Synopsis: Outlaws come and go in Nick and Nora’s lives. Now it’s time to meet the in-laws. The debonair sleuths leave little Nicky Jr. at boarding school, grab Asta and head to Nick’s boyhood home of Sycamore Springs.
Of course, wherever they go, murder has a way of showing up on the doorstep – a point proven in this fifth Thin Man. Nick can show off his gumshoe talents for his parents (Harry Davenport and Lucile Watson) when an artist is killed. And he’ll do it without customary liquid inspirations because Nick (William Powell) is on the wagon. He’s also on his game. As is Nora (Myrna Loy), wrestling a folding lawn chair, tailing a presumed suspect through town, igniting a pool-hall rumble and cracking wise as good as she gets. Make yourself at home, whodunit fans.
‘The Thin Man Goes Home’ is the fifth entry in the adventures of Nick and Nora Charles. Due to the war (which likely influenced the title and plot), and Myrna Loy’s patriotic duties at the time, it had been many years since the last one – whereas the films used to come out at intervals of two years or so, this one was released four years after ‘Shadow of the Thin Man’.
By this point, much had changed. The world was not the same as it had been in 1934, when ‘The Thin Man’ first graced the silver screen. And not just politically, but on the home front as well. Women’s roles were changing, the United States saw itself as well its purpose in the world differently, and the home life was “idealized” in what would become a squeaky clean, homogenized way.
Unfortunately, this trickled into the ‘Thin Man’ films. As the title suggests, Nick Charles goes back to his hometown to visit his parents – in the company of Nora and Asta, of course. Aside from needing a holiday of sorts, there’s no real reason why he’s going back. In fact, his relationship with his dad makes him wary of returning. I suppose that the filmmakers decided that they wanted to make a more family-friendly picture, a post-war comfort film, and that’s what they did.
Bizarrely, the father-son relationship is at odds with the way it was described in a previous film (‘Another Thin Man’? Or was it ‘Shadow of the Thin Man’?), where Nick makes a snide comment about his father being a hoodlum, a terrible influence. However, for this film, they made the father out to be the nicest guy in the whole picture – his only issue is that disapproves wholly of Nick’s work and his drinking habit (which was done both for tension and comedic relief).
Anyway, we end up getting a more wistful version of America, as opposed to the hustle of New York City and the bustle of San Francisco. This is Middle America, where everything is small time and everyone lives the simple life. Right from the beginning, as they are admiring the passing scenery, Nick points out an old windmill that he used to love as a kid. This is his fondest memory, it seems. How quaint. But this is what you get in ‘The Thin Man Goes Home’.
Which leads me to gripe about the title. For reasons that escape me, most people have completely confused Nick Charles for the thin man himself. The fact is that the thin man in question is the victim from the first film. By the fifth film, even the filmmakers made it impossible for audiences to make this distinction and picked a title that completely confused the two. Until then, the titles could at least be considered nods to the original. Again, I think that the title was a marketing decision – both because it was familiar but because of the post-war sentiments in the United States.
The film finds the couple meeting up with many of the locals, people who have been there for decades and are part of the scenery. Visiting with them is the order of the day here, but it’s pleasant enough. And the mystery, which feels tacked on somewhat, is also intriguing enough to keep the film going. But it definitely doesn’t have the edge or feeling of danger that was present in the earlier films. By now, we’re really sure that the Charles are safe.
Perhaps that’s why the filmmakers involved Nora more this time, to give us the impression of vulnerability as she gets caught up with the criminal elements in Nick’s stead. It’s not to say that Nick isn’t involved, but he adamantly refuses to be pulled in from the onset, insisting on his downtime. Nora, finding him decidedly duller by the day (especially now that he’s completely given up alcohol! ), is doing all she can to throw him right back into it, meddling in everything.
Thank goodness for Nora. Until then, we were treated to cheap physical comedy, silly gags and misunderstandings – the likes of which would be familiar to fans of sitcoms or lighter cinematic fare. It’s not all bad, thankfully, but ‘The Thin Man Goes Home’ rides on the series’ coattails quite a bit, deprived of almost all the flavour that was infused in the best of the bunch. Still, as middling and sappy as it gets, it does make for a pleasant Sunday morning or rainy day diversion.