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The Thin Man Goes Home (1945)
While taking a little hiatus from work and life in New York, Mr. and Mrs. Charles head to Nick's parent's house in small town Sycamore Springs, an unexpected murder mystery develops in his parent’s sleepy hometown. As Nick does his avid best to avoid involvement, his meddling, but goodhearted wife, does her best to spur his involvement via her talents for gossip, sleuthing, and 'dancing'. As the case begins to unfold it seems the answer may have something to do with the notorious bad painting of the windmill.
Written by: Robert Riskin and Harry Kurnitz.
Directed by: Richard Thorpe.
Genre: Comedy, Mystery, Drama, Crime, Family.
After enduring the claustrophobic hustle bustle of a comic train ride from New York to sleepy Sycamore Springs, all-American husband and wife, Mr. Nick (William Powell) and Mrs. Nora Charles (Myrna Loy), and their beloved terrier Aster wearily head to Nick's parents home to celebrate Nick’s birthday. Always afraid of disappointing his father, Doctor Bertram Charles' (Harry Davenport) expectantly high standards, Nick promises to make a spectacle of his hard-earned reform. With his father expecting a drunken, gambling, solicitious fool to greet him at the door. One can of cider and an explicit prideful outburst from his defending wife later and Nick may have just proven his case; he is indeed a reformed man.
Still, it seems his father may be somewhat doubtful. As Nora and Mrs. Charles exhange commentary on Nora's desire for some skeleton to pop out of Sycamore Spring's closet, so to speak, Nick spends his vacation days drinking cider, taking naps in the hammock, and of course, greeting the many inquiring minds of Sycamore Springs who are intent to become privy to the mysterious ways of their former citizen, Nick Charles turned great New York detective.
Despite the sudden “hullabaloo” circulating Sycamore Springs about Nick's profession, ignited by none other than the calculating mind of Nora and her indirect assistant; drama queen social bee Laurabelle Ronson (Gloria DeHaven) who quickly gets the fires burning n the sleepy town, Nick does his best to play it cool. But when a random citizen, Peter Berton, shows up on Nick’s porchstep one night to “confess” something and is shot immediately on sight, it seems Nick’s vacation may have to take backseat to a moralistic call to duty.
Of course Nora is all too-excited to have Nick take on the case and prove to his father what a “great detective” he really is. Still, Nick is avidly reluctant to intervene and seems to be doing so indirectly through his longtime friend, Brogan (Edward Brophy); the man always conveiniently behind the bushes.
While Nick begins to do his sleuthing, questioning the likes of Laurabelle and her very abrasive father Mr. Sam Ronson (Minor Watson), Nora becomes unexpectedly involves in the case after purchasing a coveted painting, albeit poorly done, of a windmill that seems to have been intended for a precarious couple; Mr. (Leon Ames) and Mrs. Edgar Drake. But when the couple discovers their painting to have gone missing, his sudden threat to "make somebody pay for it" seems somehow connected to the sudden death of Peter Berton.
While Nick reluctantly takes on the case, quizzing the likes of the town's notorious act, Crazy Mary (Anne Revere) and such, Nora decides to do a little sleuthing of her own after she mistakes Brogan’s undercover help as culpable evidence to Berton’s death. A few hilarious scenes later and we have Nora doing her best to hold her head high while evading catcalls, precarious offers for bad paintings, and jitterbugging her way through her crime case.
With time running out it seems Nick is more than married about the ambivalent case that seems to be producing more red herrings and comedic relief than real leads. Still, Nick must crack the case so as to prevent more damage from being done to either potential victims or his own reputation as perceived by his father; who all the while has been neglectfully allowing Nick’s “crime solving” to operate within the confines of his laboratory.
A climactic finale brings all of the sleepy Sycamore Spring citizens, fully loaded, into a room where Nick will one by one, expose their culpability and crack the case. As such, it seems the painting may have more to do with the case than its exterior... Nick will expose how the painting’s creator is a victim with much more precarious family history attached than Sycamore Spring bigwigs would allow for public knowledge, and more importantly, how the painting is at the head of a major political conspiracy involving selling secrets to foreign governments. As the case comes to a close Nick Charles will juxtapose the unlikely couple of Crazy Mary and upstanding Mr. Ronson, the nefarious Mr. Drake and the unsuspecting coroner, Dr. Bruce Clayworth; Laurabelle’s boyfriend, Tom's brother, to expose how even in a sleepy town, there are far more skeletons hiding in the closet than one might initially suspect. Sycamore Springs.
Here, screenwriter, Riskin, pays homage to “small town America” as he switches focus in a deliberate way from the conventional cosmopolitan setting of a city like New York and instead, stages the film's action in the sleepy town of Sycamore Springs. Here however, a great distinction in character is detected in Mr. Charles. The notorious alcoholic is no longer stumbling around solving cases, but soberly 'rifling' through his murder mysteries, so to speak; which is due in large part to his wanting to make a good impression for his disappointed father. All the same William Powell is simply enjoyable in his role as the ‘do good, laid-back, small town boy with a talent and an air of distinction.
Also charming to watch is Mryna Loy who works her magic as an urban sophisticate upon her husband’s sleepy hometown. From her posh outfits, to her “modern” philosophies on women rights, etc., Myrna prances from scene to scene with the necessary wit and banter that keep her right on par with her leading man. As with the rest of the Thin Man films, here we see a married couple that maintains the spark in their life as is revealed through their frequent verbal euphemisms, their light and comfortable air, and their playful chemistry. It seems as if ‘Nick and Nora’ take their marriage no more seriously than a childhood game of ‘house’, and yet here it works; what with their mutual respect, adoration, and excitable tempers, the Charles’ lighthearted approach to life is just the sort of thing both Hollywood and American audiences needed to witness during an era that was anything but the portrayal of democratic, enjoyable marriages.
With much the same air as a typical “Topper” series; where the roles of George and Marian Kerby and their dog Neil are substituted for the equally entertaining Nick and Nora Charles and their terrier Asta, “The Thin Man Goes Home” takes a comedic lens through which to unfold their precarious murdery mystery and father-son dilemmas. Ligh as a feather, and as delightful as a circus act, together Powell and Loy as Nick and Nora will dazzle audiences with their whirlwind romance that mixes pleasure with business in a successfully, though occasionally blundering, sort of way. In fact the film is as much reminiscent of an “I Love Lucy” episode as a “Topper” series and the fact that “The Thin Man Goes Home” is able to carry out such resemblances while still holding its own weighty success stands as testament to its credibility. This film, despite its dated age, offers something delightful for everyone, especially for postmodern audiences who may be in need of a comic dose of the musings of the "simple life".
William Powell plays Nick Charles, the great “detective” on vacation.
Myrna Loy plays Nora Charles, Nick's inquiring wife.
Lucile Watson plays Mrs. Charles, Nick's conventionally loving mother.
Harry Davenport plays Doctor Bertram Charles, Nick's high-pressured father.
Gloria DeHaven plays Laurabelle Ronson, the film's blonde drama queen caricature.
Anne Revere plays Crazy Mary, the local “crazy” woman.
Leon Ames plays Edgar Drake, the precarious art aficionado.
Edward Brophy plays Brogan, Nora's prime “suspect” and Nick's oldtime pal.
Lloyd Corrigan plays Doctor Bruce Clayworth, Sycamore Spring's rotund coroner.
Minor Watson plays Sam Ronson, Laurabelle's father and Sycamore Springs' upstanding citizen.
Quoates: "Yes, I’m a man who's good at ballistics…and on vacation."
"The windmill! Everybody's looking for the painting of the windmill!"