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Another Thin Man (1939)
"Back in the case? I was never out of it."
It was supposed to be a quit little weekend getaway for the Charles family. But when Nora's father's former business partner, Colonel Burr MacFay suddenly pleads their urgent attendance to his Long Island estate it seems that once again Nick Charles will have to put his vacation on hiatus and get to sleuthing. The crime? The murder of Colonel Burr MacFay. The motive? Millions of dollars.
Directed by: W.S. Van Dyke. Based on a story by Dashiell Hammett.
Genre: Comedy, Mystery, Drama, Crime, Family
Summary: In need of a little "down time", Nick (William Powell) and Nora (Myrna Loy) Charles, their baby, little Nicky Charles, and of course, their beloved dog Asta head to New York to enjoy in some peaceful day activities and fun "club hopping" by night. Employing the assistance of nanny Dorothy Watters (Ruth Hussey), the Charles' prepare for a long awaited weekend of much needed R&R. But no sooner do the Charles's arrive in their hotel room than the mayhem of a multitude of unexpected visitors bombard the downtrodden husband and wife. To complicate matters a longtime family acquaintance and financial tycoon, Colonel Burr MacFay (C. Aubrey Smith) phones and urgently requests the Charles' attendance at his Long Island mansion over the weekend. Without details given, MacFay's urgent pleads gain the Charles' acquiescence to his request.
No sooner does Nora hang up the phone than MacFay's butler enters the hotel room and prepares to help them load the car for their "quiet weekend in the countryside". Along the way however, a dark country road seems to reveal bad omens, namely the alleged sight of a dead man who, along with the butler, goes mysteriously missing after Nick orders for the car to be stopped. Continuing sans an escort Nick, Nora, Nicky, Asta, and Dorothy head for the MacFay mansion. There the butler is in MacFay's office privately discussing what appears to be urgent matters concerning the "dead guy" and MacFay's possibly related fate.
Within several minutes, after being chauffeured by housemaid Isabella Bellam (Phyllis Gordon into the guest room and introducing the Charles family to the likes of MacFay's adopted daughter Lois (Virginia Grey), her fiancée Dudley Horn (Patrick Knowles), Lois' admirer; MacFay's secretary, Freddie Coleman (Tom Neal), and of course, the dog, both Nick and Nora can see that their "peaceful" weekend will provide anything but R&R. With tensions apparently high and MacFay raving about Tom Church's dire intent to kill him, it seems Nick may just have to play detective even off the clock.
In between MacFay's raving about his impending death, Lois does her best to calm his worries while, for the most part, Dudley and Freddie stand idly by; silently supporting MacFay's temper. Meanwhile Nick has squeezed some valuable information out of MacFay: it appears that MacFay in cahoots with a slimy businessman, Phil Church (Sheldon Leonard) who, with his loyal sidekick "Dum-Dum" (Abner Biberman) and 'alibi', the gun slinging "Smitty" Smith (Muriel Hutchinson) have taken it upon themselves to relentlessly torment MacFay via arson, vandalism, and other malicious "pranks", including murdering the house pet, after MacFay allegedly fell into owing Church money.
While Lois runs around the house in a panic, joining her father's hysterics, Nick and Nora do their best to keep their cool as it appears the multitude of MacFay's servants are doing. With millions of dollars at stake, if MacFay is to die it appears the primary amount will go to his stepdaughter Lois, save for a small amount awarded to the housekeeper Bellam as a means of MacFay's making amends for their sexually illicit snafu in their younger days. Still, after a brief interlude with Church himself, Nick seems sure that vengeance is in the picture but only after Church pays a visit to the beautiful "Cuba" first.
Believing Church to be out of town, Nick is surprised to find that in deed MacFay will be murdered, and on a night when Church is nowhere to be found. Further mayhem ensues when Lois forewarns Nick of a "man with a gun" who shoots and, missing Nick, hits Lois in the arm instead. But the perpetrator is immediately gunned down by officials and as they approach the corpse they notice it to be none other than Lois' fiancée, Dudley. Thinking he's solved the case Lieutenant Guild (Nat Pendleton) prepares to close it on accounts of Dudley's allegedly mercenary motives. But Nick sheds light that things aren't quite that simple and soon the case is reopened and mysterious remain abounding.
With random visits to 'Cuban' locales like the local nightclub "West Indies" as well as other comical sleuthing romps Nora soon integrates herself once again into the sleuthing game, determined to help, and possibly one-up, her husband, the famous detective Nick Charles. Of course while Nick is working his way to a conclusion, the blundering officials are, as usual, misconstruing evidence and jumping to hasty and erroneous conclusions. Likewise, his inept albeit beautiful and charmingly entertaining wife is wooing the hearts of men from nightclub to hotel, to in-between; though no real progress towards the case is to be made on Nora's behalf.
