After The Thin Man (1936)

Eighty-six years ago today, the film After The Thin Man premiered. The second installment in the William Powell/Myrna Loy screwball/noir/detective series that I adore. Every single minute. You have to watch to watch this film.

Directed by: W. S. Van Dyke
Produced by: Hunt Stromberg
Written by: Dashiell Hammett
Screenplay by: Albert Hackett, Frances Goodrich
Starring: William Powell, Myrna Loy, James Stewart, Elissa Landi, Joseph Calleia, Jessie Ralph
Music by: William Axt
Cinematography: Oliver T. Marsh
Edited by: Robert J. Kern
Distributed by: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date: December 25, 1936
Running time: 113 minutes
Budget: $673,000
Box office: $3,165,000

Nick (William Powell) and Nora Charles (Myrna Loy) return from vacation to their home in San Francisco on New Year’s Eve, where Nora’s stuffy family expect the couple to join them for a formal dinner. Nick is despised by Nora’s Aunt Katherine (Jessie Ralph), the family matriarch, as his immigrant heritage and experience as a “flatfoot” are considered below Nora. Nora’s cousin Selma (Elissa Landi) tells Nora that her ne’er-do-well husband Robert (Alan Marshal) has been missing for three days. David Graham (James Stewart), is Selma’s earlier fiancé, and an old friend of Nora’s family. He offers to pay Robert $25,000 ($451,379 in 2018 dollars) to leave and grant Selma a divorce. Nora successfully badgers Nick into helping to locate Robert.

Robert is at the LiChi Club, a Chinese nightclub, where he’s been conducting an affair with Polly (Penny Singleton), the star performer. Unknown to Robert, Polly and club owner Dancer (Joseph Calleia) plan to steal the money David will pay Robert. Polly’s brother, Phil Byrnes, wants money from her, but Dancer throws him out, just as Nick and Nora arrive looking for Robert.

They tell Robert about David’s offer, and he agrees to it. After being paid off, Robert sneaks back into Aunt Katherine’s home to retrieve some clothes. Nick sees Dancer and nightclub co-owner Lum Kee (William Law) each leave the club on their own as well. Robert leaves Aunt Katherine’s at the stroke of midnight, and is shot dead in the foggy street. David finds Selma standing over Robert, a gun in her hand. Lt. Abrams (Sam Levene) considers Selma the prime suspect, and her fragile mental state only strengthens his belief. Selma insists that she never fired her gun, but her claim cannot be backed up as David threw the gun into San Francisco Bay (thinking she was guilty). Nick begins to investigate to find the true murderer.

Someone throws a rock with a note tied to it through the window of Nick and Nora’s home. The note accuses Polly and Dancer of conspiring to kill Robert, and reveals that Phil Byrnes is an ex-con and Polly’s husband. Lt. Abrams has found several checks from Robert to Polly, including one for $20,000, but Nick sees that all but one are forged.

Nick and Lt. Abrams find Phil murdered in his hotel room. Nick investigates Polly’s apartment, and discovers that someone, using the name “Anderson”, had bugged it from the apartment above. While in the upper apartment, Nick hears Dancer enter Polly’s home. Nick pursues Dancer into the basement, but Dancer disappears. Nick finds the body of the building custodian, Pedro. Nora identifies Pedro as her father’s former gardener. She finds a photo in Pedro’s room of Pedro with the other servants. Lt. Abrams says someone tried to call Nick from the building just before Pedro was killed.

Nick has Lt. Abrams gather all the suspects in Anderson’s apartment. Dancer and Polly confess they intended to use a forged check to steal Robert’s money, but claim they are innocent of murder. David says he has not seen Pedro in six years, but remembers his long white mustache. But Nick realizes that in the picture Nora found, Pedro had a small gray mustache. David must have seen Pedro recently.

Nick now reconstructs the murder. David is “Anderson”. He hated Robert for taking Selma from him, and secretly hated Selma for leaving him. He rented the apartment so he could spy on Polly and Robert in her apartment and kill him there. But instead he killed Robert on the street and tried to frame Selma for the crime. Spying on Polly, he overheard Phil’s real identity and Phil’s plan to blackmail David. David murdered Phil, then threw the message rock.

However, Pedro recognized David as the mysterious “Anderson”, so David killed him as well. David pulls out a gun and threatens to kill Selma and then himself. Lum Kee flings his hat in David’s face, allowing Nick and Lt. Abrams to overpower him.

Nick and Nora leave San Francisco for the East Coast on a train, accompanied by Selma. Later, alone with Nora, Nick sees she is knitting a baby’s sock, and realizes that she is pregnant. Nora gently chides him, saying, “And you call yourself a detective.”

The cast is listed in order as documented by the American Film Institute.

William Powell as Nick Charles, called “Nicholas” by Aunt Katherine
Myrna Loy as Nora Charles
James Stewart as David Graham
Elissa Landi as Selma Landis
Joseph Calleia as “Dancer”
Jessie Ralph as Aunt Katherine Forrest
Alan Marshal as Robert Landis
Teddy Hart as Casper
Sam Levene as Lieutenant Abrams
Penny Singleton as Polly Byrnes
William Law as Lum Kee
George Zucco as Dr. Kammer
Paul Fix as Phil Byrnes
Skippy as Asta
Dorothy Vaughan as Charlotte (uncredited)
Maude Turner Gordon as Helen (uncredited)
William Burress as Lucius (uncredited)
Tom Ricketts as Henry, the butler (uncredited)
Esther Howard as woman at LiChi Club who says “Hey, handsome” to Nick (uncredited)

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