This post is published as part of the Summer Under the Stars blogathon
After the Thin Man has a lot to live up to. It’s the first sequel to the popular Thin Man series, and with any sequel the director and crew want to do something original and please fans who enjoyed what was laid down in the original. With that, I think After the Thin Man is a good Nick and Nora movie, but I’m not sure if it would have been that good without the Thin Man moniker.
William Powell and Myrna Loy cement themselves as the hard-drinking, albeit lovable, private detectives. This time around the duo is meeting Nora’s family, and solving a murder that involves a young Jimmy Stewart! The characters are great, as to be expected, but the narrative gets jumbled in the morass of subplots that are thrown in. It makes for a fairly congested movie, and not nearly as entertaining as the original, but worth a watch.
Starting immediately after the events of the first Thin Man, Nick and Nora (Powell and Loy) return to San Francisco to visit Nora’s wealthy family. Once there, Nick finds himself embroiled in a murder where one of the suspects is connected to Nora’s relatives.
I mentioned above how a good sequel must remain true to the basic foundations of the original, but expand the story out, which After the Thin Man does. Nothing about the duo has changed; they’re still the same hard-drinking couple we know and love. The first scene even has Nick “putting away this liquor” by drinking it. The script establishes that nothing has changed, and why should it since the events here happen immediately after the events of the first. Although, the compressed time frame does make for a few eye-rolling sequences. I mean right after they finish up one murder, they get hit with another? Someone should be investigating Nick and Nora themselves. Thankfully, the movie explains that through Nick’s investigation of the case itself, and the continuing trope of having the cops two steps behind
Where the world of the Thin Man is expanded is in the history of the characters! We knew there were discrepancies in the classes between Nick and Nora in the first, but here we actually see their upbringings come back to life when they return to San Francisco. When the two go to a restaurant, Nick meets up with old friends who are fighters and pickpockets. When Nora mentions her friends, she coolly tells Nick “you wouldn’t know them; they’re respectable.” Hell, even Asta’s world is expanded with the addition of Mrs. Asta and their puppies. I did think that was the one moment where the film went too far into being a gimmick. I mean, there’s no mention of Mrs. Asta in the last film, or any puppies, so if the events are mean to take place right after, how is that possible? It does make for some cute physical comedy where Asta’s ears fly up in surprise. Once we get to meeting Nora’s family, that’s when all the dialogue and comedy comes flying fast and furious. Remember the dinner scene at the end of the first Thin Man? Think of that, but for the entire 112 minutes. I have to say, Nora’s family are total jerks! Refrains of “poor Nora” are heard frequently, and Nora’s Aunt Katherine (Jessie Ralph) refers to Nick as “Nic-ho-lass” to hilarious effect.
With all this happening, it’s shocking to discover that the actual mystery and murder doesn’t come about until fifty minutes in; again, the film is 112 minutes so that leaves over an hour to solve it, so nothing feels particularly rushed. The first Thin Man was only 91 minutes and moved briskly. I had to wonder if the extra 21 minutes was really necessary, and I think the additional subplots, and numerous family sequences could have been trimmed to keep the murder at the forefront. Thankfully, the finale uses the same set-up as in the original with all the suspects in one room; helping the audience in case they forget who is actually a suspect.
I could spend a lifetime with Nick and Nora Charles, and Loy and Powell’s acting is never in doubt. My only quibble is I felt Nora took a backseat in order to make this Nick’s journey. We know that Nick is disliked by Nora’s family, and him solving the murder allows him to gain respect. With that going on Nora isn’t as vivacious, or interested in solving the case. I never felt they were partners like they were in the first film. While Nora is around, and she does occasionally jump into the fray, I don’t recall as many hilarious sequences involving both of them. The moment in the first Thin Man where Nick socks Nora in the jaw to save her from a bullet is still the best example of chivalry mixed with hilarity, by way of spousal abuse (I don’t mean it like that). There is a fine bit of comedy though in having Nick battle his way through a gunfight, in the dark, whilst having a telephone conversation. A creative piece of physical comedy, and suspense.
Out of all the casting decisions I didn’t see coming, I never expected Jimmy Stewart to be here! He plays David Graham, a suspect in the murder investigation. I’m not a Stewart fan at all, but I must admit I REALLY liked him here. You should know my policy on spoilers by now, but I’ll mention it here in case you don’t want to know. Okay, so this movie gets props for making Jimmy Stewart the murderer! The climax has David going crazy and brandishing a gun, prepared to shoot. I must admit that murderous Jimmy Stewart is something I never expected to see, and he does it well. It’s been said that Stewart didn’t like his role, because it obviously didn’t play to his persona. To me, it brought an air of unpredictability to the plot. Sure, the lover is the suspect everyone goes to, but since it was Stewart I never believed he’d pull it off. I think this is actually the one movie where I praise Stewart’s acting because it’s so unconventional for him.
Wow, I guess I liked and remember After the Thin Man more than I thought. I still find the first one to have a magnetic quality that the sequel loses, but you have to expect that of all sequels. Nora does feel subdued in this role, but Powell’s Nick is still the quintessential private detective, and Jimmy Stewart changes his persona and makes me believe he’s a killer!
Interested in purchasing today’s film? If you use the handy link below a small portion will be donated to this site! Thanks!
Buy the Complete Set
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.