With one big baby bonanza to stage the climactic finale, Nick's former convict, "Creeps", who ironically holds no ill-feelings towards the savvy Nick Charles, throws Nick and Nora a huge "baby party" to celebrate the belated birth of baby Nicky Charles. With hundreds of crying, screaming, laughing babies wrestled into a pin, the adults prepare to engage in more mature activities like drinking and eating. But the sudden appearance and unexpected death of a threatening Phil Church proves a fatal disruption for the baby fiesta and soon Nick stages, as usual, his conventional "case breaking" savvy with all the possible suspects wrangled into one room: Dorothy Watters; the ex-convict nanny who goes precariously missing midway through the murder case, "Dum-Dum"; Church's loyal right hand man, "Smitty"; Church's apparent alibi turned recent love; Freddie; MacFay's murder-mystery playwriting secretary, Isabella; MacFay's precariously indifferent housemaid, and even the unlikely Lois; MacFay's stepdaughter who apparently holds an alternate identity as Laura Mills. With all gathered to hear Nick recapitulate the murder scene(s) and all guilty parties involved it seems only a matte of time before Nick's speculations work on the guilty pathos of all culpable parties, no matter how unsuspected they might initially seem. The unexpected twist at the very end of the case, revealed once again by Nick Charles' savvy sleuthing skills, is quite enjoyable and amazing to postulate how such an intricate series of murders, alibis, and cover-ups were all orchestrated by such an unsuspecting party. Still, in the end, the Thin Man brings justice to all, and once again the Charles family can return home and retire from their sleepy weekend in New York and get back to, what else, work!
As one critic notes, "With plenty of wit and plenty of entertainment, "Another Thin Man" is a worthy entry in the enjoyable Thin Man series." This is a film that, despite its conventionality from the film noir elements to the classic reverence of "nuclear families" and the all too familiar depiction of corrupt business alliances, still, in "Another Thin Man", with the help of Powell and Loy of course, the characters never lose their distinct individuality and layers that are so integral in making the Charles' profound hallmark characters of classic film. It seems that there is just something magical about the magical, albeit almost commonplace (in the most non-pejorative way possible) chemistry between William Powell and Myrna Loy as husband and wife. From their sweet but playfully metaphorical "mommy's" and "papa's" to their physical harmony, Powell and Loy steal the scene(s) comfortably as a union of insurmountable companionship and sparkling wit and panache.
Moreover, the script, just as in "The Thin Man Goes Home" and most of the remaining Thin Man films, remains astute, sharp, witty, and uncannily observant towards the dynamics of male-female relationships and their many possible layers pending social context(s). With a new baby in the picture it seems the typically "bar hopping" "drink slamming" Charles' will have to slow things down a bit and tend to more "responsible matters"; as will be the case in "The Thin Man Goes Home". All the same expect a few momentarily nostalgic comments on behalf of both Nora and Nick wishing that things could be more like the old days: "Oh a nightclub? Alright. I haven't been to a nightclub in ages!" Perhaps it is this mixture of reality and ideals that are present in the dynamics of Nick and Nora's personas that helps make the film so successful; despite the film's employment of conventional archetypes, symbols, and scenarios, still, Powell and Loy stand alone in their colorful contrast to the recognizable black-and-white canvas upon which they are projected.
Also giving solid performances are Muriel Hutchinson and Virginia Grey as "Smitty" and Lois/Laura respectively. Likewise, Sheldon Leonard does a great job portraying the menacing though distant bad guy with an uncanny penchant for "dream visions".
In general "Another Thin Man" perhaps drops a few levels of comedy from its prequel to insert a slew of action sequences and typical thriller suspense into the plot. Still, with Powell and Loy teamed up you're sure to encounter more than a few but gusting moments and novel anecdotes for a long, happy life.
William Powell plays Nick Charles, the great "detective" on vacation.
Myrna Loy plays Nora Charles, Nick's inquiring wife.
Virginia Grey plays Lois MacFay/Linda Mils, MacFay's beautiful albeit precarious adopted daughter.
C. Aubrey Smith plays Colonel Burr MacFay, a longtime business friend of Nora's father whose sudden monetary predicament requires the Charles' immediate involvement.
Patrick Knowles plays Dudley Horn, Lois' "sub par" fiancée.
Phyllis Gordon plays Mrs. Isabella Bellam, the MacFay's oddly disinterested housekeeper.
Sheldon Leonard plays Phil Church, MacFay's purported killer and stalemate business partner.
Don Costello plays 'Diamond Back' Vogel, the ambivalent "officer".
Muriel Hutchinson plays Culverton 'Smitty' Smith, Church's amiable alibi and amour.
Ruth Hussey plays Dorothy Watters, the Charles' vacation nanny.
Tom Neal plays Freddie Coleman, MacFay's secretary and staunch admirer of his daughter Lois.
Nat Pendleton plays Lieutenant Guild, the inept crime officer who relies on Nick's savvy to "crack the case".
Abner Biberman plays "Dum-Dum", Church's right hand man.