Another Thin Man (Review)

Another Thin Man

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

Another Thin Man
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.
Another Thin Man
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.
Another Thin Man
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).

Nick Charles (William Powell) – The retired detective is once again out of retirement with another murder mystery, this time involving more people he knows. Even a few of the secondary characters are starting to get suspicious.
Nora Charles (Myrna Loy) – Nick’s wife and now mother of Nick Jr, thus she won’t be keeping up with the drinking and must double down on quips.
Asta (Asta) – The Charles’ loyal dog is with them once again to help look for clues, retrieve knives, and to get into random mischief. This may still be Skippy, or may be one of the replacement Astas. I have conflicting information on that.
Lieutenant John Guild (Nat Pendleton) – Lt. John Guild returns to the series to try to figure out the case, even though the murder happened outside of New York City proper. Maybe he works for the state police?
Assistant District Attorney Ben Van Slack (Otto Kruger) – ADA who attaches himself to the case because someone high-profile was knocked off. Spends part of the film jumping to ridiculous conclusions and giving weird looks.
Colonel Burr MacFay (C. Aubrey Smith) – Friend and business partner of Nora’s father, and helped run the businesses after her father died. Did some shady stuff, though he insulated Nora’s dad from the bad stuff. Screwed over Phil Church and doesn’t want to pay out. Has a bajillion enemies, and then mysteriously dies in an empty room.
Phil Church (Sheldon Leonard) – Cuban ex-con who spent time in jail because he did off the book dirty deeds for Colonel MacFay, and now he wants to get paid for his troubles, or else! He threatens people by telling them he dreams of their deaths, and after the third time that they die in his dreams, they die in reality. Has a gang consisting of knife-thrower Dum-Dum (Abner Biberman) and female Smitty (Muriel Hutchison), who is his sort of love interest despite having a husband she doesn’t bother with.
Lois MacFay (Virginia Grey) – MacFay’s adopted daughter. She comes complete with a dog (Jesse), a fiancé (Dudley Horn, played by Patric Knowles), and Freddie Coleman’s interest. Of her admirers and family, only Freddie comes out of the first chunk of the movie with his life intact.
Freddie Coleman (Tom Neal) – MacFay’s secretary and lovelorn admirer of Lois MacFay, though she has other interests and is engaged.
“Creeps” (Harry Bellaver) – “Reformed” criminal who runs into Nick and insists on throwing him a party in celebration of the birth of his son. Responsible for bringing a lot of colorful characters into the climactic scenes.

Another Thin Man
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The Thin Man (Review)

The Thin Man

The Thin Man movie
Screenplay by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich
Based on The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett
Directed by W. S. Van Dyke

The Thin Man movie
Of all the old school detective films I’ve watched (and I’ve watched quite a few), the most enduringly entertaining detective series is by far the Thin Man films, headed by the irreplaceable William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles. The married couple quip and drink their way through complicated murder mysteries and have a good time while doing so. The mysteries are top notch, the chemistry between Powell and Loy is legendary, the guest stars put in powerful performances, and there is plenty of danger and gags to keep the fun and excitement at a steady pace.

Nick and Nora Charles have since embedded themselves in pop culture, becoming a mystery archetype with similarly premised shows and films. There is even occasionally the dreaded remake rumors, though nothing will replicate the chemistry of William Powell and Myrna Loy.

The Thin Man films are among the first series of classic films I tracked down and watched the whole sequence of back when I was just starting out as a cinephile (along with the Hope/Crosby/Lamour Road movies and the Marx Brothers), so the films have a nostalgic connection for me. But they’re also pretty darn good regardless of memory enhancement, even if the series begins to drag a bit with the final two films.

As everyone who is anyone knows, the “Thin Man” of the title refers not to Nick Charles, but to the murdered victim, Clyde Wynant. Audiences soon came to refer to Nick Charles as the Thin Man, so the name stuck through all the sequels and the television series. The Thin Man was the last of five novels by Dashiell Hammett, who did story work on the next two Thin Man films (edited versions of these stories were published after his death). Hammett was sick with TB, and focused his career on screenwriting and political activism before joining the Army in World War 2 (having pulled strings to get enlisted). He later was jailed and became a victim of the Hollywood Blacklist due to his left-leanings, and died of lung cancer in 1961.
The Thin Man movie
Coming out in 1934, The Thin Man appears right as the Hays Production Code was beginning to get enforced more vigorously. Of the six movies, it has the most dirty jokes and references that the other films could only dream of using. But there is still plenty of things that seem done just to keep people from panicking, such as Nick and Nora sleeping in separate beds (as they do in all six movies!) One wonders just how Nick Jr. was conceived, though they did spend an awful lot of time together in tiny train cars, so there’s that answer!

Nick Charles is a former detective who seems to have worked out of both New York City and San Francisco, and seemingly solved every case that ever happened on both coasts. Thanks to his skills, everyone knows him, from the cops to a colorful cast of characters of the criminal persuasion. You see, Nick is such a gentleman that he gives them all square deals instead of treating them like criminals, and most of them were proud to have been caught by him. Thus, when trouble is afoot, everyone seems to assume he’s going to help crack the case. Everyone except Nick Charles, that is! But that reluctance doesn’t last long, and we’re soon off to the races!

