Perhaps no other single film has done more for popularizing a single cocktail than the delightfully effervescent “Thin Man” film series (or ‘franchise’). Based on characters created by Dashiell Hammett, the first film in the franchise is an adaptation of his bestselling novel “The Thin Man,” first published in 1934 in the magazine Redbook. The film was released the same year, and became an instant hit. Although it was the last novel Hammett would write, it spawned 5 film sequels.
The cocktail “The Thin Man” and its sequels popularized was, of course, the Martini. NOT the iced-vodka-served-in-a-stem-glass that masquerades as a Martini these days, but an ACTUAL Martini. For the uninitiated, a Martini is a combination of gin, vermouth and orange bitters shaken or stirred with ice (there is a very heated, decades long debate about the stirring vs. the shaking), and served in a stem glass. NOT on the rocks unless asked for, NOT in a double old fashioned glass or highball glass unless asked for, and definitely NOT with colored sugar syrup in it.
The ratio of gin to vermouth has constantly changed throughout the decades, and in later years the bitters were omitted all together (the bitters mentioned here are Orange bitters, not the more common Angostura bitters). The Nick and Nora Martini, named for the characters, uses a ratio of 3 parts gin to 1 part vermouth. The main characters mixing and drinking the Martinis are Nick and Nora Charles, deftly played in the film series by William Powell and Myrna Loy. The husband and wife sleuthing team is often seen in cocktail lounges, restaurants and at home serving and consuming their signature cocktail throughout each of the films, except the fifth in the series “The Thin Man Goes Home” in which Nick is humorously ‘on the wagon’.
When viewing films from earlier decades like “The Thin Man,” note the size of the stemware the cocktails are served in. It may be shocking to modern viewers (and drinkers), but the standard size of a cocktail glass was 3 ounces unless you specifically told the bartender, “make it a double,” and stayed at 3 ounces or so for many, many decades. It’s far cry from our present day ‘Super Size’ mentality, which has found its way in to our meal portions as well as our cocktail portions. A 3 ounce cocktail will stay chilled to the last drop you drink of it, and you won’t be ‘under the table’ with one drink, allowing you to sample more than one or two cocktails on the menu.
Here then are but a few cocktail scenes from two of the “Thin Man” films. Notice that the character Nick Charles is first introduced teaching a group of bartenders how to shake various cocktails. Make note of the list of cocktails he mentions – all were standards in the early 1930s!