Tuesday, August 30, 2005

It Came from Netflix! After the Thin Man

1934’s The Thin Man, adapted from the last novel by Dashiell Hammett—the money he made from the book and movie series helped destroy him as a writer—is just one of the greatest, most enjoyable films ever made. (As is My Man Godfrey, which also stars William Powell.)

Nick Charles is an ex-detective married to the blue blooded but equally fun loving Nora (the incredibly beautiful Myrna Loy). Both are comical, urbanely witty drinkers of the Dudley Moore ‘Arthur’ variety. Nick is reluctantly drawn into a big murder case, with the help of his wife, who wants to watch him at work. The film is also remembered for the couple’s wire haired terrier Asta, one of movieland’s great dogs.

The film was also a huge hit, and a few years later a sequel was trotted out. Eventually there were six movies altogether, which naturally diminished in quality as things went on. All the films are now out in an essential box set, which also features a bonus documentary on the series.

The first sequel, After the Thin Man (the 'Thin Man' was the mystery subject of the first case, not detective Nick) if not reaching the stellar heights of it predecessor, is still pretty good. There are warning signs, though. The film is bloated—at 112 minutes, it’s significantly longer than the appropriately svelte 93 minute The Thin Man—to allow for a lot of crowd-pleasing comedy and even a few nightclub production numbers. And the comedy is already starting to get pretty broad, a trait that would sadly continue in the four movies to follow. Luckily, though, this first follow-up still holds up pretty well.

As noted, the emphasis is on humor in this one, with Nora looking with amused consternation at all the mugs and lowlifes Nick knows from his days as a cop. It’s a credit to Powell’s charm that we actually believe that Nick has a reputation as the most likeable guy on the planet. Even crooks he’s arrested in the past run up eagerly to shake his hand.

That was a gag in the first movie too. Here, however, we also get its opposite, as Nick is forced to spend time with Nora’s pack of incredibly elderly and snooty bluenose relatives. Even Asta has a comic subplot, when he learns that his ‘wife’ has been fooling around with a wee Scottish terrier. Really, there’s a dog infidelity thread.

The mystery involves the murder of the husband (who really is a most detestable cad) of Nora’s cousin. One of the wide array of suspects, amusingly, is an extremely young and callow James Stewart, this being one of his first movies. The film ends, of course, with Nick getting all the suspects together and solving the murder. The clues that lead to this seem pretty haphazard and lazy, but the killer and their motive is actually pretty good. Watch also for a comic cameo performance by horror regular George Zucco, as a quack psychologist.

I think my favorite moment in this film is when Powell grabs the old fashioned hearing aid of one of Nora’s old relatives and does a gag into it. This must have been an ad lib, because an actor in the foreground—who had been facing Powell but inadvertently turns towards the camera when he starts to crack up—breaks into a spontaneous fit of laughter which he tries but humorously fails to suppress.

I won’t spoil the last minute surprise that ends the movie. It’s a sweet moment, but signaled trouble ahead for the remainder of the series.


At 7:06 PM, Blogger nshumate said...

Unrelated to the post, but I'm a little sad (sniff, sniff) that you don't link to my blog (sniff, sniff)...

At 8:30 PM, Blogger BeckoningChasm said...

The film is also remembered for the couple’s wire haired terrier Asta, one of movieland’s great dogs.

Not to mention one of the greatest crossword clues of all time.

And we all love you, Nathan--you know that, you silly!

At 6:23 AM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

Hey, did *you* link to *my*...oh. You did.


At 9:15 AM, Blogger baby copernicus said...

Until now I was unfamiliar with the THIN MAN series, but after reading your piece and researching it a little bit, I have no idea how Rob Schneider and David Spade plan on remaking this.

Of course, I'm not a filmmaker.


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