Thursday, September 12, 2013

Seeking Both a Killer and Parental Approval

Read/Watch 'em In Order #38

1945's The Thin Man Goes Home is sort of the odd-man out in the series. Unlike the others, it's not set in a big city, but in the small town of Sycamore Springs. This gives it more of a cozy mystery feel without the usual hints of hard-boiled or noir elements present in the other films.

Not that that's a bad thing, because Goes Home is one of the best of the series. Nick and Nora are in Sycamore Springs to visit Nick's parents. Nick's father, Dr. Bertram Charles, has never approved of Nick's decision to become a detective--nor does he have any real respect for what Nick does. Nick's visit is at least in part because he hopes of finally gaining his dad's approval.

This aspect of the film is handled skillfully. William Powell, Myrna Loy and Harry Davenport (as the dad) underplay this--keeping it from becoming overly melodramatic and giving the entire film an unusual level of sincere sweetness.

But none of that interferes with the other two elements that usually make up a great Thin Man film--the comedy and the mystery.

The comedy is often hilarious. Loy had been out of acting for a few years while she helped with the war effort as a Red Cross worker, but she had lost none of her edge as a comedic actor. Nor had her perfect chemistry with William Powell dried up in the least. Several scenes--a trip on an overcrowded train and Nora's struggles to unfold a lawn chair--provide some great slapstick, while the banter between the characters is as sharp as ever.

And the mystery is a particularly good one. A man is gunned down right in front of Nick, despite there having been no sound of a shot. Nick professes his usual disinterest in helping investigate, but the opportunity to show off for his father soon has him in the thick of things. An eccentric local known as Crazy Mary soon becomes involved (at one point conking Nick unconscious) and--for some reason--a painting of a local landscape seems to be a part of it as well. A second murder seems to confuse the situation even further.

But Nick eventually sorts out the various clues and myriad suspects, bringing everyone together for his usual summation and to ID the killer. His dad is there at the pay-off, allowing Nick to finally show off what he does with his life.

It's a sharp, funny movie, with an excellent supporting cast. Davenport and Lucile Watson are perfect as Nick's parents. Ann Revere (a direct descendant of Paul Revere, by the way) does a wonderful job with the part of Crazy Mary. Leon Ames plays a sleazy guy for the umpteenth time in his career--but he always did sleezy really well. Another of my favorite character actors--Lloyd Corrigan--is a childhood friend of Nick's who ends up playing a key role in the investigation.

There's one interesting side note in the film: Nick and Nora bring Asta the dog with them to Sycamore Springs, but leave their son behind. The stated reason is they didn't want to pull him out of school. I suspect the real reason was the writers realized it was largely a mistake to give the Charles' a kid, so they came up with a convenient excuse to write him out. In-universe, though, it's interesting to note that the elder Charles' didn't mind not seeing their only grandchild--a very un-grandparent-like reaction. Gee whiz, just how much of a brat did Nick Jr. turn out to be.

Well, we'll get a chance to see Nick, Jr. one more time when we visit the last film in the series.


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