Skip to main content

Your dog is outside, running around with a knife in his mouth.

Another Thin Man
(1939)

It would be perfectly reasonable to assume the introduction of a sprog to a husband and wife detective duo would be the death knell for a series. A sign that sentimentality and generally goo-iness have taken over. Nothing could be further from the truth in this third outing for The Thin Man series, an adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s The Farewell Murder. Nicky Jr. is absolutely not central to the story, and our couple are as refreshingly flippant in their discussion of him as they are towards their own relationship (i.e. they don’t need to keep saying they love him). This is also the most densely plotted mystery, so far. I didn’t figure out the perpetrator, but the fun of a Thin Man movie is more the antics of Nick (William Powell) and Nora (Myrna Loy) getting to the reveal than the reveal itself, and this one is hugely satisfying in that regard.


As in After the Thin Man, Nick and Nora are called to investigate goings on at a house with an entourage of possible mis-doers. This time, the murder doesn’t take place until after they arrive. Colonel McFay (C. Aubrey Smith) summons Nick convinced that his ex-employee Mr Church, who has been sending him threats, means to do him in. When McFay is murdered, Church seems like the obvious suspect so we, and Nick, know it must be someone else.


A really good murder mystery ought probably to be constructed in such a manner that an intelligent viewer can deduce the perpetrator through the trail of breadcrumbs while dodging the red herrings littered across the narrative. Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, returning on screenplay duties, fail in that regard. There’s a terribly clumsy scene in which one character reveals their relationship to another, as if it’s going to hold some importance. It never does, but it works as a simple distracting tactic. Likewise, there is the occasional element of oblique strangeness. We assume Mr Church’s premonitory dreams are simply a means for him to justify his foul deeds, but it becomes clear he actually believes he has this ability.


The police are several steps behind Nick as usual, and we see the return of Lieutenant Guild (Nat Pendleton) who rather surprisingly reveals he has always had a thing for Nora. It’s Otto Slack’s DA Van Slack who presides over the investigation, however. Nick’s withering response to police stopping his car at night and shining a torch searchingly (“Those are my feet”) about sums it up.


The couple’s general dispositions are alive and well. Nick is still on the sauce, but less prominently. There are a few references (“Oh, we had a lovely trip. Nick was sober in Kansas City”) and a nice moment where Nora pickpockets the key to the drinks cabinet, supplying it to her grateful husband (he has been refused alcohol as McFay wants him to have a clear mind). At one point she explains how she got rid of a clutch of reporters by telling them they were out of scotch (“What a gruesome idea” responds Nick). Nick’s as laidback as ever, only roused to fisticuffs when Church threatens Nicky Jr (the rotter!) We also get more of Nora’s wry delight in Nick’s underworld acquaintances (“Your father has such lovely friends”). In this case dimwit Creeps (Harry Bellaver) holds Nick no ill will for incarcerating him (“Why should I? It took a genius to outsmart me”).


Nora: How did you know I was here?
Nick: I saw a group of men standing around a table. I knew there was one woman in the world who could attract men like that. A woman with a lot of money.

There’s also the usual playful jealously on display. Nora learns of Nick’s playboy style (“Was he really like that? I always thought he was bragging”) and, on being left high-and-dry by Nick who gives her the slips to do some lone investigating for the third film in a row, we find her at the club he is visiting, surrounded by a throng of would-be suitors. They make them selves scarce when Nora exclaims, “I wont stay in quarantine. I don’t care who catches it”. There are also allusions to  very un-Hayes Code slack morals when Nick refuses an offer from Virgina Gray’s moll by saying he is married (“That don’t mean a thing and you know it”).


Gatekeeper: What’s the idea with the kid?
Nick: Well, we have a dog, and he was lonesome. That was the idea, wasn’t it mummy?

Against the odds, the presence of Nicky Jr doesn’t become an irritation, and the casual language of Nick and Nora concerning their offspring belies their devotion (“We sort of like him. We might as well, we’re stuck with him”). The indulgence, once again, is reserved for adorable Asta who not only looks after Nicky Jr and is fascinated by a skunk (“It’s another kind of cat!” Nick warns him) but also makes off with a murder weapon (“What do you think he is? A moth?” asks Nick, observing the police aren’t going to catch Asta by waving strange lights about in the dark).


Halfway through the series and The Thin Man shows no signs of a deterioration in quality. Indeed, I think Another Thin Man just edges After the Thin Man. It isn’t as smoothly plotted, but it benefits from being less obvious. Goodrich and Hackett are firing on all cylinders with the repartee, and Powell and Loy are perfection. Then series was already five years old at this point, and it’s a rarity not to see annual cash grab sequels of variable quality (Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes for example) in properties around this time. The next picture would be released two years later, just prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor.


