Monday, April 12, 2010

“Right there was the little old schoolhouse. Once on Halloween I burned it down - slightly.”

1945 brought a fifth Thin Man movie, and things were different. W.S. “One-Take Woody” Van Dyke was dead and there was that whole “World War II” event. Still, its more of Nick & Nora doing what they do best and that can’t be a bad thing. Here’s The Thin Man Goes Home.

So Nick, Nora & Asta are on their way to Nick’s hometown of Sycamore Springs to visit his family. Nick Jr. is written out as being with a nanny or whatever. The plan is to have a quiet vacation at home, but the locals, all aware of Nick’s reputation, assume he’s on a case. Then somebody gets shot on the family’s doorstep and the game’s afoot. If it sounds like a comparatively weak plot in comparison to the first four, you’d be absolutely right.

Nick Charles: William Powell Nick is still as lovable as ever, and its fun seeing him on edge because his father, a teetotaler, is difficult to please. And this leads to one of the least welcome changes of the movie: Nick is stone cold sober the entire time. They try to play it up by having all sorts of slapstick moments where Nick does something clumsy and people automatically assume he’s had too much to drink, but, honestly, the shift doesn’t work. Nick’s still badass though.

Nora Charles: Myrna Loy actually does a lot regarding the main plot of the film in this one. She’s trying to impress Nick’s dad with stories of his incredible detective work and when that doesn’t really work, she’s the one who shoves Nick into investigating who’s killed who and goes off on her own investigations. Nora’s still badass.

Dr. Bertram Charles: Harry Davenport is Nick’s dad, a respected small town doctor who’s trying to get a new hospital building built for the town. An upstanding citizen who’s not all that thrilled with Nick’s colorful past.

Mrs. Charles: Lucile Watson is Nick’s mother, and a kind, likable woman.

Peter Berton: Ralph Brooks is a local painter who ends up dead on the doorstep from a gunshot wound. Who killed him and why is the driving action of the plot.

Crazy Mary: Anne Revere (curiously enough a descendent of Paul Revere) is appropriately named as the town eccentric. She lives in a shack on the outskirts of town, mutters crazy things and has more to do with the central plot than first impressions would indicate.

Sam Ronson: Minor Watson plays a local factory owner who’s the big man in town. He’s also kind of a jerk who isn’t thrilled about Nick’s investigation and tries to lean on Dr. Charles, threatening to “delay” the hospital project if things continue.

Laura Ronson: Gloria DeHaven is Ronson’s daughter, a bit of a rebel who’s been involved with Peter Berton on and off before his death.

Edgar & Helena Draque: Leon Ames & Helen Vinson are a couple of art dealers/buyers from out of town that are very interested in buying one particular painting of Berton’s.

Dr. Bruce Clayworth: Lloyd Corrigan is an old friend of Nick’s and the town coroner. The two go way back and Bruce accompanies Nick on several of his investigations.

Brogan: Edward Brophy (who had a really small role in The Thin Man as a different character) is one of the many reformed crooks that Nick sent up the river. He happens to be on the same train as the Charles’s and essentially decides to tag along from a distance. There’s actually quite a few good jokes involving him, from him essentially camping in the bushes of Dr. Charles’ lawn to him being a very obvious red herring that Nora follows around town one night.

Directed by Richard Thorpe, the film is competently shot, but taking the series out of the big city takes a lot out of the movie. Its hard to say exactly how, but things seem to bog down a lot in various places.

The screenplay by Robert Riskin & Harry Kurnitz has quite the complicated plot by the end of the movie, and it does hit the standard plot notes (setup, murder, Nick slowly gets more involved, more murders, serious detective time and then he gathers all the suspects into one room for the finale), but in a lot of ways, the film just lacks the energy of the previous outings. Its not as hilarious, and its not as, well, edgy, really.

The score by David Snell (and uncredited Lennie Hayton & Bronislau Kaper) gets the job done nicely but its nothing to write home about.

The Thin Man Goes Home is a definite downturn in the series. Its not a failure or anything, and some stuff works really well, but compared to the first four, its an inferior result.

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