Home Video Reviews
Although made in 1937, three years after its predecessor, After the Thin Man picks up just where the first left off - with former detective Nick and socialite wife Nora on the train back to San Francisco after solving a case while on vacation in New York. Like most sequels, After the Thin Man doesn't mess with the formula that made the original work. With W.S. Van Dyke again directing and Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett again scripting, that means lots of drinking, lots of good-natured bantering between the Charleses, a string of murders, a boatload of colorful mugs for suspects and a climax in which Nick gathers all those suspects together and figures out which one is guilty.
This is both a good thing and a bad thing. You won't get any surprises from After the Thin Man, but you do get another heaping helping of the priceless chemistry of Powell and Loy, who made a dozen together and have never been more charming than as the quip-ready Charleses. Once Nick and Nora get off the train in Frisco, they are once again pulled into intrigue. This time, it's Nora's distraught cousin Selma (Elissa Landi) who's in need of help. Her ne'er-do-well husband (Alan Marshall) has been acting up again, and hasn't been around for a few days, filling Selma with worry. Naturally, Nick and Nora have no trouble finding him, but not until after a very memorable sequence in which Nick encounters the snooty women and decrepit old men who are Nora's aunts and uncles. You'd get sloshed, too, if you had to be around them.
Most of the subsequent intrigue involves the shady husband. He's offered to leave Selma if the man she almost married (Stewart) will give him $25,000 to go away, but the nightclub where he does his drinking is full of petty crooks ready to prey on him once he gets the money. If it's not the singer who's wrapping him around her finger (played by Dorothy McNulty, who later, as Penny Singleton, played Blondie in a gazillion B-comedies and supplied Jane Jetson's voice), it's either one of the club owners (Joseph Calleia, William Law) or her opportunistic brother (Paul Fix). When the husband gets shot and the money isn't taken, the evidence points towards Selma, which pulls reluctant Nick and eager Nora even deeper into the homicide case.
As always, the fun is not so much in the whodunit as it is in the well-to-do (and well-lubricated) couple rubbing shoulders with the criminal underbelly, getting into dangerous situations and, as much as they can, making each other squirm. That's why at the start the lengthy series is more romantic comedy than mystery. One slight change in the sequel's romantic-comedy sensibility is a drop in the sex appeal between Nick and Nora. The first movie was made in the production-code cusp year of 1934, and ends with the couple clearly about to have sex, giving trusty fox terrier Asta the upper train berth while they share the lower. So it's a drag to see them neutered somewhat by standard-issue production-code double beds in After the Thin Man. But debonair Powell and game Loy still have more chemistry than almost all 1930s screen couples - and they have more fun than almost any other, too.
The After the Thin Man DVD benefits from the inclusion of How to Be a Detective, one of Robert Benchley's wryest MGM comedy shorts and an apt bonus to put here. Pulling a page from the Criterion Collection's playbook, Warner Home Video has also added a 1940 Lux Radio Theatre version of the movie, in which Powell and Loy reprise their roles. This is another generous, well-organized disc from WHV.
For more information about After the Thin Man, visit Warner Video. To order The Thin Man Collection (individual titles in the set are not available separately), go to TCM Shopping.
by Paul Sherman