The Thin Man Goes Home
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Outlaws come and go in Nick and Nora's lives. Now it's time to meet the in-laws. The debonair sleuths leave little Nicky Jr. at boarding school, grab Asta and head to Nick's boyhood home of Sycamore Springs. Of course, wherever they go, murder has a way of showing up on the doorstep - a point proven in this fifth Thin Man. Nick can show off his gumshoe talents for his parents (Harry Davenport and Lucile Watson) when an artist is killed. And he'll do it without customary liquid inspirations because Nick (William Powell) is on the wagon. He's also on his game. As is Nora (Myrna Loy), wrestling a folding lawn chair, tailing a presumed suspect through town, igniting a pool-hall rumble and cracking wise as goodas she gets. Make yourself at home, whodunit fans.
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The original Dashell Hammett stories had ended back in 1936 with Another Thin Man so the writers were free to do as they chose with the Hammett characters as they had been with Shadow of the Thin Man. There was certainly some pressure not to get stale so in this, the fifth installment, rather than the switching of New York and San Francisco locations that happened in the first four, the "Thin Man" was sent home to his birthplace, Sycamore Springs. Some people didn't like this, feeling that small town America didn't offer the glamorous settings that the big cities did, but I feel the choice worked perfectly. What better than to set the sophisticated Charles's down in Andy Hardy territory? It was a novel idea to have a murder mystery take place in the kind of place that was always presented as a paragon of American virtue, especially in the forties. The supporting cast as usual, is large and full of fine actors.
The town presented us with a whole ew group of suspicious characters and town eccentrics, all of whom, of course, all of whom will be gathered together in the end to be cross-examined by Nick as Nora humorously comments on his technique, by now quite familiar with film audiences. every town has its skeletons and secrets and in Sycamore Springs everyone seems to have something to hide despite Nick's father , Dr. Bertram Charles ( well-played by Harry Davenport) , insisting that everyone there is on the up and up. A key element in the plot is how disappointed Dr.Charles is that his son didn't follow in his career footsteps and instead became a "policeman". Nora wants something to happen to allow Nick to show what brilliant work he really does and when a local young man is shot and killed right on Dr.Charles' doorstep, the mystery is set in action.
There are lots of laughs as well. The train is outrageously crowded during wartime as nick and Nora find out: no private compartment this time. Nick is on the wagon drinking only apple cider, something hardly anyone believes, especially his father. Alcohol was highly rationed during the war for the making of industrial alcohol and liquor for the troops; though Nick and Nora's free-drinking ways had provided much of the humor of the earlier films, it probably would have gone down wrong for the wartime audience. There are especially funny moments when Nora jitterbugs with an athletic sailor as well as when she decides to follow a suspicious character around town herself. (In fact, the hotel with its handsome and very crowded ballroom and the mention of a local Burlesque theater makes me think Sycamore Springs is more of a small city than a small town). To their credit there's no humor base on the sophisticated Charles's interactions with the locals making them look like rubes. The writers avoided such mean-spirited humor.
All and all it's one of the best and its very hard to guess the killer in this one.
This Asta doesn't have quite the personality the original Asta had. But I've always wondered just where did they expect Asta to relieve himself? Right there in the aisle of the day coach?
Still it's fun to watch the banter between Nick and Nora, which I suppose is the whole point..