar nominations though I think he was uncomfortably miscast. The recent widely circulated snapshot of his “Tonto” getup in the new Lone Ranger pic makes me uncomfortable: it’s too–to borrow a term form one of my friends–self conscious, maybe even grotesquely so. The memory of  TV’s Jay Silverheels deserves better. Additionally, I’m sure his upcoming big screen version of Dark Shadows, directed by none other than Tim Burton (their eighth collaboration [see below]) with Depp in the iconic role of vampire Barnabas Collins once made famous by Jonathan Frid, will be a huge hit,  but the preview looks like an insufferable mishmash. I think these two guys actually bring out the worst in each other, but, of course, the hits just keep on coming, so, obviously, I’m in the minority. What I’m not in the minority on is Depp’s disastrous turn in the Charadeseque mystery-adventure romp The Tourist with Angelina Jolie. What a wretched nightmare. Depp, to put it nicely, is no Cary Grant, so I’m a little worried about him stepping into Powell’s shoes.

My concerns about Depp aside, my real worry is over the casting of Nora Charles. The Entertainment Weekly article includes a wish list of 7 possible contenders, including Emma Stone and Carey Mulligan.  Oh, don’t get me wrong. I adore Emma Stone, and I think she could have a ball with the role, but the age difference between her and Depp is scary.  Per the IMDb, Depp will turn 49 this year while Stone will turn 24. That’s quite a gap.  Apparently, the age gap is written into the characters, and reportedly Hammett based the pair in part on his own relationship with playwright Lillian Hellman. True enough, Hammett was older than Hellman–but only by a comparatively moderate eleven years. Depp is how much older than Stone? Well, he’s more than twice her age. Just to clarify: William Powell was thirteen years older than Myrna Loy, which is much closer to the difference between Hammett and Hellman. I can handle it, but I don’t like it. Not really.  At the time of the first Thin Man movie, Powell was approximately 42, and Loy was 29 or thereabouts. That’s a noticeable difference, though it doesn’t seem creepy until the realization hits that Powell was already through high school before Loy even started first grade.  What’s creepier is knowing that Depp could actually go through high school almost twice before Stone would start first grade. We’re talkin’ grandpappy here, aren’t we? If my math is wrong, please let me know.  I don’t think Mulligan is such a good choice, either. She’s still more than twenty years younger than he is. Ouch!  Emily Blunt is also on the EW list,  and she’s twenty years younger as well. Even so, Blunt, like Stone, definitely has the chops as she proved so memorably as the catty administrative assistant “Emily ” in The Devil Wears Prada. Rachel Weisz, who actually is the EW editors’ first choice, is only seven years younger than Depp, so that’s certainly not objectionable, and she is an Oscar winner (per her supporting role in 2005’s amazing The Constant Gardener). Even so, I tend not think of Weisz as the “sparkling” heiress type. I’m also not thrilled with Kristen Wiig as a candidate even though she’s only ten years younger than Depp.  I am a huge, HUGE fan of Wiig, but I think her comedic approach is best suited for more outrageous character types. For better or worse, whoever plays Nora Charles will be competing with Loy, and part of her gift was her ability to find the magic in subtlety. Amy Adams might actually be the best of the EW pool. She is extremely versatile as evidenced by the range of her Oscar nominated roles in Junebug (2005), Doubt (2008), and The Fighter (2010), not to mention Enchanted (2007) and The Muppets (2011). Plus, she’s only eleven years younger than Depp, but I don’t get excited imagining her and Depp onscreen together. Plus,  I just happen to think there are better candidates that EW overlooked.

Meet my number 1 pick to play Nora Charles in the proposed Thin Man reboot: Tina Fey. Whom you would like to see in the classic role? Drop me a line.

Okay, before I reveal my number one pick to play Nora Charles, let’s all be clear about one thing, which is that I understand that there is no reason whatsoever to remake The Thin Man; however, if a remake is going to happen–and we’ll see how that goes–it might as well be done the right way, so without much further ado, here’s my pick to play Nora Charles. Are you ready? Why, it’s Tina Fey, of course!  Whereas Fey’s former SNL castmate Kristen Wiig is great at finding the humor in difficult characters, Fey specializes in the all too rare commodity of genuine wit, which is harder than simple sarcasm or snarkiness. Almost nobody in the biz is better at tossing off a one-liner than Fey, who, of course, frequently writes her own material. Plus, with her dark hair and eyes,  I can easily visualize Fey and Depp as a couple. Plus, Fey is a mere seven years younger than Depp, which is a nearly perfect compromise between what seems right to me and what seems right to Hollywood in that regard.

