Very few sequels ever live up to the film that started the entire franchise--AFTER THE THIN MAN, second in a series of six films starring William Powell and Myrna Loy as Detective Nick Charles and his inquisitive, charming wife Nora, is one of those that just about manages it. It brings back the characters we've gotten to know in the first film, THE THIN MAN, and subjects them to even more wacky criminal hijinks.
This time, Nick (Powell) and Nora (Loy) return to San Francisco just in time for a surprise New Year's Eve party (at which no one recognises them, ironically enough!). However, Nora's dour Aunt Katherine (Jessie Ralph) spoils Nick's plans to spend New Year's Eve blissfully alone--and most likely inebriated--by inviting the couple to her house to help Nora's cousin Selma (Elissa Landi). Selma's husband Robert (Alan Marshal) has been missing for days, off with Polly Byrnes (Penny Singleton), a nightclub entertainer at the Lychee Club owned by Dancer (Joseph Calleia). David Graham, Selma's erstwhile but painfully rejected fiance, still apparently holds a torch for Selma, and Robert gleefully blackmails David in return for a promise to leave his own wife. Little does Robert know that he is very much part of a web of intrigue, about to be cheated himself by Polly and Dancer, and he inevitably ends up as the murder case for the rest of the film.
The great part about this film is that the murder case actually does keep one in suspense, even if one knows the identity of the murderer before watching the film for the first time, as I did. It keeps you guessing about why and where, and the entire cast of supporting characters, as in the first Thin Man film, are shrouded in mystery and suspicion. It could be anyone of them, and in a trademark revelation scene at the very end, Nick gathers the whole assembly of players to catch the murderer red-handed, as it were.
Throw this cleverly-written murder mystery in with a healthy heaping of literate dialogue, thrown out only as William Powell and Myrna Loy can, and you get a classy film that hints at crime, love, sex, power and hatred without ever needing to resort to cheaper tricks. It's great to meet these characters again: Nick, constantly inebriated and the epitome of gentlemanly cool as usual (witness the scene in which Dancer causes a blackout and a great deal of loud scuffling and gunshots are heard in the darkness--Nick is calmly making a phone call under the table, amidst all the chaos); Nora, the charming, understanding modern wife who's game for anything that Nick can dream up (unless, of course, he locks her into the bathroom to prevent her from tagging along)... and of course, Asta, who we discover has his own family (made up of Mrs. Asta and the cutest puppies one can imagine) that he's trying very hard to protect.
As with the previous Thin Man film, however, AFTER THE THIN MAN combines a great mystery story with a very real portrayal of the marriage everyone wished they had. It's no small wonder that menfolk in the 1930s used to form 'Men Must Marry Myrna' Clubs--she's able to stand up to her man whenever necessary, and even when she's chattering through the night evidently hungering for Nick's scrambled eggs, Myrna Loy's Nora Charles is one of the cutest female characters ever created. One of the best scenes would undeniably be when Nick realises he's kissed someone else on the stroke of midnight, so goes on a quest for Nora. He finds her and she asks him if he has any New Year's complaints or resolutions; he does have a complaint and gravely informs her of it. She nods seriously in agreement and says, "Must scold. Must nag. Mustn't be too pretty in the mornings." I won't spoil the ending of the film, but Nora's own revelation to Nick as they take the train back to New York is also as touching and sweet as can be imagined.
If you're up for a good romance story, or a good murder mystery, or better yet, a combination of the two, you really couldn't go wrong with this second installment in the Thin Man series. Try your best to get your hands on the first film, but AFTER THE THIN MAN is truly a sequel that does the original film and the franchise to follow proud.