The July Five: Five days, five movies, five actors (actually one couple, three actors, and a director if you want to get technical). Kicking the month off is our lovely couple who actually return for their second July Five, Myrna Loy and William Powell. But where Myrna and Bill were showcasing the romantic comedies last year, this year they’re putting on their detecting caps to complete the Thin Man series. I’ve already reviewed The Thin Man and After the Thin Man, so if you want to catch up click the links. I’ll wait.
Now that you’re caught up on the series, let’s start with the third installment, Another Thin Man, and three is the magic number because in this go-round baby makes three! The baby puts a damper on Nick and Nora sleuthing as a team, but director W.S. Van Dyke (directing the series from the beginning) keeps the humor high and sprightly, while Powell does some of his finest acting in the franchise.
Nick and Nora Charles (Powell and Loy) are hoping to spend a quiet weekend in the country with their new baby, Nickie, Jr. Unfortunately, family friend Colonel MacFay (C. Aubrey Smith) ends up murdered leaving Nick to solve the caper.
Another Thin Man follows the basic Thin Man conceit: Nick and Nora expect to relax on their never-ending series of trips – haven’t they been planning to go home for years now? – only to have a somewhat close friend bite the big one. The mystery is a bit lax this go-round with a blatant red herring and an equally obvious murderer, although your accessibility in solving the crime early depends on your knowledge of mysteries in general and the Thin Man series in particular. Nick is firmly in charge of solving the crime and the movie follows the formula of Nick investigating, meeting various underworld types, and hilarity ensuing. The underworld element is more pronounced in this version, although there’s an equal uptake in humor. A great example involves a couple brawling while Nick discovers a clue and has a drink with little regard to the violence happening next to him. Talk about multitasking! Later on, in the requisite dinner table scene where all the usual suspects are gathered, increased by the presence of a baby party for little Nickie, Nick recreates the crime. When a cop asks for a gun, Nick says “I brought my own.” Be sure to B.Y.O.G. when partying with the Charles’.
With the implementation of the Production Code, and the baby, I expected a sanitizing of the Charles household, and we get that a bit. Nick remains a social drinker, although he isn’t constantly hungover like in the first film; I’m sure those days are dead. The only allusion we get to past fun is Nora’s off-hand comment that “Nick was sober in Kansas City.” He drinks here and there, but never to excess. Nora is worse off, although it’s expected she wouldn’t be drinking with the baby. However, she isn’t as involved in the case as in the first feature. She exhibits moments of craftiness, such as picking people’s pockets and taking the initiative to go look for a witness. The latter moment culminates in one of the best dialogue exchanges wherein Nick dissuades a group of suitors from scamming on his wife by saying she’s plagued with a contagious disease, to which Nora plays along, yelling “I won’t stay in quarantine!” I appreciate the script trying its hardest to keep Nora an active, if not embroiled, participant in the case.
For all the frothy conversations between husband and wife, there is an element bothering me: Nick constantly calls Nora “Mommy.” It’s a pet name, I know, but why doesn’t the script let her call him “Daddy?” He’s just as much a parent as Nora is. The whole thing comes off as a reminder that Nora isn’t ignoring her child; it’s a reminder to us, and her character, that she, specifically, has higher priorities. Nick is a dad and a detective, but Nora is strictly a mother. It’s incidental considering the script goes as far as it can implementing Nora into the story, and when she is, it’s great, but the reminders emphasized to me how shrunken in the scheme of things Nora’s become. There is a moment where the case takes a backseat, a rare point in the movie, letting Nick and Nora talk about their son. We’re reminded Nora’s a mother, but there aren’t many reminders that these two characters, who spend all their time drinking and carousing before, are now parents with responsibilities for another life. When they do stop to talk it’s a saucy conversation about Nick teaching Nickie “about life” when he gets older. I’m pretty sure Nora’s talking about giving Nickie, Jr. the birds and the bees talk, especially since she says if the baby was a girl she’d do it. It’s such a head-scratcher of a conversation that I couldn’t help but smile. Why is she bringing this up now? He’s just a baby and there’s no context for the conversation, at all. Not complaining, just thought it was hilarious hearing Myrna Loy skirt around the topic of sex.
Speaking of Nickie, Jr. much of the humor derives from his being placed in constant peril (he’s worse than a princess). Sure, there’s a cute moment with him and Asta (who earns his own credit), as if to say to the audience, “What’s cuter than a dog? A baby! If we put the baby with the dog, it’ll blow people’s minds!” Nickie, Jr. is a convenient plot device, and the addition of a baby is usually the source of TV shows “jumping the shark,” but, much like with Nora, Nickie is given time to shine. The big climax/reveal of the mystery takes place during a party for him, filled with babies. Part of this serves to show that Nick is friends with only the nicest of criminals, all of whom bring food and their babies. When a gunshot goes off, instead of Nick’s tough-guy friends defending his honor, they all rush to the playpen and run off with their respective children. It’s a hilarious gag, doing a better job of reminding us that parents are both male and female. It’s actually a better integration of two-parent households than the Nick and Nora relationship (if on a lesser scale).
If I had to boil down one memorable quality about Another Thin Man: William Powell speaking Spanish! Any red-blooded American woman who doesn’t swoon at that, I don’t want to know you. Another Thin Man loses the husband/wife element of detecting with the arrival of baby Nickie, but the script is still packed with zingers and William Powell continues to light up the screen. The series also tries its damndest to keep Nora in the game, despite having a less impressionable character. And did I mention Bill Powell speaks Spanish in this one?
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