Ring a Ding Ding
Although movie audiences had to endure two years between the first and second films in the Thin Man series, the famed characters Nick and Nora Charles had no such luxury. With yet another murder mystery to solve, After the Thin Man paints an equally convoluted and humorous tale of the master, freelance sleuth and his family.
The crimes of After the Thin Man hit particularly close to home for Nick (William Powell) and Nora (Myrna Loy) Charles, whose train pulls into the station at their home town of San Francisco at the film’s opening and the characters are attacked by friends and reporters still reeling from Nick’s impressive work on the New York murder case featured in The Thin Man.
Also making the latest case more personal is the fact it involves Nora’s extended family. Her cousin, Selma (Elissa Landi) invites the couple over to Aunt Katherine’s house because she is distraught over her missing, philandering husband. Nick and Nora manage to locate this Robert (Alan Marshall) at a night club where he is getting friendly with the floor show, a woman named Polly (Dorothy McNulty). Robert seems to be developing enemies from multiple places: Selma for the cheating, Polly who wants his money, Polly’s brother who wants his money, the night club owner who has some romantic claim to Polly, and the family friend, David, played by Jimmy Stewart, who is in love with Selma.
With all those parties having some reason to want Robert dead, it is no surprise we find the man shot not long after the picture starts. Out of the fog and darkness walks Selma with a gun in her hand, a gun that David takes from her to throw in the river. Naturally the case is not that simple as Selma insists she is innocent. Both Nick and Nora –she has every right to be involved in this crime because it involves her family!– snoop into the murder that is subsequently followed by the killing of a janitor at an apartment building where Polly lives and where someone has been eavesdropping on her apartment.
Nick invites all suspects and involved parties to the vacant room above Polly’s to put together the final pieces of the puzzle. He walks us through the crimes and the motives until the culprit slips up and Nick proves himself the hero detective once again.
As with the other Thin Man movies, the audience derives its enjoyment in After the Thin Man not from the actual mystery but from all that surrounds it. Nick and Nora’s relationship is always laced with humor as Loy plays up to feminist ideals by putting herself in danger and relinquishing no ownership of the relationship to her husband. Nora even lands herself in jail in this episode, another scene marked with comedy.
I have said it before and I’ll repeat myself: Powell and Loy had a remarkably perfect onscreen relationship. The two are so dryly witty and play off each other in both dialogue and movement so ideally. When film buffs title Loy as the perfect wife, it is the Thin Man movies to which they are referring. The harmony between Nick’s love and protection of his wife and Nora’s unwillingness to sit at home and knit translate into wonderfully caring moments and instances of anger that are too mild to be lasting.
The story is too difficult to follow or determine who has the best motive and opportunity for the murder, so it is best to merely enjoy the ride and leave the driving to William Powell. In this movie, however, the actual murderer is perhaps the least likely suspect. To avoid giving away the end, I’ll merely say I am surprised MGM was willing to paint this actor/actress as a murderer, as studios often cast their payers in a certain way to maintain a relationship with their audience.