The Thin Man Goes Home
Story by Robert Riskin and Harry Kurnitz
Screenplay by Robert Riskin and Dwight Taylor
Directed by Richard Thorpe
The Thin Man Goes Home doesn’t feature the regular creative crew of the series. Regular director W. S. Van Dyke, had committed suicide in 1943, suffering from illness and unwilling to go seek treatment due to his Christian Scientist beliefs. Regular script writing team Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich also didn’t return, nor did series creator Dashiell Hammett, who had worked with the writing pair to help develop the prior entries.
The new director was Richard Thorpe. Thorpe was the original director of the 1939 The Wizard of Oz, though most of his work was discarded when he was fired after two weeks. He directed several Tarzan flicks and a bunch of adventure dramas, many featuring Robert Taylor. The story for The Thin Man Goes Home was conceived by Harry Kurnitz and Robert Riskin, Riskin going on to write the screenplay with Dwight Taylor. The lack of continuity is easily apparent with the many small changes in the film.
Most importantly, this entry changes Nick’s family from Greek immigrants (Hammett had Nick’s father change their last name from Charalambides to Charles to fit on a photograph) to an upper class family headed by a respected community doctor. This switches Nick from an immigrant’s son who done good to a black sheep who left his family to find his own path. That craps on a lot of the class issues from the previous four films, and turns things into an attempt by Nick to finally impress his father.
The Thin Man Goes Home was a 1945 pictures, released while the US was in the midst of the Second World War. This is reflected in the film itself, and we see the Charles deal with wartime rationing. Their normally spacious private train cars are gone, replaced by packing in like sardines on the train, and even being forced into the baggage car because they bring Asta along with them. Nick Charles is forced to drop his usual 100 martinis a day habit due to alcohol rationing (explained in the film as abstaining from drinking because his father disapproves), and instead chugs cider. Many of the background actors are dressed as members of the armed forces.
Myrna Loy actually stopped acting to get married and become a big booster during the war, working with the Red Cross and ticking off Hitler (a feather in anyone’s cap!) Shadow of the Thin Man was her last film before stopping, and The Thin Man Goes Home was her return. Rumor was they were trying to make the sequel earlier and bring in Irene Dunne as Nora Charles, but Dunne flatly refused, saying the chemistry between Powell and Loy was why the series worked (and she was subsequently no longer offered scripts by MGM!)
There is a nod to pulp detectives as Nick lounges in the hammock and reads a Nick Carter magazine.
Nick Charles Jr. isn’t in this entry, as explained he’s away at school, and pulling him out of school so the senior Charles family could meet their only grandson for the first time is just wand-waved away. That’s the sort of thing that if I pulled it off with my mom, she’d have sent me immediately away on a train to go get my son. He does return in the final film, which is good because it would just be too weird otherwise.
The train station is so crowded now that the Charles family can barely stay together. There is some humor bits with a female wire fox terrier that Asta tries to impress (I guess he and Mrs. Asta are officially over!), and some falling down pratfalls as William Powell starts doing a Chevy Chase impression decades before Chevy Chase.
The most memorable scenes that stuck with me decades later was the train sequence, particularly the crowded wartime train and how the Charles are forced to the baggage car because of the dog. Thus they have to work their way through the mass of people, in cars so packed there is barely room to breathe. Scenes like this have been experienced by anyone who has been on a rush hour subway ride, complete with the one person who always thinks they can find room in the next car.
The Charles finally get to the baggage car (thanks to pretending Nora is pregnant!), and Asta makes “friends” with the various animals there. The baggage car is the only one with room, it becomes a luxurious and spacious travel vessel simply because everywhere else is packed solid!
Nick and Nora reach his childhood home, surprising his mom and freaking out a superstitious maid, who will continued to be riled up throughout the film (until the climax, where she asks for Nick’s autograph!) Nick’s dad is at work,
and he’s already trying to impress his father by helping out around the house, namely by fixing a fold down table that has been having problems. But thanks to some more of the pratfalls, Nick ends up getting knocked out by the table, his flask of apple cider lying nearby, and his father returning home to what appears to be his son passed out drunk on the floor.
One interesting deal is Nora talking up Nick by explaining a whole murder mystery plot that Nick solved, the plot being complicated enough to be a real plot for a film, though it is none of the prior films. I’ve not heard enough of the radio series to know if the plot is recycled there, nor am I aware if this is a plot from any prior versions of any of the films. It’s also possible that the mystery was created wholesale as a tale for Nora to tell. Tell it she does, both excited at revealing how awesome Nick is, and being pushy to convince Nick’s father that his son is awesome.
The town is full of colorful characters, from the eccentric crazy lady with a gun – Crazy Mary (Anne Revere) – to the local pretty girl who thinks she’s a drama actress – Helena Draque (Helen Vinson). Half the town stops by to see Nick, including a man who drops dead on the doorstep, being the murder victim of the case Nick will be taking while on vacation. The criminals in town are already spooked that Nick is back, and now the bodies will begin piling up as the villain makes an effort to cover his tracks.
Murder isn’t the only thing going on in town, there is a war on, so of course there is a spy ring. There is a complicated scheme involving paintings covering blueprints, all of which is disrupted when Nora buys one of the paintings as it depicts a windmill she thinks Nick likes (he has bad memories of the place!) The man who runs the store where the paintings are sold is always complaining and always confused, taking most things very literally. In short, he’s the perfect guy to run illicit stuff through, because he’ll have no idea. He’s also the perfect guy to have as a memorable bit part character.
The usual criminal element that are friends with Nick are reduced to just one – Brogan – who has gone straight as a greeting card salesman. They first run into him on the train, where Nick suggests he memorize some of the lines on the cards. He does, and will be spouting off random poetry throughout the film. Nick also gets him to watch his parents’ house from the bushes, and he does, popping out when stuff happens at night. Nora thinks he’s up to no good, and Nick uses him to keep her busy. In one of the better humorous scenes, he leads her all across town, including into a pool club that has a rule – “No unescorted ladies”. To solve that problem, Nora causes a fight as distraction! The scene is compounded as Nora is being tailed the whole time as well. In the prior four films, Nora had gotten better at avoiding Nick’s attempts to lose her so he could go off and investigate, but now she’s back to being easily ditched. Another weird sequence has Nick spanking Nora in front of his parents in a playful punishment type deal, a scene that couldn’t possibly be made in a film today.
Things wrap up with the usual bring of everyone who isn’t dead together, where Nick explains all the bad things that have happened, busting the spy ring and exposing the murderer, thanks to the help of all the medical knowledge he picked up from his dad. Finally, Nick’s dad is proud of his son, because we all knew that was the conclusion.
Overall, things never quite gel together. There are some good ideas, but not enough delicious parts to sum into a tasty treat. Instead, it’s just Nick and Nora on autopilot, and while the sixth entry would bring back a few of the missing elements, it would be missing some of its own, providing no satisfactory conclusion to the saga.
Rated 7/10 (MGM, tail wag clue, jerk goats, jerk ducks, skittish maid, cigar label, doorstep victim)
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