Another Thin Man
Story by Dashiell Hammett
Screenplay by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich
Additional material by Anita Loos (uncredited)
Directed by W. S. Van Dyke
After taking a brief trip home to San Francisco for the prior film, the action returns to New York City with Another Thin Man. The third entry in the franchise features one of the best mysteries and a cool collection of the off-beat characters that help make the Thin Man films so endearing. If you can’t smile when a bunch of mugs and lowlifes sing an off-key rendition of Happy Birthday while each holding random screaming children, then you’re probably a boring person scared of life.
Another Thin Man is my favorite of the series, I feel it has the best mix of characters, humor, and mystery. There is a constant stream of characters both good and seedy, and often both. Another Thin Man picks some of the themes of the prior two films and then throws them on their ears – there is a love triangle with a rich girl, a rich father who becomes a murder victim, and secret identities. Nora’s father’s business partner Colonel Burr MacFay makes an unsympathetic murder victim with his dismissal of Church and admittance that things outside of the law were done to ensure the fortune. But the law isn’t about whether someone is worthy of being a target.
One delight is the Cuban dance number in the West Indies Club, working with the Cuban origin of Church while providing a follow up to the Chinese-themed nightclub from Another Thin Man. Nora had received a phone call promising a clue would be told to her there, and she rushes over so she can show up Nick. Nick manages to get to the club by other means, and finds his wife at a table swarmed by male suitors (one of the few turnabouts to Nick constantly finding the admiration of random ladies in the series), they trade some hilarious wordplay that send the men scattering, and Nora ends up dancing with a guy who she thinks is the man with the information, but is just a lovestruck random guy. Nick has his own adventure with a man who begins spilling the entire plot after a few drinks, and Phil Church’s goon Dum-Dum is there to continually tell the guy to shut up. Nick does end up saving his wife from dancing with the random lothario thanks to a well-time punch when the power goes out.
Another Thin Man is jammed packed with the character actors that gave the Thin Man films their goofy dangerous flavor. Harry Bellaver plays Creeps, a “reformed” criminal now working as a bellhop (and another of Nick’s busts back from his detective days) who is determined to throw the couple a party. Shemp Howard appears as another reformed criminal named Wacky, who borrows a baby to get into said party. Paragon of British upper crust C. Aubrey Smith is Colonel Burr MacFay, business partner to Nora’s father, and he turns out to have been involved in some very shady dealings. And let’s not forget Dum-Dum, the knife-welding member of Phil Church’s crew who projects an aura of intelligent danger, even if he’s occasionally deflated by Asta retrieving his knives. Assistant District Attorney Ben Van Slack (Otto Kruger) becomes very involved in the investigation, at first trying to flip it on Nick, then eventually chasing after any lead and making lots of exaggerated implications. There is also the welcome return of Nat Pendleton as Lieutenant John Guild, the New York detective more than happy to have Nick help on this case. Keep your eyes peeled for Marjorie Main (from the Ma and Pa Kettle movies) as Mrs. Dolley!
A seedy trio lead by Phil Church are threatening Colonel MacFay for compensation for the time Church spent in jail while working for the Colonel. Church is embittered over his time served, but also has a complicated plan to get money and cause problems. He speaks of dreaming of his enemies dying, and then they do so in real life. Church’s knife welding servant Dum-Dum is more than just a goon, he knows the plan and knows he needs to keep people quiet, but occasionally is even cordial to Nick despite his deadly undertone. His devotion to Church is total. The female quotient is Smitty, who has a few secrets of her own. There is even an unofficial fourth member of this trio, who at first appears to just be watching the group, but manages to weasel himself inside to give us an additional suspect.
The plot is among the more complicated of the series, red herrings flying around like Lew Zealand is performing. A good chunk of what happens seems to transpire just to lead us off course. There is a long-lost daughter, a mystery woman, and people who are more than they appear. Another Thin Man is the last of the films given a story by Dashiell Hammett, which were also worked on by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett (and Anita Loos is also credited with story work by online sources).
