Tuesday, February 28, 2012

After the Thin Man

After the Thin Man (W.S. Van Dyke, 1936) Follow-up to the popular The Thin Man, which took the Dashiell Hammett novel and characters and ramped up the entertainment value.  Although it has become the most popular of the series over the years (which might be due to the fact that the young and future star, but at the time MGM contract-player James Stewart is featured prominently in the cast), it suffers from a slight case of "sequelitis," with more arbitrary schtick—songs and production numbers that stick out like a milk-shake served in a speakeasy, much more attention and comic anthropomorphism attached to the dog, Asta—as well as making detective Nick Charles a perpetual lush (although there are flashes of the character's talents, as when after avoiding a low-life that has been tumbled down the stairs, he casually mentions "He has a gun under his left arm").  William Powell is an unsung, perhaps merely undersung, master of the throw-away and even though the performance is an amusing "drunk act," he manages to keep the character's thin veneer of dignity intact throughout the shenanigans, and the prim and unproper Myrna Loy lends enormous support in that regard by the obvious affection her character affords her husband.

But, still...we're talking Hammett here.  Sure, "The Thin Man," the author's last novel, was lighter than the mystery-master's "The Maltese Falcon," or "The Glass Key," but the screenplay's authors, Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett* seem to have lost some of the original's dark roots, trading mystery for naughtiness, wit for "cute."  I quibble here—after all, the movie-James Bond isn't really Ian Fleming's character, either—for the movie's a solid romp—Nick and Nora investigate another disappearance,** this time the disappearance of Nora's cousin Selma's good-for-nothing husband, which not only involves low-life's, but the other end of the spectrum in Nora's unproperly prim side of the family.  Hijinks ensue, bullets fly (and complicate things while simplifying the cast), and it all ends with the "reveal" in a room full of suspects.  Van Dyke keeps the thing moving by staying out of the way—there are long, long takes where the actors do such involved business and are merely cramming as much fun into the scene as possible that they make the current cut-and-snip style of acting and film-making appear stodgy (compare this to The Tourist,*** for instance).  It's a fine time—save for some Asian racism that curdles the proceedings for a time—and another example of showing why "they don't make 'em like they used to" is a valid argument when it comes to movie-making quality.

* The pair also worked on the screenplays of Father of the Bride, Easter Parade, The Diary of Anne Frank, and It's a Wondeful Life—which, is extraordinarily impressive—all classics, all great, dense scripts.

** The first movie's disappearance was of "the thin man" of the novel's title, it didn't refer to the character of Nick Charles, at all.

*** Speaking of which, Johnny Depp and Rob Marshall are planning their own version of The Thin Man.  One hopes that Depp doesn't overdo the drunk bit (as he is wont to do), and the casting of Nora will be absolutely critical.

1 comment:

Norman Smith said...

I'd heard many thing about The Thin Man. I want to see this movie.