Nick and Nora Charles are asked by Phil Brant and Janet Thayar, who have just eloped, to help them after band leader Tommy Drake is killed at a society dance which Nick and Nora also attended. The police are looking to arrest Brant for the murder and while he claims he's innocent, Nick isn't too keen on having him in the house and turns him over to the police. As they look into the case, Nick and Nora learn that Drake wasn't very well liked and there are actually several people who benefited from his death. Drake owed money to loan shark Al Amboy, and Janet's father disliked Brant and may have set him up. Drake's girlfriend may have been having a fling with clarinetist Buddy Hollis, and he and Drake had a fist fight on stage during the festivities. Nick arranges for another party on the same boat where Nora notices something quite peculiar about one of the guest's jewelry. Written by
Nick and Nora Charles stroll off arm-in-arm into the distance. We'll miss them
Song of the Thin Man is a sad-sweet experience, something like meeting a good friend you haven't seen in years and realizing how much affection you still have for him... but also how much you both have aged. It's been 13 years since The Thin Man appeared in 1934. We have to stop and remember that Nick Charles wasn't the thin man back then; that particular thin man was just one of the many murder victims Nick and Nora came across in their six movies. We remember the sophistication and insouciance of this affectionate and clever couple. They were never at a loss for a quick come-back or to shake a cold, gin martini. Even Nick's modus operandi to bring all the suspects together at the conclusion and pick apart the case until he has the murderer squirming never quite got stale. Alas, with Song of the Thin Man we have the MGM factory squeezing out one more film to try to wring a profit from it, this time attempting to make it "contemporary" by setting the story in the post-WWII social world of after-hours jazz clubs, bebop musicians and hep cat dialogue. Nick and Nora never looked uncomfortable anywhere their adventures took them in the past. They look at times now as out of place as salesmen from Peru, Indiana, at a Linda and Cole Porter party.
Gone is the sophisticated world of white sofas and polished black floors, of naughty Porter lyrics and earnestly sophisticated Gershwin tunes. Martinis seem oddly old fashioned now (and so do Old Fashioneds) as Nick drinks high balls and Nora sips sherry. And instead of clever repartee, Song of the Thin Man gives us the kind of dialogue only studio journeymen can write. Says one character, "I must have blown my top, kicking Buddy over for a road company Casanova like you!" The solution depends on the kind of half-baked, melodramatic psychology popular at the time. To make it even more tedious, there are no characters except Nick and Nora to care about. The movie is peopled with crooks, opportunists, gold- diggers, scat-talking musicians and the unattractive rich. The acting is so variable that it doesn't take long to realize we're watching the kind of movie that MGM did not waste much effort on.
Why spend time on it? Two names: William Powell and Myrna Loy. Even though 13 years have elapsed, even though, at 55, Powell is a little fuller around the face (Loy at 42 doesn't seem to have changed a bit) and even though WWII altered decisively the world of films, they remain one of the most refreshing, attractive and delightful movie pairs in screen history. They raise the movie, if at least not to their level, to a level of enduring affection for their style, their warmth, their intelligence and, that word again, their insouciance. So three stars is too much for the movie but five stars is too little for them.
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