The Charles are back in New York City, their luggage and even Asta’s hydrant arriving. New addition to the family Nick Jr. is also with them, along with the mousy Dorothy Walters, who has been hired as the nanny. They barely have the chance to break in their new hotel room when Nick catches one of the waiters scoping the place out. Of course he’s an old acquaintance by the name of Creeps, and is more than happy to see his old pal who busted him long ago and sent him on the path of the straight and narrow (okay, maybe not that straight and narrow…) Nora is quick to admonish with the patented line about how Nick has “such lovely friends”!
They get a call from Nora’s father’s business partner, Colonel Burr MacFay, who says something about a job. He’s way out in the country, so it’s a long drive to get there, dark by the time they arrive. In doing so, they pass by a dead body in the road. But when Nick goes to examine it, the body is gone. It’s enough to scare the chauffeur, and Colonel MacFay’s estate is packed with armed guards. It seems the old man is spooked, thanks to threats from a former employee named Phil Church, angry at MacFay abandoning him to rot in jail in Cuba.
We get a brief introduction to the collection of characters living with Colonel MacFay – his adopted daughter, Lois MacFay. Her fiance, Dudley Horn , who seems more interested in her money than her. There is also MacFay’s new secretary, Freddie Coleman, who is more interested in Lois than being a secretary. Mrs. Bellam the maid and Jesse the huge dog round out the rest (at least the rest who aren’t armed, we don’t really meet the dozen or so guys wandering around with guns!)
Nick (along with Asta) go to investigate Church and his crew, including Church declaring he’s dreamed MacFay has died twice, and when someone dies three times in his dreams, they die in real life. Church’s crew includes the knife-tossing Dum-Dum, though Asta helpfully retrieves the knives tossed.
Despite the visit, soon there is a fire at the pool house at MacFay’s compound, and poor Jesse the huge dog is dead. BOOOO!!! MacFay demands that Nick keep him safe, but refuses to pay off Church, even though Church did the shady dealings for MacFay so he could keep his nose clean. MacFay gets angry at Nick over this and refuses to manage their businesses any more. Spoiler alert, but they’d have to get a replacement very soon, anyway…
Church tells Nick he had the fateful third dream about Colonel MacFay, thus he and his crew are heading back to New York City as the old guy will be dead anyway, and they don’t want to get framed. He also threatens Nick and begins a dream countdown with him.
That night, Colonel MacFay is somehow killed despite the room he is in being empty. In addition, MacFay’s daughter Lois’s fiancee Dudley Horn is wandering around with a drawn gun and ends up getting shot when he’s trying to shoot her. The cops arrive (along with the return of Nat Pendleton as Lieutenant Guild from the original flick), and ADA Ben Van Slack is totally suspecting Nick with hilarious implied stares and “Hmmmmm?”s. The cops implying Nick is always with dames when trouble goes down is fun, as is Nora trying to snap her fingers.
There is a whole side plot involving Nick and Nora’s new nanny, Dorothy Walters, who joins them in their adventure to MacFay’s place, but disappears when the fun begins. She is implied to really be MacFay’s long lost real daughter, and MacFay’s housekeeper Mrs. Bellam suddenly confesses to being her mother that put her up for adoption, though the motivations for that seem suspect. That also gives Dorothy Walters a reason to want MacFay dead.
As mentioned above, the scene at the West Indies Club is not to be missed, but between it and what happens to Phil Church, Nick has enough information to do his patented dinner party murder explanation scene, taking place simultaneously as Creeps’ BYOB party for the Charles, here BYOB meaning Bring Your Own Baby.
Like the prior picture, once the murderer confesses, their entire demeanor changes, they transform into a wholly different person. While not as amazing as Jimmy Stewart’s turn (few could be!), it’s still amazing and hilarious when it happens. They even try to start some drama to save their skin, but the resulting hilarious conclusion to the drama reveals it was all a ruse and it’s off to jail.
Overall, things keep up the funny and the mystery, while keeping a current of danger beneath the mix.
Rated 10/10 (MGM, shipping time, poor doggie, knife retriever, yet another con, matchbook logo, wrong man, bookshelf, wrong baby, Nick needs a drink)
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