****

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Espionage isn’t a game, it’s a war.

The Avengers 3.3: The Nutshell
Philip Chambers first teleplay (of two) for the series, and Raymond Menmuir’s second (also of two) as director, The Nutshell is an effective little whodunit in which Steed (again) poses as a bad guy, and Cathy (again) appears to be at loggerheads with him. The difference here is how sustained the pretence is, though; we aren’t actually in on the details until the end, and the whole scenario is played decidedly straight.

Set mostly in a bunker (the Nutshell of the title), quarter of a mile underground and providing protection for the “all the best people” (civil servants bunk on level 43; Steed usually gets off at the 18th) in the event of a thermo-nuclear onslaught, the setting is something of a misdirection, since it is also a convenient place to store national security archives, known as Big Ben (Bilateral Infiltration Great Britain, Europe and North America). Big Ben has been stolen. Or rather, the microfilm with details of all known double agents on bot…

Ah yes, the legendary 007 wit, or at least half of it.

The World is Not Enough (1999)
(SPOILERS) The last Bond film of the 20th century unfortunately continues the downward trend of the Brosnan era, which had looked so promising after the reinvigorated approach to Goldeneye. The World is Not Enough’s screenplay posseses a number of strong elements (from the now ever present Robert Wade and Neal Purvis, and a sophomore Bruce Feirstein), some of which have been recycled in the Craig era, but they’ve been mashed together with ill-fitting standard Bond tropes that puncture any would-be substance (Bond’s last line before the new millennium is one Roger Moore would have relished). And while a structure that stop-starts doesn’t help the overall momentum any, nor does the listlessness of drama director Michael Apted, such that when the sporadic bursts of action do arrive there’s no disguising the joins between first and second unit, any prospect of thrills evidently unsalvageable in the edit.

Taking its cues from the curtailed media satire of Tomorr…

I know what I'm gonna do tomorrow, and the next day, and the next year, and the year after that.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
It’s a Wonderful Life is an unassailable classic, held up as an embodiment of true spirit of Christmas and a testament to all that is good and decent and indomitable in humanity. It deserves its status, even awash with unabashed sentimentality that, for once, actually seems fitting. But, with the reams of plaudits aimed at Frank Capra’s most enduring film, it is also worth playing devil’s advocate for a moment or two. One can construe a number of not nearly so life-affirming undercurrents lurking within it, both intentional and unintentional on the part of its director. And what better time to Grinch-up such a picture than when bathed in the warmth of a yuletide glow?

The film was famously not a financial success on initial release, as is the case with a number of now hallowed movies, its reputation burgeoning during television screenings throughout the 1970s. Nevertheless, It’s a Wonderful Life garnered a brace of Oscar nominations including Best Picture and…

Perhaps I am dead. Perhaps we’re both dead. And this is some kind of hell.

The Avengers 5.7: The Living Dead
The Living Dead occupies such archetypal Avengers territory that it feels like it must have been a more common plotline than it was; a small town is the cover for invasion/infiltration, with clandestine forces gathering underground. Its most obvious antecedent is The Town of No Return, and certain common elements would later resurface in Invasion of the Earthmen. This is a lot broader than Town, however, the studio-bound nature making it something of a cosy "haunted house" yarn, Scooby Doo style.

What if I tell you to un-punch someone, what you do then?

Incredibles 2 (2018)
(SPOILERS) Incredibles 2 may not be as fresh as the first outing – indeed, certain elements of its plotting border on the retread – but it's equally, if not more, inventive as a piece of animation, and proof that, whatever his shortcomings may be philosophically, Brad Bird is a consummately talented director. This is a movie that is consistently very funny, and which is as thrilling as your average MCU affair, but like Finding Dory, you may understandably end up wondering if it shouldn't have revolved around something a little more substantial to justify that fifteen-year gap in reaching the screen.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

Well, in this case, the cats are going to kill the curious.

The Avengers 5.8: The Hidden Tiger
Another of the season's apparent run-on ideas, as the teaser depicts a character's point-of-view evisceration by aggressor unknown. Could this be the Winged Avenger at work? No, it's, as the title suggests, an attacker of the feline persuasion. If that's deeply unconvincing once revealed, returning director Sidney Havers makes the attacks themselves highly memorable, as the victims attempt to fend off claws or escape them in slow motion.

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…