William Powell and Myrna Loy were perfectly matched as Nick and Nora Charles in the Thin Man detective film series. For that reason, of the six movies they made as the tippling marrieds, the entries that focused most on their relationship were the best. After the Thin Man (1936), the second film featuring the Charles' is especially good for that reason. I recently watched the new Warner Archive Blu-ray release of the film and enjoyed revisiting one of the best screen marriages.
After the Thin Man doesn’t waste time building up a mystery in its opening scenes. It knows what the audience wants to see and blasts you right into the sparkling presence of Loy and Powell. After their crime-busting New York adventure, they’re returning to the West Coast, where they’re greeted by Asta, his missus and a lively litter of puppies. They’re also supposed to be surprised by a gathering of their friends, though in one of the film’s funniest scenes the party is too wild for anyone to notice the guests of honor have arrived.
After a good taste of that Charles charm, the mystery begins. Nora drags Nick to dinner with her stuffy relatives and the pair learns that her cousin Selma (Elissa Landi) is distraught over the disappearance of her husband. While the couple tracks him down, it turns out he’s not a great guy and his plotting and deception leads to trouble for all.
It’s quite a feat to distinguish oneself in the company of Loy and Powell, but Jimmy Stewart does just that as an old friend of Selma’s who carries a torch for her. He was still in the wobbly early phase of his career where he was just as likely to be tossed into a musical as a comedy or drama. Here he combines that doddering quality for which he would become famous with startling moments of dramatic intensity. He was previewing better things to come.
I’m not sure what to make of the way Nick and Nora’s relationship is portrayed in the films. In the original Dashiell Hammett novel, they’ve clearly got an open marriage. Of course the Code could never allow such an arrangement, but there always seems to be a breath of that permissiveness in the films, in this case when Nick shows up with lipstick on his face and Nora wipes it off, entirely unfazed.
The idea certainly fits with their happy rejection of polite society. You get a sense of how bored Nora was before she met Nick. She seems happy being surrounded by ex-cons, drinking into the night, and not only accepts that her man has a sketchy past and is in many ways dishonorable, she counts on it. Their love for each other is solid and the rest is just a gas.
Special features on the disc include the Robert Benchley short How to Be a Detective, the classic cartoon The Early Bird and the Worm, a radio show featuring Powell and Loy, a Leo Is on the Air radio promo, and a theatrical trailer.
Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.