by MP Bartley
There are no two movie characters I'd rather hang out with than Nick and Norah Charles.They just don't make films like Another Thin Man (or any of them in the series) like they used to. Like musicals, they're an art form that has largely died out - that's not to say that the era is better than ours, or vice versa, but it is a shame that this kind of witty, buoyant comedy/murder mystery simply doesn't work anymore.
"And baby makes three."
Nick and Norah Charles, who now have baby Nick Jr in tow, are called to Long Island, where an old acquaitance of his, Colonel MacFay (C. Aubrey Smith) fears for his life, after threats from an old employee, Paul Church (Sheldon Leonard, or Nick the bartender from It's a Wonderful Life to you and me). Sure enough, MacFay ends up dead and Nick is pressed into service to catch Church and whoever else may be behind the murder.
Of course, all of this is almost secondary to Nick and Norah cracking wise, bringing up Jr and faithful dog, Asta, and grabbing a good drink or three whenever necessary. Like its two predecessors, Another Thin Man has a script where every other line is a sparkling wisecrack ("What's the deal with the baby?" growls a bodyguard to Nick at one point who dryly replies, "Well, we have a dog who was lonesome"), but it also serves to give depth to character and advance the plot all at the same time, a really remarkable accomplishment. Van Dyke's direction complements the script wonderfully well. He times the pacing of every scene exactly right, letting the jokes flow, but never overcrowding the drama and never letting the more dramatic moments dry up the flavour of the film. And he does all this, telling a complicated mystery alongside a screwball comedy, in such a way that seems absolutely effortless.
But the main reason why this kind of film wouldn't work today is we don't the likes of William Powell and Myrna Loy. Powell wanders through the film with an eyebrow permanently arched in bemusement at the people around him and treats every murder and twist in the case with insouciance and a witty remark. Nothing ever ruffles Powell, as suave and debonair as can be, who also makes the drinking of whiskey - as he does in every other scene here - just about the coolest thing anyone has ever done. Man, this film will make you thirsty for booze. But mess with Powell at your peril, however, as demonstrated in the scene where he slaps one unsuspecting gangster in the face, before sauntering out of the scene with a grin and a quip. Powell is lean, graceful and utterly in control of his craft, whether it be dry one-liners or a mouthful of exposition that would choke other actors. Give him anything - a stuffed panda, a glass, even a baby - and he can work comic gold or a great little character beat out of it.
Loy, of course, is just as good. Sparky, intelligent, witty and sexy in a way that so few actresses are allowed to be, her rapport with Powell is superb, whole scenes juiced up by the two of them seemingly trying to make each other laugh. Bantering urbanely or Nick stealing a surprising dance out of his wife at a club and bouncing like an excited puppy, they're a joy together and one of the most potent partnerships in American cinema.
These two, together with van Dyke's lithe direction and a range of humour that ranges from slapstick (Nick saving a bottle of Scotch in the middle of a fistfight), funny lines (Powell's delivery of "a woman with a lot of money" absolutely kills me) and the absurd (a gang of hoodlums turn up at Nick's apartment to celebrate Nick Jr's first birthday, each with an "acquired" toddler under their arm), make Another Thin Man bracing, sharp entertainment that, as I say, Hollywood just doesn't have the personnel for anymore.Nick and Norah live in a world of deceit, brutal assault and murder - but, damn, if they don't make it look fun.
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originally posted: 06/01/10 07:28:43