Another Thin Man: Movie Review

Today’s guest post from Priscilla presents a look at the 1939 film classic Another Thin Man:

Another Thin Man was made as part of the enormously successful Thin Man Series, which spanned 13 years with six movies. It capitalized on the delectable pairing of William Powell with Myrna Loy, an on-screen couple who had set American movie-going hearts on fire.

The combination was truly perfect. Powell’s debonairness, distinguished good looks, incomparable voice, and jolly personality with Loy’s sophisticated beauty, gut-instinct comedic timing, and quick wit gave audiences a pair who appeared to be the most genuinely in love, sincerely married, and perfectly matched couple in the history of the world. Under the direction of W.S. Van Dyke (mostly) with a fantastic screenplay based on top-rate literature, the Thin Man Series was a masterpiece waiting to happen.

This particular entry, the third in the series, is one of the best, though it would be hard to say which entry isn’t one of the best. Another Thin Man is essentially an exercise in misdirection, expertly done. The film opens with retired-from-detecting Nick and Nora (we know how long that will last) taking an apartment in New York with new baby, Nicky Jr. As usual, it isn’t long before Nick has run into both some ex-con buddies of his and another murder. In this case the murder occurs on the remote country estate to which Nora has taken Nick for a quiet weekend of business. The murdered man is Colonel MacFay, the old business partner of Nora’s deceased father, and manager of her millions.

A really delightfully solid supporting cast, including Marjorie Main and Shemp Howard, makes up a cloud of suspects and misdirectors: blackmailers, thugs, thieves, Cuban gangsters, dangerous women, double-timers, disgruntled employees, and opportunistic family members. Just try to guess who-dunnit in this tangled mess where evidence, testimonies, and even the camera are trying to point you in the wrong direction.

I’m not going to give the solution away. That’s just no fun. But I do want to discuss some noteworthy elements of the film’s composition. One of those is the lighting. This is an element of filmmaking that we don’t often pay much attention to because we’re looking at the actors, sets, and wardrobes. There is something about the way this film looks, however, that belies its excellence in set lighting. When Nick, Nora, Asta, and the baby are en route to the Colonel’s country estate, the dampness and coldness of the setting is palpable, even though it’s not raining on set. This is the result of clever lighting and film editing which, when combined with the suggestive dialogue of the characters, produces a convincing effect. Lighting is everything in black and white, much more important than it is for Technicolor. In Another Thin Man it is done noticeably well.

Thematically, the film is somewhat sordid. At least three people die unnatural deaths, and even the family pet meets a gruesome end. More than one throat is slit. Yet the film retains its charm because we are spared the blood and gore and graphic conversations that “entertain” us in modern television and cinema.

The constant reference to Nick’s drinking habit is continued from the previous films, but less of his drinking is shown on-camera or made an issue of, in spite of Nora’s pick-pocket theft of the liquor cabinet keys from the Colonel. Picking up the slack from the lack of alcohol content in the film, however, is casual conversation about adultery. Nick is the kind of ingratiating character who wins your trust immediately, so even though he is unfailingly popular with the ladies we have no doubt that he remains faithful to Nora – not for lack of opportunity but out of preference. The other characters, however, (Nora not included) not only expect but encourage Nick to pursue adulterous relationships, laughingly. This is expressed on more than one occasion and, as it adds nothing to the film, becomes tedious. It is probably the movie’s sole weak point. The emphasis on marital infidelity is contrasted by Nora’s unwavering support of and loyalty to her husband, particularly when police investigators attempt to turn her against her husband by trumping up stories of his previous girlfriends. Nora is steadfast, as is Nick. The films leave you in doubt that it could ever not be that way.

Loy and Powell made such a perfect couple on-screen, in fact, that it never occurred to the public that they might not be married in real life. On one notable occasion, the booking agent at a hotel reserved a single room for the stars to share, assuming that they were indeed a happily married couple. Needless to say, other arrangements had to be made when the two stars, never married, arrived for their stay.

I wish they had been married. It would have been truly a triumph of wit and laughter and legend. Hollywood made a number of teams famous: Hudson and Day, Olivier and Leigh, Burton and Taylor, Bogie and Baby, Hepburn and Tracy. But none were as believable, natural, and right a combination as Powell and Loy.

