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After the Thin Man (Review)

After the Thin Man

After the Thin Man
1936
Story by Dashiell Hammett
Screenplay by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich
Directed by W. S. Van Dyke

After the Thin Man
Nick and Nora Charles return to San Francisco as heroes, their solving of a murder exploits big news as San Francisco has never had any crime, ever. Okay, maybe there were a few crimes in San Francisco, but the Charles are famous thanks to the power of media making heroes. Of course, the fun can’t last, and soon Nick and Nora are drawn into a brand new murder mystery. Never fret, there are plenty of wacky characters and real dangers along the way, with Nick and Nora quipping all the while.

It’s almost literally right after The Thin Man, which took place over Christmas, and it’s now New Year’s Eve. That keeps the festive atmosphere without retreading the Christmas theme. There is a surprise welcome home party happening at Nick and Nora’s house, which means the house is packed full of people who have no idea who Nick and Nora Charles even are, nor who recognize them when they come in. A guy hilariously welcomes them inside and explains he doesn’t know who the Charles are, and advises them to just fake it like he’s doing. They go along with it, dancing together to the kitchen, where the house staff actually does recognize the pair.

More than any of the other films, After the Thin Man is aware of the class differences between Nick and Nora. Nora was born into wealth, while Nick married into it. Despite their differences, the pair are equally willing to hang out with anyone from any class strata. Nick has a constant stream of lower class reformed criminals that he runs into that are all wanting to be buddy-buddy, while Nora’s rich relatives treat Nick like a pariah, especially ironic considering the guy Aunt Katherine’s daughter Selma ended up married to.
After the Thin Man
One of the biggest draws to After the Thin Man is Jimmy Stewart, who knocks it out of the park and whose performance will be one of the main things you remember from this sequel. When I first watched the Thin Man flicks, it was because I was getting into older movies and became a big Jimmy Stewart fan. I also needed to watch the films in order, because that’s just how I roll. Luckily, they had just released all of the Thin Man flicks on VHS tape (remember those? Of course you do!) and so they were easy to find at the rental stores. Except for After the Thin Man. For some reason, none of the video stores in the St. Louis area seemed to have a copy. I finally found one at an independent video store on the way home from work, and that place became a regular stop due to a classics section that outdid much of the competitors (though the cheapo DTV action films I still rented from Schnucks!). Oddly enough, their copy of After the Thin Man was ancient, in a giant clamshell package, despite the other five films all being the new VHS versions. Whatever, I finally got to see Jimmy Stewart be awesome, and then could continue the series. I do remember the commercial in front of each movie for the whole Thin Man set, which is a nice dumb thing to remember when I can’t recall where I put my keys.

Asta has an expanded role, not only does he partially destroy a clue while attempting to play with the Charles, but there is a running gag with Mrs. Asta, who thanks to Asta’s long absences has take to accepting visits from a local black dog, including producing at least one puppy. Despite Asta chasing off the interloper, by the end of the film Asta is continuing to hang out with the Charles family, leaving his “wife” to her own devices. As she and his children are never seen again, we can deduce what her decision was. While the new dog being black might constitute a racial component, I’m thinking it’s more of a way to make the visual gag of a puppy that’s decidedly not Asta’s work the best in black and white. Still, this is the type of humor that has begun to dry up with enforcement of the Hays Code, and subsequent Thin Man features would have to resort to even more abstract metaphors to discuss infidelity and other issues.
After the Thin Man

Nick Charles (William Powell) – Former detective turned socialite who keeps detectiving because it keeps life exciting, he gets involved in the cases anyway, and because he’s darn good at it.
Nora Charles (Myrna Loy) – Socialite who continues to encourage her husband to take tough cases, especially when they involve their friends. And gets involved in the cases as well.
Asta (Skippy) – We find out here that Asta is an absentee father, so I expect one of his kids wrote a tell-all book about their life. Asta also enjoys mangling clues, like the note he thinks is a play thing. Oh, that Asta!
David Graham (James Stewart) – Friend of Nora and Selma’s for years, he’s always been in love with Selma, but then she goes and marries some jerk and he’s forever friend-zoned. But when she’s accused of Robert’s murder, he’s there to try to help her.
Selma Landis (Elissa Landi) – Nora’s cousin and daughter of the notorious Aunt Katherine Forrest (Jessie Ralph), whose hobbies include looking down on the poor and being shocked by everything. Selma married the no good Robert Landis despite David Graham holding a flame for her for decades, and now suffers before Robert’s indignity as well. Then she gets accused of his murder, and is so out of it she begins to doubt her own innocence.
Lieutenant Abrams (Sam Levene) – Lead detective on the case out in San Francisco, also enjoys Nick helping out. Is less of an outward tough guy than Lieutenant John Guild, but can be tough on the criminals if need be.
Polly Byrnes (Penny Singleton as Dorothy McNulty) – Lounge singer who is Robert’s new girl, except she’s really running a con on him along with her club owner boss, Dancer (Joseph Calleia). Her brother Phil Byrnes (Paul Fix) is a bottom dweller who sometimes almost spoils her plans.
Robert Landis (Alan Marshal) – Selma’s husband who spends his time and her money out at clubs hitting on other women. Is all set to leave her when he is gunned down, Selma found holding the gun.

After the Thin Man
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Posted by Tars Tarkas - January 1, 2015 at 9:17 am

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