Quint on AFTER THE THIN MAN (1936) Come on, let’s get something to eat. I’m thirsty.
Published at: April 22, 2009, 7:07 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the second of six Thin Man flicks. If you’re just now tuning in, I’m running through the Thin Man Box Set, one film a day, leading up until next Monday’s kick-off of my all new column: A Movie A Week, which will be HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE, starring Marilyn Monroe and THIN MAN’s William Powell.
Now the AMAW series will be weekly, not daily, but sitting here watching these flicks in a row and posting them like A Movie A Days is actually really fun. I might choose to grab a box set and do this at some random point. Lord knows I have enough unopened box sets sitting on the DVD shelf to do that.
So, let’s get down to it and take a look at AFTER THE THIN MAN!
Immediately I was struck with what seemed like a sequel that starts up right after the previous film. The Thin Man ended on a train and After The Thin Man begins on a train as Nick and Nora (and Asta) return home to San Francisco. They’re greeted at the station by reporters asking about The Thin Man case, so one assumes this is a direct continuation… I love that in films and it doesn’t happen very often in a series… PHANTASM is really good about picking up right after the last left off.
So, Nick and Nora return home and while en route we establish the stark difference between the two. Everyone who shouts out at Nick is a newspaper boy, boxer, gum shoe, reporter or a shady character. Everyone who cries for Nora’s attention is well-dressed, obviously of the elite. It’s actually a rather smart way to cement how much of an odd couple these two are and do it quickly.
When Nick and Nora return home, all they want to do is sleep off their travels and the Thin Man case. Naturally, they arrive and there’s a huge party being thrown in their manor. As usual, they roll with it, drink, dance and make snide comments, not being recognized by most of the party goers who have no idea who they’re celebrating returning home, just there for the free booze and good time.
Once again, the Charles’ are pulled into a mystery against their will. This time it involves Nora’s family and like the first movie it’s not a murder mystery at first. This one is about a flakey brother-in-law (Alan Marshall) who has skipped out on his wife (Elissa Landi) and is cavorting with a nightclub singer (Penny Singleton). But that’s not all there is to it. She may or may not be shaking this guy down with the help of the nightclub manager and the dancer’s brother wants in on the shake-down.
Unawares the cheating so and so has been in touch with a very young James Stewart, one time fiancé of Elissa Landi’s who still yearns for her hand. He’s rich, so Marshall says he’ll leave town immediately, divorce Landi and leave the two to be happy together all for the paltry sum of $25,000.
Like the first film, they set up a ton of suspects, each one with a good motive for having Marshall dead. This scene is one of my favorites in the movie, happening on a foggy San Francisco street at night… all the players are there, all seemed to be armed… but who pulled the trigger?
While I really enjoyed the movie and think the chemistry between Powell and Loy is as strong as ever, AFTER THE THIN MAN lacks the spark the first one had. It could be that this time I expected the characters to be themselves instead of being fresh the first time around, but I think Powell played his Nick Charles a little more comical than he did the first time around.
He’s a drunk in both films, but I don’t remember him being so exaggerated in yesterday’s movie. Powell was a capable drunk, not slurring his words and stumbling around like he does a few times in this movie. I find that much less interesting than a functioning alcoholic.
But it’s a minor point and I didn’t dwell on it or let it ruin the good stuff that’s there. And there’s a lot of greatness in this movie. Powell’s interaction with his wife’s side of the family, for instance. They don’t like him nor he them and that leads to a lot of classic under-the-breath comments when the Charles’ are summoned to the mansion as a means of last resort, to investigate Marshall’s disappearance without shining a spotlight on the family affairs.
And I have to say… my favorite part of this movie, strangely enough, was what they’re doing with Asta, the dog. It’s ridiculous, but I love it. Asta has his own B storyline. When the Charles’ return home, Asta runs out to a pen in the backyard and sees Mrs. Asta and their little puppies. He barks happily, tail wagging. As his puppies come up to see him, all looking gray and white like him and the missus, another one comes tumbling out of the doghouse… a little black puppy. Asta sees this and his ears go up.
I’m not kidding.
And then a black dog sticks his nose under the fence and Asta chases after him.
Nick and Nora even comment on Asta being upset in the movie! Asta chasing down this black dog happens again later in the film! Incredible!
The mystery side of the movie is pretty standard and I think one of the reasons I felt this film lacked some of the spark of the original is that they essentially just took the original’s mystery structure and slapped a new crime onto it, but a new crime that has Nick and Nora spending far more time playing detective and less time being awesomely snarky with each other.
You have a new well-meaning cop that gives Nick the reins on this case, you have the disappearance mystery turn into a whodunit murder mystery, you have a myriad of suspects and finally, Nick pulls the same trick he did last time out. He gathers all the suspects together, without knowing who done it, and pits them against each other, piecing the facts together as they happen and solving the case when one of them slips up.
It didn’t help that I figured the who rather early on (just got the why wrong).
The supporting cast are all fine, again. James Stewart stands out, as you’d expect, and turns in a really unusual performance. Not unusual in a regular sense, but unusual because it’s not the image he solidified as his career went on. I found it fascinating to see him so young here, predating his legendary roles in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE and MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON by almost half a decade.
Final Thoughts: The booze is flowing fast and furious, Loy is as adorable as ever, but watching this so soon after the original highlights the rinse/wash/repeat feel to the story, which takes some of the shine away for me. That said, I can’t imagine where they’re going with Asta and if the further Thin Man adventures expound on Asta’s rocky relationship I’ll be incredibly happy.
Wednesday, April 22nd: ANOTHER THIN MAN (1939)
Thursday, April 23rd: SHADOW OF THE THIN MAN (1941)
Friday, April 24th: THE THIN MAN GOES HOME (1944)
Saturday, April 25th: SONG OF THE THIN MAN (1947)
The Thin Man series continues tomorrow with ANOTHER THIN MAN… Nick and Nora have a chillin’!
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