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…

Our very strength incites challenge. Challenge incites conflict. And conflict... breeds catastrophe.

The MCU Ranked Worst to Best

Why would I turn into a filing cabinet?

Captain Marvel (2019)
(SPOILERS) All superhero movies are formulaic to a greater or lesser degree. Mostly greater. The key to an actually great one – or just a pretty good one – is making that a virtue, rather than something you’re conscious of limiting the whole exercise. The irony of the last two stand-alone MCU pictures is that, while attempting to bring somewhat down-the-line progressive cachet to the series, they’ve delivered rather pedestrian results. Of course, that didn’t dim Black Panther’s cultural cachet (and what do I know, swathes of people also profess to loving it), and Captain Marvel has hit half a billion in its first few days – it seems that, unless you’re poor unloved Ant-Man, an easy $1bn is the new $700m for the MCU – but neither’s protagonist really made that all-important iconic impact.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

Stupid adult hands!

Shazam! (2019)
(SPOILERS) Shazam! is exactly the kind of movie I hoped it would be, funny, scary (for kids, at least), smart and delightfully dumb… until the final act. What takes place there isn’t a complete bummer, but right now, it does pretty much kill any interest I have in a sequel.

I have discovered the great ray that first brought life into the world.

Frankenstein (1931)
(SPOILERS) To what extent do Universal’s horror classics deserved to be labelled classics? They’re from the classical Hollywood period, certainly, but they aren’t unassailable titans that can’t be bettered – well unless you were Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan trying to fashion a Dark Universe with zero ingenuity. And except maybe for the sequel to the second feature in their lexicon. Frankenstein is revered for several classic scenes, boasts two mesmerising performances, and looks terrific thanks to Arthur Edeson’s cinematography, but there’s also sizeable streak of stodginess within its seventy minutes.

Only an idiot sees the simple beauty of life.

Forrest Gump (1994)
(SPOILERS) There was a time when I’d have made a case for, if not greatness, then Forrest Gump’s unjust dismissal from conversations regarding its merits. To an extent, I still would. Just not nearly so fervently. There’s simply too much going on in the picture to conclude that the manner in which it has generally been received is the end of the story. Tarantino, magnanimous in the face of Oscar defeat, wasn’t entirely wrong when he suggested to Robert Zemeckis that his was a, effectively, subversive movie. Its problem, however, is that it wants to have its cake and eat it.

Do not mention the Tiptoe Man ever again.

Glass (2019)
(SPOILERS) If nothing else, one has to admire M Night Shyamalan’s willingness to plough ahead regardless with his straight-faced storytelling, taking him into areas that encourage outright rejection or merciless ridicule, with all the concomitant charges of hubris. Reactions to Glass have been mixed at best, but mostly more characteristic of the period he plummeted from his must-see, twist-master pedestal (during the period of The Village and The Happening), which is to say quite scornful. And yet, this is very clearly the story he wanted to tell, so if he undercuts audience expectations and leaves them dissatisfied, it’s most definitely not a result of miscalculation on his part. For my part, while I’d been prepared for a disappointment on the basis of the critical response, I came away very much enjoying the movie, by and large.

Just make love to that wall, pervert!

Seinfeld 2.10: The Statue
The Premise
Jerry employs a cleaner, the boyfriend of an author whose book Elaine is editing. He leaves the apartment spotless, but Jerry is convinced he has made off with a statue.