Priscilla is a lover of all things “old film” and a fanatic of anything to do with Doris Day. She writes her blog, Reel Revival, in the hope of reviving widespread interest in old movies.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001417262687 Adelaide Abdur-Rahman

    This is a great review and I loved all six or seven of the Thin Man movies

  • Jim

    Love the Thin Man movies… William Powell was without a doubt the most debonair movie star of them all.

  • jfleming

    Loved the first 3 Thin Man films unfortunately the series went downhill after that. The fifth one the Thin Man Goes Home is the worst. I can’t even watch it. The sixth Song of the Thin Man is a little better but by 1947 their time had past.

  • wayne

    Thats funny…IMHO, the Thin Man Goes Home is one of the very best of the lot! But, lets agree theyre all pretty darn good as are most Golden Age classic pics when compared to the dregs of todays example of that term, no? Btw, I do support Priscilla’s contention that Powell & Loy wouldve made a great off-screen pairing…along the same lines, perhaps, of Nelson Eddy & Jeanette MacDonald. JMac did say the worst regret of her life was not marrying him as she could have

    • jfleming

      I’ve never been a fan of the down home kinda humor of the fifth. Most of the blame for that should be screenwriter Robert Riskin’s fault. I prefer the earlier films style of comedy Nick and Nora tossing back martinis and solving crimes. I prefer screwball comedy over the sub Andy hardy humor.

  • William Smith

    Oh yes the Thin Man movies are great, I could never see any one else being Nick & Nora Charles. I enjoy all 6 for one reason or another but the first is my favorite. I think meeting the main charters for the first time (on film) & being drawn in to the story line & lets not for get all the one liners, there great!

    I do have a question, in the first one, in the credits Astor is spelled with an or at the end but the final 5 movies it is spelled Asta can anyone tell me why?

  • Juanita Curtis

    An enjoyable review – I haven’t seen this film for many years so will look forward to watching it again. Definitely one of the greatest screen pairings and they were good friends in real life. That kind of chemistry is hard to fake.

    Another Doris Day fan.

  • Joseph Imhoff

    I think it’s fun to set aside a few nights and watch all of them in sequence. Seeing how Nick and Nora change as they ‘mature’, that probably isn’t the right word. Also Little Nick growing up. The first three can make up an almost seemless narrative.

  • R.D.Cochran

    Ah yes,Nick and Nora….one of my favorite movie series and one of my favorite screen couples. The chemistry between William and Myrna was perfect and I can’t imagine anyone else playing those roles.

  • Tim W.

    I have to agree. The Thin Man series is one of the best. I bought the complete set, and watch it over and over. The 30’s, 40’s and 50’s era is just much better for film than the junk that is coming out now. But film makers are taking these good films and remaking them and turning them into junk. PLEASE leave these good old films just the way they are.

  • Woody

    The series is in my Top Ten list, and also in the current review of “Movies I’ve seen 50 times”.

  • Pat

    The fact that people can watch The Thin Man films over and over proves it’s not about the mystery–it’s about the magic of Powell and Loy.

    • Woody

      Amen

  • Steve

    I would have to disagree a bit. I love The (Original) Thin Man and watch it over and over. But the others progressively leave me cold and become rather tedious — same old formula — unlike the Marx Bros or Fred & Ginger, who were always in top form.
    Sweet, young Jimmy Stewart, in After the Thin Man, forgetting that moustache business and going ape-s**t at the end in a great embarassment of overacting would be laughable if it wreren’t so excruciating. The rest are just unmemorable.

  • Shemp Lugosi

    Good review but I don’t think “debonairness” is a real word. I think it’s better to say “his debonair manner”.

  • Jack Jones

    Steve, shame on you for giving the ending away (as if we didn’t already know it). I’ve taken TCM up on their recent offer for the first four and am looking forward to adding them to my permanent collection.

  • Lenny Cassioppi

    Whats not to like about all Thin Man movies?

  • RAN

    “The Thin Man” was one of the (dozen?) movies I gave to my young niece to introduce her to the marvel of classic films. I explained how a “cocktail party” in those days was a completely different social experience than “partying” today, etc. Later, I asked if she liked the movie. She said “Wow! Nora is pretty cool. In those days, life was seriously funner!” Thanks, Thin Man. We’ve got a new classic film lover in our crowd. And that’s about the best endorsement for any classic movie I can give.