Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 12, 2021)
Usually when an established series introduces a baby, it acts as a sign of creative desperation. The Thin Man films went this way with their third iteration, 1939’s Another Thin Man.
Though this development shouldn’t come as a surprise, as 1936’s After the Thin Man - the first of five sequels to 1934’s The Thin Man - ended with a strong hint that co-protagonist Nora Charles (Myrna Loy) was pregnant.
Three years later, Another finds Nora and husband Nick (William Powell) as the parents of Nicky Jr., an infant at this point. The Charles clan heads to a party held by Long Island industrialist Colonel Burr MacFay (C. Aubrey Smith).
MacFay fears that someone desires to murder him – and these concerns prove accurate, as MacFay winds up deceased. Shady Phil Church (Sheldon Leonard) becomes the prime suspect, but Nick suspects something else at work.
Though the original Thin Man worked very well, I felt much less enchanted by After, which I thought came across as a wan copy of its predecessor. As implied by the first paragraph of this review, the addition of infant Nicky Jr. made me less than optimistic that Another would return to the glories of the 1934 flick, but hope springs and all that.
On this disc, the trailer for Another trumpets Powell’s return to movie screens after a two-year absence. This exaggerates a little, as Another came out 21 months after his prior effort, 1938’s The Baroness and the Butler, but I guess I can’t fault the studio their choice to round up a little.
Given that Powell appeared in at least three movies a year for the decade through 1937, his semi-long absence seems like a surprise on the surface, but personal concerns interfered. Not only did Powell deal with cancer, but also his fiancée Jean Harlow died suddenly in June 1937.
Given these issues, no one can fault Powell his decision to take a break from movies. I’d like to report that Another represents his triumphant return to the screen, but it becomes a lackluster effort.
Another feels like a tepid revival of the series. Whether due to the aftereffects of his tragic period or simple boredom with the franchise, Powell appears disengaged from Nick and he fails to bring much spark to the part.
This seems semi-remarkable, mainly because Powell offered so much natural comedic charm. At his best, he came across as spry, wry and delightful, but Powell strays far from his peak here.
Not that Powell’s Nick seems devoid of life, as the actor still brings some of his inherent likability to the part. Unfortunately, Powell just seems disengaged too much of the time, and that leaves a hole at the film’s center.
Let’s face it: the Thin Man movies prosper mainly when they accentuate the saucy relationship between Nick and Nora, but that side of the film almost never occurs. Instead, Another bogs down in its plot, a poor choice because the story line goes next to nowhere.
As I noted last paragraph, I think these films work best when they focus on the leads and leave the narrative side secondary. Sure, we need a decent mystery as well, but Nick and Nora bring us the most compelling aspects of the tales.
Oddly, Another often avoids Nick/Nora interactions, and even when these two appear together, they show few sparks. The film mainly concentrates on a dour Nick as he pursues the truth about the crimes.
If Another mustered a more interesting mystery, this might seem fine, but in truth, the plot feels muddled and dull. We never really care about the plot and find ourselves disenchanted with the whole affair.
At least Another doesn’t rely on Nicky Jr. as much as I expected. Like I noted at the start, the introduction of a baby to a TV or movie series usually comes as an act of desperation, one that exists to provide new story threads unavailable pre-child.
That doesn’t happen here, as Nicky Jr. barely plays any role. In fact, the baby shows up so infrequently that it perplexes me the filmmakers even bothered to include him.
Perhaps they felt the teaser at the end of After meant they had to introduce a child for the sake of continuity, as it would seem strange that the 1936 movie implied Nora’s pregnancy and then the 1939 flick ignored it. Still, it feels odd that Another sets up the Nicky Jr. character and then barely features him.
Maybe Nicky Jr. will get more to do in future flicks. Powell and Loy made three more Thin Man films in the 1940s, and perhaps one or more of those will recapture the fun of the first one. Unfortunately, like After the Thin Man, Another Thin Man becomes a lackluster continuation of the series.