After their brush with death at the end of The Thin Man and days cramped together in the tight quarters of a transcontinental train ride, Nick and Nora Charles are looking forward to a quiet New Year’s Eve alone.
Fate has other plans when they open the door to their California home to find an epic surprise party in progress.
You can hear poor Nick’s sigh.
But that’s nothing compared to his groan when Nora takes a telephone call and announces they have been summoned to dinner with Aunt Katherine and the rest of Nora’s wealthy and stuffy family.
Nora’s family are not exactly members of the Nick Charles fan club.
For my money, After the Thin Man is the best of the Thin Man films, certainly the best of the sequels. The focus is just where it should be—on the dynamic between Nick and Nora, Asta the dog’s antics, and solving a convoluted mystery.
Nick and Nora are dragged back into the detecting game when Nora’s cousin Selma (Elissa Landi) asks Nick to find her missing husband. It’s not the first time Robert (Alan Marshal) has left Selma for days at a time without a word, and it’s clear he’s out womanizing, drinking, and spending her money.
Nick and Nora find Robert before midnight strikes, drinking in a night club and looking like he’s about to run off with Polly (Penny Singleton), the club’s singer.
He can’t leave Selma for good without money, a problem he’s about to solve—he’s convinced Selma’s former sweetheart David to pay him $10,000 to leave town permanently, paving the way for David to reconcile with Selma.
After David gives him the money, Robert returns home briefly to pick up some clothes and rub his infidelity in Selma’s face.
Minutes later, he’s shot to death on the street.
Selma is immediately arrested for the murder, but Nick soon realizes there are plenty of suspects—including Dancer, the owner of the night club, who schemed with Polly to steal the money David promised Robert.
Meanwhile, Nick and Nora’s dog Asta’s love life has taken a complicated turn. A joyful Asta returns to Mrs. Asta and her litter of puppies. The joy sours when he sees one black pup that doesn’t fit in with the rest of the litter, as both Mr. and Mrs. Asta have white fur.
The culprit soon reveals himself as the black neighborhood dog who’s been crawling under the fence to visit Mrs. Asta while Asta was away.
Asta chases away the dirty dog, and fills the hole under the fence with dirt.
In a formula that recreates the best of the first film, Nick assembles all the potential suspects in a room together. He questions them and waits for someone to make a mistake.
Eventually, Nick unmasks the killer—it’s shy, unassuming David, the man seemingly in love with Selma. Cornered, he reveals his true face—instead of pining for Nora, he’s a psychotic killer who wanted revenge on her for throwing him over. He killed David and framed Selma, crowing that he wanted to watch her hang for a murder she didn’t commit.
Once again, Nick and Nora save the day.
Though there are four additional Thin Man movies, we’ll leave them here, with Nora informing Nick at the end of the film that that he’s about to become a father.
After the Thin Man delighted audiences, and was one of MGM’s top films in 1936. In addition to Nick and Nora’s antics, audiences couldn’t stop talking about the long and lanky young actor who played the seemingly shy and awkward killer David.
He’d only been in Hollywood for a year, and had made a handful of films.
Audiences hadn’t seen anyone like him.
And his role as David would be one of the only villains he would play in his long career as America’s everyman.
Who was this up and coming legend in the making?
The one and only James Stewart.
And he’s where we turn our attention to next week….