Wednesday, August 21, 2013


W.S. Van Dyke, 1936
Starring: William Powell, Myrna Loy, James Stewart

Picking up right where The Thin Man left off, After the Thin Man follows Nick and Nora on their train ride from New York back to their home in San Francisco. It is New Year’s Eve and though they are hoping to spend a quiet holiday together, their house is full of people holding a surprise party for them, many of whom they don’t know. They are also summoned to dinner by Nora’s aristocratic family, namely her Aunt Katherine, who dislikes Nick, and her cousin Selma, who is in some kind of trouble. It seems that Selma’s philandering husband is missing and she’s desperate for Nick to find him. Her husband, Robert, was really just holed up in a nightclub with his mistress. Selma’s faithful old boyfriend, David, is paying him a sizable sum to leave Selma. Before that can happen, Robert is shot and Nick has to find the murderer, though all the evidence points to Selma. 

As with The Thin Man, the murder mystery here is somehow both basic and convoluted, meant to provide a background for the real draw: Nick and Nora. Their relationship is just as charming and hilarious as in the first film, though there are unfortunately more scenes away from the couple, including a few musical numbers. The movie reveals a little more about Nick and Nora, as the setting is their home in San Francisco and several of the characters are members of Nora’s stuffy, aristocratic, extended family. They clearly look down on Nick and his banter with them is excellent, particularly Nora’s insufferable Aunt Katherine (Jessie Ralph). 

We also meet more of Nick’s friends, many of whom are street-smart thieves and crooks with hearts of gold, or at least an unwavering loyalty to Nick. This film included a number of infidelity jokes, which would carry on throughout the rest of the series, intimating that Nick has or had a number of girlfriends. Nora seems amused with just a tinge of jealousy and has some nice exchanges with Nick’s friends.

The plot has the same skeletal structure as the first film, particularly where the beginning and ending are concerned. It opens with Nick and Nora drinking, later a distraught woman begs Nick to find a missing man. After a number of parties, more drinking, some sleuthing, and red herrings, Nick gathers all the suspects together to reveal the murderer in a dramatic and potentially violent conclusion. 

While many people seem to love this film as much as the first, I actually like the third entry, Another Thin Man, more than this one. Make no mistake, there are some wonderful scenes, but the film as a whole is bogged down by its increased length, filler scenes not involving Nick and Nora, and a gimmicky subplot about Asta, their beloved terrier, being cuckolded by Mrs. Asta. Probably my favorite segment is the opening, where Nick and Nora return home on a train. While they are packing, Nora asks Nick to “put away” the alcohol, which he does by drinking it. There is also another hilarious scene where they return home to find their house in the midst of a raucous “welcome home” party for Nick and Nora, though none of the guests seem to know who they are, and they dance through the crowd unnoticed. 

As for the other actors, Jessie Ralph is fittingly grating and often quite funny as stuffy Aunt Katherine. Sam Levene (The Killers) appears as the typical bumbling police lieutenant who can’t solve the case without Nick. Elissa Landi (The Count of Monte Cristo) is a bit over the top as the stock damsel in distress, Nora’s cousin Selma, and is first distressed that her husband is missing and later distressed that she is the main suspect in his murder. James Stewart (Vertigo) has a very early role as Selma’s friend and ex-boyfriend desperate to protect her. He’s a little annoying and clearly hasn't come into his own yet, but his performance does offer some surprises. There’s also a nice side role for Universal horror regular George Zucco as Selma’s psychiatrist.
Overall After the Thin Man comes recommended, though you will definitely want to watch The Thin Man first. Fans of classic romantic comedies and murder mysteries absolutely must check out this series, particularly the first three entries. All six of the films are available in The Complete Thin Man Collection DVD box set

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