The Thin Man (1934) author Dashiell Hammett drew on his experiences as a union-busting Pinkerton detective in Butte, Montana, in creating his detective characters. Meanwhile, "The Thin Man" star Myrna Loy was born near and raised in Helena, Montana.
Given three weeks to shoot the film, W.S. Van Dyke managed it all in 12 days for the paltry budget of $231,000 (April 9-mid May). The film surprised everyone by becoming a major box office hit, raking in $1.4 million.
While the "Thin Man" in the movie refers to character Clyde Wynant, in the opening credits of the film the cover of the novel "The Thin Man" is shown. On the dust jacket of the book we see a thin man who's not just a model for the photo but who is also author Dashiell Hammett.
In The Thin Man (1934) while serving guests at a Christmas Party, and in My Man Godfrey (1936) when he comes home "intoxicated" William Powell sings the same line to a song, "For tomorrow may bring sorrow, so tonight let us be gay"
William Powell spoke of how much he loved working with Myrna Loy because of her naturalness, her professionalism, and her lack of any kind of "diva" temperament. "When we did a scene together, we forgot about technique, camera angles, and microphones. We weren't acting. We were just two people in perfect harmony," he said. "Myrna, unlike some actresses who think only of themselves, has the happy faculty of being able to listen while the other fellow says his lines. She has the give and take of acting that brings out the best."
For William Powell's first scene (at the bar), W.S. Van Dyke told him to take the cocktail shaker, go to the bar and just walk through the scene while the crew checked lights and sound. Powell did it, throwing in some lines and business of his own. Suddenly he heard Van Dyke say, "That's it! Print it!" The director had decided to shoot the scene without Powell knowing it so that he'd be as relaxed and natural as possible.
MGM was advised that some dialogue such as William Powell's line "He didn't come anywhere near my Tabloids," and Myrna Loy's line "What's that man doing in my drawers?" were "censorable," the picture was approved for exhibition in 1934 and was granted a PCA certificate in August 1935. After the film's release, some territories did censor some lines of dialogue, and at least one theatre owner from the South wrote to the PCA to complain of excessive drinking in the picture which his patrons found offensive.
W.S. Van Dyke paid attention to William Powell and Myrna Loy's easy banter between takes and their obvious enjoyment of each other's company and worked it into the movie. The director often encouraged and incorporated improvisation and off-the-cuff details into the picture.
W.S. Van Dyke often did not bother with cover shots if he felt the scene was right on the first take, reasoning that actors "lose their fire" if they have to do something over and over. It was a lot of pressure on the actors, who often had to learn new lines and business immediately before shooting, without the luxury of retakes, but Myrna Loy credited much of the appeal of the film to Van Dyke's pacing and spontaneity.
According to Myrna Loy, the biggest problem during shooting was the climactic dinner party scene when Nick reveals the killer. William Powell complained that he had too many lines to learn and could barely decipher the complicated plot he was unraveling. It was the one scene when several retakes were necessary, which brought up an entirely new problem. The script called for oysters to be served to the dinner guests, and in take after take, the same plate of oysters was brought out under the hot lights. "They began to putrefy," Loy said. "By the time we finished that scene, nobody ever wanted to see another oyster."
One of the ways MGM tried to prevent Myrna Loy from being cast was by telling W.S. Van Dyke that he could have her only if she was finished in three weeks to begin shooting Stamboul Quest (1934). But they underestimated their speediest director.
Although she had great compliments for William Powell's charm and wit, Maureen O'Sullivan later said she did not enjoy making the picture because her part was so small and the production was so rushed.
W.S. Van Dyke insisted that Louis B. Mayer and other executives at MGM view the first rushes of the picture to confirm that his casting choices were correct. And they were delighted to admit that Myrna Loy and William Powell were perfect for the roles.
Although the "Thin Man" of the title was the character Clyde Wynant, fans of the picture and the subsequent series began to refer to the Nick Charles character as "The Thin Man," and all subsequent films included "The Thin Man" in their titles.
There is disagreement as to how long it took W.S. Van Dyke to shoot the film. Some sources list 16 days while others state it was 18. Even Metro's official publication "When the Lion Roars" has contradictory times.