Nora Charles was born into money, a Nob Hill heiress (a neighborhood of San Francisco where the moneyed elite settled in the late 1800s) who married Nick out of love, and because the couple are perfect for each other. Instead of one personality dominating, Nora easily keeps up with Nick with the zingers, and often with the drinking. Nora even tries her hand at detectiving, usually over Nick’s objections. Occasionally she ends up getting into trouble, but Nick is on hand to bail her out (or occasionally she bails him out!), and often she helps find additional clues for the puzzle.

The final main character of the Thin Man features is Asta the dog, a male wire fox terrier. Asta is played by a canine actor named Skippy, who appeared in several other films such as The Awful Truth and Bringing Up Baby. Skippy eventually just became known as Asta. There is conflicting information on how many Thin Man films feature Skippy and how many feature replacement dogs, but the original Asta is for sure in the first two films, and definitely replaced for the last two films. Skippy commanded a huge salary for the time, $250 a week. The Asta on the Thin Man tv series was reportedly a grandchild of the original. In the books, Asta is a female schnauzer. Asta is a mini canine detective of his own, finding clues when out with Nick, though Asta does destroy evidence on at least one notable occasion. Asta has a bark worse than his bite, occasionally being frightened by kittens and hiding during danger. Asta got a family in After the Thin Man, which consists mainly of visual gags and his wife having already found someone who sticks around to be with, culminating with Asta abandoning them for a life of jet-setting with the Charles.
The Thin Man movie
The Thin Man came out in the heyday of the Great Depression, and Nick and Nora are running around with money to spare, living it up. Films had become a means of escape, and William Powell and Myrna Loy are just so charming together that you don’t mind that they’re rich. Powell previously played an aristocratic detective named Philo Vance in a series of films (the original trailer for The Thin Man has Powell’s Philo Vance introducing Powell’s Nick Charles) Director Woody Van Dyke had to fight to get his cast, using Powell’s prior role as leverage and fighting for Myrna Loy, which meant production had to be rushed so it would finish in time for a film the studio wanted to use Loy for.

Like many good mystery films, the story is not about the mystery so much as the couple and the characters. Thus, Nick and Nora flying zingers back and forth while having a good time and going with the flow make for an engrossing viewing experience, and that’s helped by the strong casts of supporting characters, both humorous and dangerous, and even four-legged such as Asta the dog. Powell and Loy appeared together in 14 films, six of them being Thin Man entries. The couple was so associated with their wonderful chemistry each other onscreen that people thought they were actually married in real life, leading to a few awkward situations if an actual significant other was around.

The Thin Man became a surprise hit, which lead to a string of sequels. Dashiell Hammett contributed stories to the first two sequels, and Van Dyke directed all of the pre-war Thin Man movies (he died in 1945). The series lost its oomph with the last two entries, but was revitalized in the 1950s as a television series (including an episode featuring Robby the Robot!) and occasionally we get a revival threatened. The concept is one that would lend itself to a great modern television series, it would just require two leads with explosive chemistry to pull it off.
The Thin Man movie
I have watched a number of older detective series, and they harken back to the days when you could just barge into people’s homes and do all sorts of unsavory stuff. There were no CSI labs, and there is plenty of detectives messing up crime scenes by moving bodies, touching evidence, or “borrowing” clues for later. Yet there are also references to labs, showing there was some actual forensics work going on, even if the movies gloss over all of it. After wall, we got to have the big conclusion where Nick explains the entire crime to a crowded room of suspects only to reveal the murderer at the last second, that doesn’t really work if an out of date DNA sequencer matches a suspect before Nick’s decided if he’s even going to get off the couch and go detectiving.

Nick Charles (William Powell) – Retired detective now living the good life with the love of his life. Gets dragged back into the detective business and breaks the case, because he’s just that good at it. A big fan of drinking.
Nora Charles (Myrna Loy) – Wealthy heiress who married Nick out of love, and is the only one who can keep up with him both on the drinking and the quipping front. Encourages him to get back into detecting because she thinks it will be fun.
Asta (Skippy) – The strong-willed dog of the Charles, who is both a brave finder of clues and a coward when the danger comes out. Enjoys playing with balloons.
Dorothy Wynant (Maureen O’Sullivan) – Daughter of Clyde Wynant, who goes missing and then is accused of murder. She is set to be married, but after the troubles with her father she has a breakdown and begins to display a wild streak. Knew Nick from when she was a child and her father hired him.
Lieutenant John Guild (Nat Pendleton) – Lead detective on the case who is more than happy to have Nick Charles help out, though he has his own theory and keeps finding evidence that supports his theory, instead of looking at it from an objective point of view.
Mimi Wynant Jorgenson (Minna Gombell) – Former wife of Clyde Wynant, now married to Chris Jorgenson (Cesar Romero!), who doesn’t feel the need to work. Usually asks Clyde for money. Tries to cover up for him when she finds Julia Wolf’s body. Is the mother of Clyde’s two children, Dorothy and son Gilbert Wynant (William Henry)
Clyde Wynant (Edward Ellis) – The titular Thin Man, who becomes prime suspect number one for a series of murders despite having been missing for several months. But there is more than meets the eye going on here! A cranky inventor who becomes too focused on his work and regularly hides away somewhere to develop new inventions. His marriage ended when he began his affair with his secretary, Julia Wolf (Natalie Moorhead). Both women seem more after Wynant’s money than Wynant himself.

The Thin Man movie
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