“After the Thin Man” – Warner Archive Collection – blends mystery and martinis
Updated: Jun 24, 2022
BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
Nick (William Powell) and Nora Charles (Myrna Loy) are back in San Francisco and find themselves drawn into their next case while attending a New Year Eve’s Party at the nightclub Lichee.
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“AFTER THE THIN MAN” – WARNER ARCHIVE COLLECTION
Blu-ray; 1936; Not Rated
Best extra: Two vintage featurettes provide a Warner Night at the Movies
THE HAYS CODE, with Joseph Breen in charge, was rigidly enforced from 1934 to 1954 meaning “The Thin Man” managed to squeak in before extreme censorship took over.
By the time of the 1936 sequel, restrictions were firmly in place. All bad guys and gals had pay for their crimes, and married couples slept apart in twin beds. Director W.S. Van Dyke, and writers Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, working from the story by Dashiell Hammett (“The Maltese Falcon,” 1941) were still in charge, but the snap and sizzle of the first film is missing. Even so, William Powell and Myrna Loy do their best as Nick and Nora Charles.
They still have an open marriage, although the clues are subtle. Rich girl Nora enjoys the exciting life provided by her retired police detective husband, who boasts of being a kept man and takes her on adventures. When he shows up with lipstick on his collar in “After the Thin Man” she merely notes and wipes it off. The Charles travel from party to party, backroom, alley and posh surroundings, always in lavish style and cocktail shaker at the ready.
(1) “After the Thin Man” opened on Christmas Day 1936. (2-4) After a three-day train ride across the U.S., they arrive at the San Francisco train station with their Fox Terrier, Asta. Nick runs into longtime friend Fingers (Henry Tyler) a professional pickpocket, who just snatched Nora’s purse.
Co-stars include James Stewart. In her biography, “Being and Becoming,” Loy says Stewart was “very excited and enthusiastic about it all, rushing around with his camera taking pictures of everybody on the set, declaring, ‘I’m going to marry Myrna Loy!’” according to TCM.
The story begins directly after the end of “The Thin Man,” with Nick and Nora returning by train to San Francisco accompanied by their Fox Terrier, Asta. It’s New Year’s Eve and the exhausted Charles hope for a quiet evening at home. Instead they stumble into a wild surprise party given in their honor. They make it to their room only to get a call from Nora’s cousin Selma Landis (Elissa Landi) pleading for help. Her swindler husband Robert (Alan Marshal) has disappeared again, off on an affair with a nightclub performer, Polly Byrnes (Penny Singleton). The threat of scandal is huge and Robert demands $25,000 for a divorce. But Selma still wants him back even though her former boyfriend, David Graham (Stewart), pleads with her to let Robert go. David, it seems, is still in love with her. Meanwhile, Aunt Katherine Forrest (Jessie Ralph), matron of the rich, upper-crust family, demands that Selma get it together and stop embarrassing the family.
“[Robert’s] been hanging around there three days – drunk. He’s got a case on a primadonna.” — “Dancer,” Lichee Club Owner
“I wish you’d toss him out. His wife’s going crazy.” — Nora Charles
“Oh, that’s too bad. I’ll speak to his girlfriend.” — “Dancer,” Lichee Club Owner
(1&2) Once home Nick and Nora find their female Fox Terrier with her little pups and their house full of partygoers for a welcoming party. (3) Nora’s cousin, Selma Landis (Elissa Landi) is distraught that her husband has been missing for three days. (4) Nick bows to Nora’s Great Aunt Katherine Forrest (Jessie Ralph) during the New Year’s Eve dinner.
Of course Nick and Nora try to help the miserable woman, becoming embroiled with Robert, Polly, suave nightclub manager "Dancer" (Joseph Calleia), several of Nick’s street pals and former police associates. Robert is murdered and the most likely suspect, Selma, is arrested. So the mysteries intensify as Aunt Katherine continues to insist all is kept on the down-low and away from reporters. With suspects aplenty, the real killer turns out to be a surprise.
“Whoever remembers a gardener unless he squirts a hose at you?” — Nick Charles
Oliver T. Marsh, cinematographer for “The Women” (1939), “A Tale of Two Cities” (1935) and “David Copperfield” (1935), is the genie behind this black-and-white perfection. Once again, the Warner Archive Collection delivers an outstanding 1080p picture from a new 4K remaster using the best duplicate negatives. Contrast and gradations look great, with plenty of detail in close and wide shots. Costuming is fabulous; so are street, nightclub, and exterior and interior scenes from elegant homes to seedy hotel rooms. Foggy night scenes are loaded with atmosphere.
Natural film grain provides that cinematic touch. Aspect ratio is 1.37:1; runtime is nearly two hours.
“Who was that?” — Nick Charles
“Oh, you wouldn’t know them, dear. They’re respectable.” — Nora Charles
(1) David Graham (James Stewart), Selma’s former fiancée shows his true feelings for her. (2&3) Polly Byrnes (Penny Singleton) is the main entertainer at the Lichee, and backstage she has a disagreement with Phil Byrnes (Paul Fix), a man posing as her brother. (4&5) Robert (Alan Marshal) tells Selma goodbye for the last time, and five minutes later she’s standing over his dead body with a gun in her hand, as David runs to the scene.
The restored DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio soundtrack is just as busy as the picture. Dialogue, effects and original score by Herbert Stothart (Oscar winner, “The Wizard of Oz,” 1939) and Edward Ward (Oscar nominee, “Phantom of the Opera,” 1943) are clear and well balanced. But astute listeners will notice an infrequent hiss and pop, although it doesn’t detract from the fast-paced dialogue.
“Have you ever been thrown out of a place, Mr. Charles?” — “Dancer,” Lichee Club Owner
“Let’s see. How many was it up to yesterday, Mrs. Charles?” — Nick Charles
“Well, uh, how many places were you in, Mr. Charles?” — Nora Charles
Aside from the theatrical trailer, Warner Archive presents four additional bonus features. Robert Benchley amuses with “How to Be a Detective,” alongside a Happy Harmonies cartoon, “The Early Bird and the Worm,” for a classic Warner Night at the Movies.
There is also a 59:33 minute “Lux Radio Theater Broadcast” adaptation of “After the Thin Man” featuring William Powell and Myrna Loy. “Leon is On the Air” promotes the film with a summary and audio clips in a 14:27 minute installment.
Buckle in with a martini or two to enjoy “After the Thin Man.” Get out the canapes and toss on the tails or gown. Scriptwriters Goodrich and Hackett received an Oscar nomination for Best Writing, Screenplay, for their efforts. It's a delightful way to pass an evening.
— Kay Reynolds
(1) Nora removes lipstick from another woman from Nick's face. (2) Police Lt. Abrams (Sam Levene) questions Polly and co-nightclub owner Dancer (Joseph Calleia) in the killing of Robert Landis. (3) Nick, Nora, and Lt. Abrams examine the forged signature on two checks. (4&5) Pedro the janitor of the building where Polly lives is found dead in the basement as Dancer hides from Nick.
(1&2) All of the suspects are gathered in Polly's apartment for the big reveal - much like an Agatha Christie novel. (3&4) A fight breaks out as Nora gets caught in the middle, while Nick questions the final suspect.