Richard Thorpe, 1945
Starring: William Powell, Myrna Loy
This fifth entry in the Thin Man series is the first not directed by W.S. Van Dyke, who died in 1943. Richard Thorpe (Ivanhoe and Double Wedding with Powell and Loy) does a decent job taking up the directorial reins, but this is a completely different Nick and Nora and marks a major departure in the series. The film begins with Nick and Nora traveling on a very crowded train to visit Nick’s parents in a suburban town in New England. Though Nick has a strained relationship with his father, Nora is convinced that if Nick solves a crime, his father will be suitably impressed/proud. She starts some rumors around town that Nick is there on a case, which predictably brings a dead body to their door. An employee at a local aircraft factory came to reveal some information to Nick, but was shot before he could talk. There is also a painting making its way around town that everyone is dying to get their hands on. Sometimes literally.
The Thin Man Goes Home is a bit disappointing and is only recommended for die hard fans of the series. There are a number of disturbing changes. First and foremost, no one drinks. The excuse is that Nick’s father doesn’t approve of alcohol, so Nick walks around drinking apple cider out of a flask. Really this is because of severe rationing during wartime, where it probably would have been inappropriate to show someone drinking heavily on screen. Secondly, there is a major emphasis on physical comedy. While some of these scenes are funny (a lawn chair Nora is sitting on collapses and she accidentally launches Nick out of a hammock and he lands on top of her, for all the neighbors to see), most of them are just ridiculous and don’t fit in the with tone of the series. Nick repeatedly falls chasing Asta in a train station, and he falls numerous times at his parents’ house, which is father chalks up to drinking.
The third and most disappointing change is Nora’s character, which is completely different from the first four films. Gone is the delightful, witty banter between Nick and Nora. She’s become somewhat of a nosy, screeching shrew in this one and argues with Nick’s parents about how important he is. In a certain sense, it’s endearing, but it’s simply out of character for Nora. Insultingly, the film makes her the butt of several jokes, rather than a willing, intelligent participant in them. This film also substantially changes Nick’s background, which was established in the novel. Nora’s wealthy family looked down on him because he came from a family of working class Greek immigrants. Here he’s a doctor’s son from the suburbs of New England and his father disapproves of his lifestyle as much as Nora’s family. What? The suburban setting is also an odd change of pace, taking us far from Nick and Nora’s world of glamor, romance, drinking, and danger. This is also the only film to directly reference the war, as a major component of the plot are some stolen airplane plans.
With that said, there are some positive moments. Lucile Watson and Harry Davenport give some good performances as Nick’s parents and Gloria DeHaven is quite funny as a young, dramatic actress caught up in the murder. There’s a great scene where Nora, thinking she has identified the murderer, a man who happens to be Nick’s friend, decides to tail him. Nick discretely tells him to give her a bit of exercise, which leads them all around town and into a shady pool hall (a place no proper lady was supposed to go). It turns out Nora is also being followed by a potential suspect, but she manages to slip away by starting a fight that spreads throughout the entire pool hall. She hides in a phone booth, calls the police, and then tells Nick about her adventure. He asks, “You did that without drinking?” There's another hilarious scene where he grabs Nora, bends her over his knee, and spanks her with a rolled up newspaper.
Overall this is only recommended to Nick and Nora fans. It’s certainly the lowest point of the series, and though parts of it are still fun, it just doesn’t add up to the first and third films. The Thin Man Goes Home is available in The Complete Thin Man Collection DVD box set.