We aren’t done honoring Nick and Nora yet, but this is the final Thin Man movie for the week. Song of the Thin Man was a financial disappointment upon release, that, coupled with the production issues during The Thin Man Goes Home cemented the decision to continue the franchise. It’s understandable that, by 1947, the actors were tired and their story had run its course, all in evidence during this final entry.
Nick and Nora become enmeshed in finding the murderer of band leader, Tommy Drake (Phillip Reed). Along for the ride is Asta and Nicky, Jr. (Dean Stockwell).
The final entry in such a popular franchise spares no expense, and the Charles’ go out with a bang. Situated on a glittering yacht, we spend quite a bit of time in the lush penthouse of our dynamic duo, where they rub elbows with the likes of Keenan Wynn, Ralph Morgan, and Gloria Grahame. The hardscrabble world Nick Charles once inhabited is nonexistent since the murder suspects are all wealthy. The Charles’ always walked the tightrope between wealthy and less-than, usually through the characterization of Nick, but with the opulence of the wealthy finally allowed to return (post-Depression and WWII) I guess the studio decided why not let the duo explore the lush world of the high and mighty.
None of this is problematic in and of itself. It’s that the same problems which plagued The Thin Man Goes Home follow Song of the Thin Man. As with last time, there’s too many characters and not enough murder. All the characters are thinly motivated to murder, but are non-distinguishable save for gender. None of them have compelling enough stories and that’s in spite of introducing them all within the first ten minutes of the movie instead of setting up the Charles’ story. Really, Song of the Thin Man comes off as an everyday mystery with Nick and Nora walking through. This never feels like their movie even though it’s meant as a final farewell. Much like The Thin Man Goes Home, this is a subpar mystery on every level. The use of jazz music dates the movie instantly, but also sets up lengthy songs that are completely at odds with the previous movies and make a brief 86-minutes seem lengthier than necessary.
The actors are still game even if the evidence of the longevity of the franchise wears on their faces. Both Powell and Loy sleepwalk through this feature. Asta contains more personality than Nick or Nora at this point. Nick does his detecting while Nora hangs around; normally, this would be nothing new but Asta becomes Nick’s partner for much of the feature. It would have been fitting to let our couple work together in this their final parting but that never happens. It’s also sad that the script wastes an opportunity to integrate an 11-year-old Dean Stockwell into the hijinks as little Nicky. The leaps in the age of Nicky was always surprising – he went from three to eleven in three in movies – but Stockwell isn’t given anything to do other than walk around with Asta and talk on the phone. When he gets in trouble and is punished it leads to a rather humorous flashback from Nick of Nicky getting his first haircut and generally being adorable. As Nicky’s grown older I’d hoped for more integration into his parents line of work, or at least more sequences of Nick and Nora having to decide whether their love of a good mystery put them at odds with their parenting. Nora is given a moment confronting that decision but it isn’t a central theme of the movie.
Honestly, there isn’t much more worth saying about Song of the Thin Man. I wasn’t surprised that, towards the end, the franchise would run out of steam. This series really comes off like a twenty-year marriage where the couple tries to break from their tired routine by meeting new people but eventually sticking to what’s comfortable. There isn’t even really a set conclusion outside of Nick saying he’s going to retire…until the next case pops up. Sadly, this would be the series’ swan song. Song of the Thin Man isn’t awful, but it’s a wasted farewell to two characters we’ve watched mature throughout the years. By the end, even Powell and Loy seem happy to move on.
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