Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 12, 2021)
In the 1930s, sequels weren’t as inevitable as they are today, but they occurred. After the success of 1934’s The Thin Man, a second tale with the same folks seemed logical. Eventually the series would encompass five sequels, the first of which came out in 1936.
After the Thin Man picks up right where the first film finished, as Nick Charles (William Powell) and wife Nora (Myrna Loy) return to California from their time in New York. They just want a quiet New Year’s Eve at home, but friends and hangers-on have taken over their house for a surprise party.
Nick and Nora slip out when they get an invitation for dinner from her Aunt Katherine (Jessie Ralph). Nick doesn’t like the “old battleaxe” but when Nora’s cousin Selma (Elissa Landi) pleads for their presence, he agrees to go. We sense something dire is afoot with Selma but don’t get more hints at this time.
When they arrive at the party, Selma reveals that her husband Robert (Alan Marshal) has been missing for three days. The upper crust Katherine doesn’t report this to the police as she worries about press, so they entreat Nick to investigate.
He agrees, and we hear some other aspects of the case such as Selma’s belief Robert only married her for the money. We also meet her friend David (James Stewart), a dude who obviously has long carried a torch for Selma.
Complications ensue when Nick and Nora find Robert at a nightclub. He’s having a fling with singer Polly (Dorothy McNulty), as is club owner Dancer (Joseph Calleia), as he strings him along so the pair can use him.
Robert also attempts to blackmail David: for $25,000, he’ll divorce Selma so David can finally marry her. Someone eventually shoots and kills Robert, which launches the mystery. Selma is the prime suspect, but she denies involvement, so Nick reluctantly steps in to solve the case.
Like most sequels, After bears many similarities to the original flick – Nick’s reluctance to work as a detective being one of these elements. This worked better in the first movie, as his reticence becomes tiresome here.
Nick seems especially curmudgeonly since Selma’s part of the family, and the gag gets old, particularly since we know there’s no chance Nick won’t eventually investigate. After all, it wouldn’t be much of a movie if he didn’t do his detective thing.
I won’t discuss the details, but After also offers an ending that strongly resembles the conclusion of the first film. In a change, Nora gets more to do here.
She was awfully passive in the original flick, whereas this movie gives her a moderately more active role. Asta’s part increases as well, at least for a few cutesy moments. We meet “Mrs. Asta” and his pups, though these are thrown-away elements that have nothing to do with the main story.
And what about that primary plot, anyway? I must admit it lacks the intrigue of the “Thin Man” mystery.
Frankly, I never really cared who did it. Both films offer lots of complications, but at least The Thin Man manages to keep our interest.
That doesn’t happen here, or at least not to the same degree. With all the different curveballs, I eventually realized that I wasn’t terribly concerned with the identity of the culprit and I just wanted the movie to end.
Granted, the mystery never really becomes of prime importance in the first film. We care more about the fun interplay between Nick and Nora and the other comedic elements.
Unfortunately, these lack the same zing here, as the banter doesn’t bring the same pep and zest. A few scenes reprise the goofy tone of the original, but usually the project displays few signs of life.
I must admit After the Thin Man comes as a disappointment to me. I expected a project that offered similar cleverness and creativity compared to its predecessor, but I found a flick with little of the same spark. It has some moments but it usually plods and fails to deliver the goods.