“AFTER THE THIN MAN” (1936) Review

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“AFTER THE THIN MAN” (1936) Review

Following the phenomenon success of 1934’s “THE THIN MAN”, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer decided to cash in on that success with a sequel, two years later. “AFTER THE THIN MAN”, released in 1936, proved to be the first of five sequels that starred William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles..

Although the story for “AFTER THE THIN MAN” was created for the screen by Dashiell Hammet; Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, who adapted Hammet’s novel for the 1934 movie, wrote the screenplay for this sequel. And W.S. “Woody” Van Dyke, who directed the first film, returned to direct “AFTER THE THIN MAN”. Set nearly a week after “THE THIN MAN”, this movie finds Nick and Nora Charles returning to San Francisco, following their vacation in New York. It is not long before they find themselves embroiled in the lurid problems of Nora’s socialite cousin, Selma Landis. Apparently her ne’er do well husband Robert has disappeared to join his mistress, a nightclub singer named Polly Byrnes. Robert also tries to extort $25,000 from Selma’s ex-love David Graham, on the promise that he will leave for good. Selma and her haughty mother, Aunt Katherine Forrest, asks Nick to find Robert and bring him back. Although Nick and Nora track Robert down to a Chinatown nightclub, where Polly sings, it is not long before he leaves and someone murders him before he can get that $25,000 and permanently be out of Selma’s life.

Although “AFTER THE THIN MAN” failed to follow in its 1934 predecessor and earn a Best Picture Oscar nomination, Hackett and Goodrich’s screenplay did. It is a pity that director “Woody” Van Dyke and the movie itself did not receive any nominations. Because the movie is regarded by many as the best of the six THIN MAN movies. Do I agree with this assessment? Honestly, I do not know. But I can say that it is my favorite in the series. I love “THE THIN MAN”. But I really love this 1936 sequel. I feel that one of the reasons I regard it in such high regard is the story. The mystery surrounding Robert Landis’ death and the other deaths that followed permeated with human drama. This will especially become obvious in the scene featuring Nick Charles’ revelation of the murderer. Surprisingly, this seemed to be the case for both Nick and Nora, some of the other supporting characters and even Asta.

As many people know, the Production Code finally came into effect in July 1934, two years and five months before the release of“AFTER THE THIN MAN”. Yet, there is something about Hackett and Goodrich’s screenplay that reeked with a Pre-Code sensibility. Who am I kidding? There is so much about this movie that practically screamed PRE-CODE. For one, the story is filled with extramarital sex, adultery, hatred, love, extortion, class bigotry, and some of the raciest humor to come out of a MGM film from the 1930s. As an added bonus, “AFTER THE THIN MAN” featured at least three musical numbers – two of them performed by Dorothy McNulty (the future Penny Singleton from the “BLONDIE” movies). My favorite proved to be the lively New Year’s Eve tune, . Only one aspect of “AFTER THE THIN MAN” makes it clear it was released during the post-Code period – twin beds for Mr. and Mrs. Charles. I do have one major complaint about Van Dyke’s direction of “AFTER THE THIN MAN” – following Robert Landis’ murder, the movie’s pace starts to drag a bit, while Nick and Lieutenant Abrams conduct the investigation of the murder at the Chinatown nightclub and at Aunt Katherine’s home.

Both William Powell and Myrna Loy returned in top form as Nick and Nora Charles. What can I say about them? What is there to say? They were perfect. They were magic. They were yin and yang . . . peanut butter and jelly. They were . . . oh, never mind. Whoever is reading this review probably has a very good idea about what I am trying to say. They were Nick and Nora . . . and that is all I have to say. The two second best performances came from James Stewart as Selma Landis’ former boyfriend, David Graham and Joseph Calleia as the nightclub owner/con man “Dancer”. Watching Stewart in “AFTER THE THIN MAN”, it was easy to see how he became a star within two to three years. He gave a very natural and relaxed performance. And Calleia was deliciously menacing, yet suave as “Dancer”. Frankly, I think he was one of the best character actors between the 1930s and 1950s.

Sam Levene gave a fine comic performance in his first appearance in a THIN MAN movie as Lieutenant Abrams. And Penny Singleton (I might as well call her that) was hilarious as the whining songstress/mistress Polly Byrnes. Elissa Landi gave an emotional portrayal as the much put upon Selma Landis, although there were times I found her a bit hammy. Alan Marshal has never struck me as an exceptional actor . . . just competent. But I must admit that I was very impressed by his portrayal of the slimy Robert Landis. William Law was deliciously subtle as “Dancer’s” nightclub partner. George Zucco took his suave villainy schtick to portray Selma’s sly and menacing psychiatrist. And yet, he gave one of the most emotional and funniest lines in the entire film. And what can I say about Jessie Ralph? I should have included her performance as the haughty and manipulative Aunt Katherine Forrest as one of the best in the film. Because she was magnificent in conveying Aunt Katherine’s manipulative efforts in keeping her family together and her class bigotry against her nephew-in-law, Nick Charles.

I supposed there is nothing else to say about “AFTER THE THIN MAN”. I cannot say that it is perfect. I feel that the sequence following the first murder could have been trimmed a bit. And one of the supporting performances occasionally drifted into hamminess. But aside from these complaints, I feel it was . . . perfect. In fact, thanks to Dashiell Hammett’s story, Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich’s screenplay, W.S. “Woody” Van Dyke’s direction and a superb cast led by William Powell and Myrna Loy; I feel that “AFTER THE THIN MAN” is one of my favorite films from the 1930s . . . and my favorite in the six-film series.

