Wednesday, January 6, 2010

New Year's Eve Double Feature: The Thin Man (1934) and After the Thin Man (1936)

As has been the tradition for many years, I was wicked sick on New Year's Eve. While my friends and family partied elsewhere, I sat in with some herbal tea and an adorably tuxedoed Robert Osborne to watch the first two entries of TCM's Thin Man marathon, since oddly enough, I've never seen any of the famed classic mysteries. In The Thin Man, private detective Nick Charles (William Powell) marries wealthy socialite Nora (Myrna Loy) and retires from investigating to take over her family business. After her inventor father Clyde Wynant (Edward Ellis) goes missing, Nick's old friend Dorothy (Maureen O'Sullivan) asks him for help finding him. Nick is reticent to get back into the PI game, but the wry Nora looks forward to adding some excitement to their lives. He's pulled into the case by the police and his connection to the crime world, as multiple murders follow in wake of the inventor's disappearance. After some clever deducing, Nick rounds up several seedy suspects, including Wynant's money-hungry ex-wife Mimi (Minna Gombell), for an elaborate dinner party that exposes the culprit.

The mystery itself is pretty straightforward, so the real joy of The Thin Man (the film and the series in general) comes from the terrific rapport between the central figures of Nick and Nora. They're witty and sarcastic, bouncing off one another playfully for their own amusement. It's really nice to see a husband and wife who get along well but aren't afraid to make fun of each other. Nora is probably the best character- she has a thirst for adventure and her personality reminded me a lot of the under-appreciated Liz from The Philadelphia Story. I was disappointed though, that she really wasn't given much to do. I was always under the impression that these films were about a husband and wife who worked as a team to solve crimes, but really Nick does most of the work and half the time didn't allow Nora to become more involved in the case. It's still a very well-written and interesting film, but didn't quite live up to my expectations.


I'd been excited for After the Thin Man because it marks an early role for Jimmy Stewart, one of my favorite actors. Unfortunately I knew something about his character in advance, so a major plot point was spoiled for me. This time, the central couple are visiting snobby relatives for New Year's, only to find that the asshole Robert (Alan Marshal), Nora's cousin Selma's (Elissa Landi) husband, has gone missing. It's clear he's been cheating on her, and Nick and Nora find him drinking at a Chinese club, watching his mistress, the beautiful singer Polly (Penny Singleton). Robert, who only married for the money, is now trying to extort thousands from David (James Stewart), who's in love with Selma and would pay to see his main competition leave town. After Robert is found shot in the street, Nick once again investigates a group of seedy figures connected to the case and gathers all of the suspects together to determine the murderer.

This is very much in the same vein as the first film, but in a good way. The mystery is engaging, but less interesting to me personally since I already a knew a central plot point. And of course there are plenty of wisecracks and suspicious characters mixed in. Once again Nora is shut out of actual detective work while Nick goes charging into gun-toting danger, but their relationship maintains its alluring camaraderie and entertaining dialogue. Of course Jimmy Stewart is adorable and tall, as is his want, though I sort of hoped he'd be in it more. The main detriment of After the Thin Man is its uninspired ending- not the wrap-up of the mystery, but Nora's personal reveal. All in all though, a nice enough way to spend New Year's Eve.


1 comment:

  1. more like Nick and Nora's infinitely sequel'd mystery series amirite?