Here are some more possibilities: Reese Witherspoon and Charlize Theron. Anybody who has ever seen Witherspoon in her iconic role of Elle Wood in Legally Blonde knows that she is a delightful comic actress; moreover, she knows how to play a woman who might be pampered but still knows how to take control of a situation.  Witherspoon’s Oscar for playing the straight talking, yet vulnerable, June Carter opposite Joaquin Phoenix’s desperate Johnny Cash in Walk the Line shows that she has what it takes to hold her own in difficult company.  Plus, her blonde hair and blue eyes would contrast perfectly with Depp’s dark good looks. Theron is a complicated choice, Yes, she won an Oscar for starring in the harrowing story of serial killer Aileen Wuornos and established herself as a dramatic heavyweight, but she’s no stranger to comedy, per her roles in Trial and Error, and  Woody Allen’s Celebrity and, especially, Curse of the Jade Scorpion. Plus, her recent turn in the darkly funny Young Adult shows that she has not lost a lick of her crackerjack comic timing. Theron is about 12 years younger than Depp. Not bad. Plus, they have already shared the screen in–the largely forgettable–The Astronaut’s Wife.  Plus, they’re both tallish–practically the same height–and, once again, there’s that whole blonde/brunette contrast.

Once upon a time, I would have been mad–in a good way–to see Elizabeth Perkins as Nora Charles.  I hate it that this wonderful actress, who seemed so close to major stardom at one point, never got the truly memorable big screen role that she deserved. I must be one of only a few dozen people that think her He Said, She Said, co-starring Kevin Bacon,  is an under-appreciated gem just ripe for rediscovery. Oh sure, Perkins hasn’t floundered exactly; after all, she has scads of  Emmy, Golden Globe, and SAG nominations for her supporting role in TV’s Weeds.  That’s not “nothing,” but it’s  also not Merylville, Jessicalangeville, Juliaville, or Sandraville, either. Alas, Perkins was never really a big name, and now, on top of all that, she has the disadvantage of being over 50 and trying to make a buck in Hollywood. I’m glad every time she gets a chance to work, but does anyone really think the Hollywood suits would cast a 50 year old woman in a romantic-comedy thriller opposite a slightly younger man? Not likely.  Why does this sexist and/or ageist line of thought persist? When it will it end? It’s a mystery.

Thanks for your consideration…

Here  is a link to the Entertainment Weekly article about casting Nora Charles. Notice the gendered headline: ‘Who will be Depp’s Leading Lady” as opposed to “Who Will Play Nora Charles?”

http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20584359,00.html

Here are the eight movies that Depp has starred in for director Tim Burton:

  1. Edward Scissorhands (1990)
  2. Ed Wood (1994)
  3. Sleepy Hollow (1999)
  4. Charley and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
  5. Corpse Bride (2005)
  6. Sweeney Todd (2007)
  7. Alice in Wonderland (2010)
  8. Dark Shadows (2012)
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7 Responses to “Nick and Nora Redux”

  1. Dale Meyler 12 April 2012 at 5:23 pm #

    Melanie Your Suggestion of Tina Fey is just Inspiredly Brilliant !! She would SO balance and enhance Depp’s strengths and smooth over his shortcomings.
    Whoever they cast they’re Better Be some Major Chemistry !!

    • listen2uraunt 13 April 2012 at 3:54 pm #

      Thanks, Dale! Now, if only I could get someone in Hollywood who had any say over this to read my blog. ; ) Take care…

  2. Vivian 12 April 2012 at 6:52 pm #

    Yes, I could definitely see Tina Fey in that role. But as much as I love Johnny Depp, I’d imagine someone more – debonair, maybe? – in the role. Let me think on that.

    • listen2uraunt 13 April 2012 at 3:52 pm #

      Right, Vivian! I totally agree. Depp would never be my first choice, either; however, as I understand it, he’s been the primary mover and shaker behind this project, so it’s unlikely to happen without him. My first guess as a possible sub would, of course, be Jon Hamm, but that’s almost too easy. He plays something akin to “dapper” each and every week on Mad Men. Alec Baldwin might have been a possibility at one time. He certainly proved he knew how to be all that in The Shadow, a movie I loved even though it was pretty much a bust. Of course, we all know by now that he and Fey have great chemistry, but why bother paying to see them together in a movie when they can be see at home on TV for free. What about Hugh Jackman? Oh, or Hugh Laurie??

  3. Ms. Charley Mitcherson aka Charley Moon 12 April 2012 at 9:53 pm #

    I could see Tina Fey as Nora; nice to connect with you again Melanie

  4. LA 03 October 2012 at 3:12 pm #

    I’m on board with your choice of Tina Fey. I think Debra Messing can pull off the glamour & comedic timing well. She even has a Myrna Loy look about her. Sandra Bullock might be another good option.
    I enjoyed your article & look forward to the remake but will still hold on to my collection of originals.

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