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“THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO” (1934) Review

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“THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO” (1934) Review

I have seen only two versions of Alexandre Dumas père’s 1845 novel, “The Count of Monte Cristo” in my past – the 1975 television version with Richard Chamberlain and the 2002 Disney film with James Cavielzel. While reading a good number of articles about the movie versions of the novel, I came across numerous praises for the 1934 adaptation that starred Robert Donat. And since I happened to like Dumas’ story so much, I decided to see how much I would like this older version. 

Set between the last months of the Napoleonic Wars and the 1830s, “THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO” told the story of merchant sailor Edmond Dantès becomes a victim of French political machinations and personal jealousy after his dying captain Leclère, a supporter of the exiled Napoléon I, charges him to deliver a letter from the exiled former emperor to an unknown man in Marseilles. Thanks to the first mate Danglars, who is jealous of Dantès’ rapid rise to captain; an ambitious city magistrate named Raymond de Villefort, Jr., who wants to stem a possible family scandal, due to his father being identified as the man to whom Napoléon had written the letter; and his best friend Fernand Mondego, who is in love with Dantès’ fiancée, Mercedes de Rosas; Dantès ends up on an island prison called Château d’If. There, he meets a fellow prisoner, a priest and a former soldier in Napoleon’s army named Abbé Faria. Faria educates Dantès and informs the latter a fabulous hidden treasure before he is killed in a cave-in. Dantès escapes from the prison and befriends a group of smugglers that include a thief named Jacopo. They find the treasure that Faria had talked about and Edmond uses it to establish the persona of the Count of Monte Cristo. He hopes to avenge himself against those who had betrayed him – Danglars, Villefort, Mondego. He also learns that Mercedes had married Mondego not long after his imprisonment.

Many critics have labeled this movie as the best adaptation of Dumas’ novel. Is it the best? It all depends on individual preference. I do know that I enjoyed “THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO” very much. The movie benefited from solid writing by director Rowland V. Lee, Philip Dunne and Dan Totheroh, despite some of the changes they made from the novel. “THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO” benefited from a script that balanced action with drama. I found it interesting that most of the action occurred in the movie’s first half – before Dantès’ transformation into the Count of Monte Cristo. Aside from a brief duel between Dantès and Mondego, most of the second half seemed dominated by drama and Dantès’ schemes. My favorite scheme centered around Dantès’ exposure of Mondego’s murderous actions against I have no problem with this . . . to a certain extent. One of the major differences between this movie and Dumas’ novel is the romance between Dantès and Mercedes. Unlike the novel, the pair eventually reconcile with each other, following the death of Mercedes’ husband. Frankly, I am glad that Lee and the other two screenwriters made this change. As much as I admired Dumas’ bittersweet ending to Dantès and Mercedes’ relationship, I have always found it somewhat . . . disappointing. That disappointment was eliminated when the screenwriters allowed the couple to spend their remaining years together.

However, I do have my complaints regarding “THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO”. Although the movie seemed to be balanced between action and drama, I would have preferred if that balance had been maintained throughout the film. If it were not for Dantès’ schemes against his enemies – especially Fernand Mondego – I would have been bored with the movie’s second half. It did not help that I found Dantès’ duel with Mondego rather dull. Even worse, the screenwriters decided to be faithful to Dumas’ novel by having the duel before Dantès’ acts of vengeance against Danglars and de Villefort. For once, I wish they had not been so faithful. And honestly . . . I wish the screenwriters had found another way for Dantès to exact revenge upon de Villefort other than prematurely exposing himself . . . an act that led to his arrest and trial. Because I did not find this method particularly satisfying.

I certainly have no complaints about the performances in “THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO”. There were performances that I found solid, but not particularly interesting. Among them are Irene Harvey and Douglas Walton as the two young lovers – Valentine de Villefort and Albert Mondego; Luis Alberni as Jacopo; Lawrence Grant as a slightly hammy de Villefort Sr.; and Georgia Caine as Mercedes’ mother. Louis Calhern, Sidney Blackmer and Raymond Walburn as Dantès’ three nemesis – Raymond de Villefort Jr., Ferdinand Mondego and Baron Danglars. I was especially impressed by Calhern’s subtle performance. And I was very impressed by O.P. Heggie’s emotional, yet wise take on the Abbé Faria. However, Robert Donat and Elissa Landi gave, in my opinion, the best performances in the film. For me, they were the heart and soul of “THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO” Both Donat and Landi managed to skillfully develop their characters from the innocent young lovers to the embittered ex-convict and his long-suffering former fiancée, who young lives had been unraveled by the capriciousness of three men. One of my favorite scenes in the movie featured their reunion after nearly twenty years apart. I found it both tense and emotionally satisfying.

There are some aspects of “THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO” that prevents it from becoming a big favorite of mine. But I cannot deny that it is a well made adaptation of Dumas’ novel. And one can thank Rowland V. Lee’s solid direction, the excellent script written by him, Philip Dunne and Dan Totheroh, and a solid cast led by the talented Robert Donat.