Monday, October 29, 2012

After the Thin Man (1936)

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director: W.S. Van Dyke

MGM’s Christmas present to movie audiences in 1936 is the return of William Powell and Myrna Loy as the playful and sleuthing couple Nick and Nora Charles in After the Thin Man, the sequel to their successful 1934 comedy/mystery The Thin Man. Based on the characters created by mystery author Dashiell Hammett with a brand new story he created just for the screen, this feature turns what was originally a single run movie into a successful franchise for MGM, director W.S. Van Dyke, Powell, and Loy. Also featured in this picture is the first substantial role for a young up and coming actor by the name of James Stewart. With all of the fun had in the previous picture this sequel builds on the entertainment value of the Charleses with an all new murder mystery to solve. Although it is a follow-up, this film does more than just bring back the stars from the original, it expands the world of The Thin Man, creating new enjoyable moments with Nick and Nora, and can be seen as perhaps more entertaining than the original.

After the Thin Man is a comedy/mystery sequel to the success 1934 film The Thin Man, picking up a short time after the events of the original picture where the retired detective and his wife return home only to be flung into another mystery, this time concerning family members, as Nick must piece together the events of a murder. Established as soon after Nick Charles (William Powell) solved the mystery of “the thin man” (the events of the previous film), he returns home with his social and witty wife Nora (Myrna Loy) where they are quickly drawn into the mystery disappearance of Nora’s cousin Selma’s (Elissa Landi) husband. A no good man Selma’s husband, Robert (Alan Marshall), plans to extort $25,000 dollars from Selma’s good friend and most adamant admirer David Grant (James Stewart) in a deal to leave Selma forever, so that David could have Selma to himself.

With Robert’s rotten deeds and attitude towards his many parties including his wife, David, and a crooked nightclub owner, Robert is found shot dead with a gun holding Selma standing over him which she claims to have never fired, turning the mystery into a “how done it?” story that only Nick must solve. With suspects piling up, along with dead bodies, Nick pieces together the clues until he is able to get all the accusers into a single room where he unravels the truth, leading to the most unlikely suspect to be the murderer. Although satisfied with a story of solving yet another mystery, the film leaves the ending open for new installments as Nora reveals the indication of a new addition to the Charles family while knitting baby clothes, stating to a shocked Nick “And you call yourself a detective.”

History manifests that the typical sequel follows the normal idea of bringing back the beloved characters of the original that make audiences want to come back, but more times than not leaving a somewhat unsatisfied taste in their mouths. Here with After the Thin Man audiences are remarkably satisfied on both levels. We have the return of Powell and Loy in their successful roles, mirroring the wit and intrigue of the original, and leaves audiences satisfied, perhaps even more so than the original Thin Man. With director W.S. Van Dyke at the helm of the feature the film picks up where the first movie left off with the same spirit and energy that made many enjoy the original feature. It makes for a fun film and leaves you happy with the prospect that there could be more, which will be seen in multiple sequels in the coming years.

To fulfill our wants of what we saw in the original film, we get all of the main people involved for the first picture. The wonderful direction of Van Dyke allows easily bridges the gap from one film to the other with the exact same style (meaning that in a good way). In what can be considered his most busy year in film, Powell returns in the role that gave him an Academy Award nomination. He would be nominated once again for best acting in 1936, but not for the role of the alcohol loving retired detective, instead it would be for his title role in My Man Godfrey. Loy too returns to the role that established her as a main player in Hollywood after years of struggling in minor roles. Her comedic flare playing alongside of Powell made the team a successful couple in screen, and major stars for MGM. Not to be forgotten in returning characters is the family dog Asta, who provides moments of comedy and whimsy with a short side story as his dog wife is discovered to have cheated on him while away.

If there is to be established a note for most significant contribution to cinema overall with the production of After the Thin Man it would have to be the first significant role for the James Stewart. Up to this point Stewart had been struggling to be given a meaty role with his less than glamorous looks and humble demeanor. For this role as David he is given a main romantic character as well as a part of major importance in the ultimate conclusion to the plot. This appearance would provide the first look into the acting prowess of a man that would be heralded one day as one of the greatest actors in American cinema history.

Elissa Landi plays the victim of Selma, cousin of Nora who is caught in the middle of the murder mystery. Fresh off an abruptly severed contract from 20th Century-Fox, Landi was becoming angry with movie studios and was failing to find better roles that she wanted. After just a couple more films she would retire from acting. Other notable supporting cast members are the Jessie Ralph in her usual role as the cranky matriarch of the family, Joseph Calleia who had made a successful shift to films as a crooked owner of a nightclub, and Alan Marshall as the murder victim the audience comes to hate early in the feature.

Nora, Asta, and Nick return in the first of five sequels.
After the This Man was another successful film for MGM and entrenched The Thin Man as a franchise series that would continue to produce sequel after sequel in the future. Even though the film would be able to stand on its own as a feature film, its tie in as a sequel would lead to somewhat lesser esteem. It would however garner a nomination for best adapted screenplay at the 1937 Academy Awards. Of course with the film’s ending there is the allusion to a sequel with the addition of a child in the Charles family, an idea that would pay off in the 1939 follow-up Another Thin Man. That sequel would be proceeded with three more features for MGM in a line of successful pictures in the series, but After the Thin Man would be held as the best in the series of sequels, and  perhaps by some as the very best in the series.

The Thin Man series would be one of the best remembered series of features in Hollywood’s golden age spanning the 1930s and 1940s. This sequel proved to take the best of the original feature and make us laugh, continue to entertain, and be able to pull audiences into yet another mystery just as the first one had years before, making it a strong example of how production of sequels should be. MGM, the most powerful studio of the era, had found yet another money maker, while further establishing two stars in a year that had already lavished their faces across silver screen many times in other pictures. The characters of Nick and Nora Charles became two of the most popular characters in the movies of its time and continue to entertain decades later.

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