Thursday, May 30, 2013

Cute Babies and Murder Investigations

Read/Watch 'em in Order #34

I didn't actually time it, but after watching Another Thin Man (1939), I think half the movie at best is devoted to solving the actual murder on which the plot centers. The other half is Nick and Nora bantering with each other, playing with their new baby son (Nicky) or just generally being more clever than everyone else in the movie.

It's a perfectly good murder mystery. Crotchety old Colonel Burr MacFay handles the money matters for Nora Charles' rather large family fortune. He's concerned that an old employee---someone who did ten years in the slammer for financial shenanigans--is going to kill him. He asks Nick to look into it.

Nick does, but MacFay ends up getting killed anyway. The old employee, named Phil Church, seems the obvious suspect. If nothing else, Church is played by Sheldon Leonard. It's always a good idea to suspect Sheldon Leonard. He rarely played a good guy.

But, as with After the Thin Man, there's an absurd number of additional suspects. Several family members, servants, and employees are all possible killers.

The police are baffled and Nick himself has trouble sorting it out at first. In the end, he does manage to figure it out--revealing the killer after gathering all the suspects together in one room and explaining the who, how, when, why and where of it all. It's the "when" part of that which proves to be the key to solving the case.

But a good mystery is almost a bonus feature in this case, because Another Thin Man would get my vote as the funniest entry in the series. Powell and Loy play off each other even more perfectly than they usually do and the script is full of real wit.

Also, there baby is awful cute. And as the movie comes to an end, we get a cute baby bonus. An old friend of Nick (who, like many of Nick's old friends, also happens to be a low-level thug) invites a number of his thuggish friends who also happen to be new fathers to a baby party at Nick's hotel room.  Kudos here have to go to Warner Brothers casting department--never before have a more thuggish-looking group of thugs been brought together in one room. The fact that each of them is holding a baby while they sing makes the scene one of surreal beauty.

A late arrival to the thug/baby party, by the way, is played by Shemp Howard. Until he rejoined the Three Stooges in 1947, he could often be seen in various B-movie character roles.

A movie that gives you both a murder and a roomful of cute babies can't help but be a classic. Some fans think introducing a baby into the dynamic made Nick and Nora a little less fun, but in this film, at least, he was too small to get in the way of the plot and was there just to generate a few laughs and a few "awws." Of the three remaining films, it's only the last one where an argument can be made that the kid gets in the way of the story, but he's never enough of a problem to spoil the fun of watching Nick and Nora banter with each other.

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