Whereas I watch The Thin Man each year around Christmas time, I watch After the Thin Man around New Year's Eve. Released on Christmas Day 1936, the second movie in the popular series has many moments of holiday celebration within its detective story. It's a strong story, too...many believe After the Thin Man to be the best in the bunch. I just may have to agree since there are several things I really like when I watch it. For starters, this story is set in moody and mysterious San Francisco, which is author Dashiell Hammett's favorite city--he set several of his books there, including The Maltese Falcon--and one of my own favorites within California. Also MGM started using the series to introduce the studio's promising new actors, and a handsome young Jimmy Stewart was brought in to play a pivotal role in this plot. Additionally, you'll see After the Thin Man has film noir regulars Joseph Calleia and Sam Levene in its cast, known from other greats like Gilda and The Killers, respectively.
But (as the saying goes) the more things change, the more they stay the same. The ingredients that went into making the first film such a success are here once again. Of course William Powell and Myrna Loy reprise their roles as Nick and Nora Charles, an onscreen partnership so powerful people often thought the two were married offscreen as well. Director W. S. "One Take Woody" Van Dyke, responsible for discovering the Powell-Loy dynamic, also brings his clever comic timing back to After the Thin Man. And, so essential to the story, the great costume designer Dolly Tree continues to dress the detective duo and infuse the series with that certain sophisticated 1930s style.
If you didn't notice it in the first Thin Man, you'll really start to see Dolly's style signature in this picture. It is most noticeable in Nora's wardrobe, particularly her coats. Whether created to be worn inside or outside, Dolly's preference is for long garments with strong details--shoulders are slightly puffed to be more pronounced, collars are often made of fur and sometimes stand to bring focus to the face, and silhouettes are nipped in at the waist before flaring at the hem. Dolly is pitch-perfect for men in the 1930s as well... Nick is outfitted in the finest double-breasted suits, ties, and hats as he goes hunting for clues around the city. There is even an occasion for white tie on New Year's Eve, which means we see Myrna in an elegant coat and gown combination and both Powell and Stewart in tuxedos...pure fantasy for the Depression-era audience.
Another aspect I like about After the Thin Man is how train travel marks the beginning and end of the film. There is something so romantic about traveling on one, and Nick and Nora only make it more so. Los Angeles' Union Station has made frequent appearances in film noir and I believe it acts as a stand-in here for the San Francisco location. So let's start our journey...I can't think of anyone better to join in celebrating the New Year than Nick and Nora Charles...
Even on a train, Nora is glamorous in a silk charmeuse robe that fastens with two big buttons
Reporters rush to meet Nick and Nora and hear about the 'Thin Man' case in New York
More glamour for the returning couple--a chauffeur-driven convertible, Nick in his hat and double-breasted silk suit,
and Nora in a feathered fur hat and coat with matching fur lapels and gold lame scarf
Home sweet home--the Charles' mansion overlooking San Francisco (above) in one direction
and the Oakland Bridge in the other direction from their yard
Though the couple wishes for solitude on New Year's Eve to rest from their trip,
they walk into their house to find a party underway
Knowing no one at their own welcome home party, they dance their way to the kitchen to "Sing Sing Sing"
and get a drink (or two or three) while they return a call to cousin Selma (Elissa Landi)
Both Selma and Aunt Katherine hint of trouble during the call
and beg Nick and Nora to come over that evening
Nick and Nora in white tie evening wear--her backless braided halter gown in dreamy chiffon is simply stunning
and well accessorized with a jeweled belt and diamond cuff
I adore backless dresses and both Selma and Nora wear great ones--
Selma's is in black velvet with puffed sleeves and pearls that makes it perfectly innocent from the front
Nick and Nora welcome Jimmy Stewart to the series as David Graham,
Selma's friend with an unrequited love for her
Nick and Nora next visit the Chinese club, The Lychee,
in order to find Selma's missing husband Robert
Another of Dolly Tree's coats for Nora--standup collar, puffed sleeves, and fur trim hem--
as they meet Dancer (Joseph Calleia), the gangster owner of The Lychee
Trouble-makers--Lychee singer Polly (Penny Singleton) conning
philandering husband Robert (Alan Marshall) into giving her plenty of money
Robert calls David to extort $25,000 out of him in order to leave town and Selma for good
However, not long later Robert is shot in the streets and absolutely everyone has a motive, including
Selma (in a divine cashmere wrap coat and fur collar) who finds the body first with gun in hand
David then finds Selma and, assuming she's shot Robert, takes her gun to dispose of it
Meanwhile Nick and Nora celebrate the strike of midnight at The Lychee...
...at least he thought it was Nora
When using Dancer's phone at the club, Nick hears of the murder and calls the police
while a cavalcade of suspects suddenly return to The Lychee after an extended and suspicious absence
Nora starts doing some detecting of her own, but as usual it only gets her in trouble...
in this case, Nick helps her find her way into jail
Selma, an immediate suspect, looks perfect even under grilling by Lt. Abrams (Sam Levene)
in a silk charmeuse blouse, trademark Dolly Tree coat, and hat with a partial veil
A very long night has made for a very tired couple, which begins bedtime for the Charles
and some of my favorite moments in the series
Nora decides she wants some of Nick's poetic scrambled eggs in the middle of the night
Both in silk robes--Nora's a striped silk with buttons all down the front and a bow-tie collar--
when a message tied to a rock gets tossed in the window
The message leads Nick and the police to another dead man...
this time Polly's supposed brother Phil, another con-artist who's really her husband
Nick continues his detecting in a smart double-breasted wool suit, striped tie, pocket square, and hat
as he stumbles across yet another dead body
Nora, in another magnificent coat with fur all around the open neckline,
arrives to help Lt. Abrams identify the dead man and join in Nick's gathering to smoke out the killer
Polly arrives in her own version of glamour, a fox stole around her shoulders
Nick confronts all the suspects as he lays out the plot
Nick finally turns to David, in a beautiful gray pinstripe suit, who makes a grave mistake in his story
and shockingly declares his desire to punish Selma and reveals himself as the murderer
Another case solved, Nick and Nora jump on a train back to New York City once again...
this time with a baby on the way