Sycamore Springs is Nick Charles' home town, where his parents still live. It's small town Americana, MGM style. We half-way expect that the murderer, when Nick catches him, will turn out to be Andy Hardy.
In The Thin Man Goes Home, the fifth of the Thin Man series, Nick and Nora (William Powell and Myrna Loy) journey from New York to celebrate his birthday with his parents. Dr. Charles is a medical man who disapproves of Nick's line of work as a "policeman." He had hoped his son would become a doctor and that they could work together. Nick's mother understands and loves them both and bustles around. And Nora, determined to show her father-in-law what such a smart and successful detective Nick really is, begins to leak the story that Nick is really in Sycamore Springs to solve an important case. "Nicky always says there's a skeleton in nearly every closet," Nora points out to her mother-in-law, "and if you rattle it hard enough something always happens."
It's not long before a number of things happen, including a young man shot by a sniper at the elder Charles' front door, an intense attempt by a shady character and his wife to buy or steal a second-rate painting of a windmill and the death by shotgun blast of a disturbed recluse. Nick has to deal with war plants and war plans, twenty-year-old secrets involving illicit love and an unexpected baby, innocent or not-so innocent theatrics and the impact of some of his street-wise friends on the respectability of his parents. All the way, the need to show his father that he is worthy of respect even if he is just a "policeman" keeps things humming. The conclusion, with everyone gathered around, the true motivation for the murders uncovered and the killer unmasked, ends satisfactorily with his father grinning in approval and a button on Nick's vest popping with pride, just as Nora predicted. This being wartime, Nick's exertions have had to be fueled by apple cider, not martinis.
The pleasure of this movie rests squarely on the personalities of Powell and Loy. They fit into being Nick and Nora with the grace and affection of old friends. That's how we see them, as actors and as Nick and Nora. They're good company and fun to be with. While the mystery itself may not be great shakes (the rationale for the murders seemed to come a little out of left field), the actors are a crowd of familiar faces and predictable and welcome personalities. We get Harry Davenport, everyone's favorite father or grandfather; Leon Ames; Donald Meek, small and always flustered; Edward Brophy, Donald MacBride, one of the masters of the double-take; Lloyd Corrigan; Helen Vinson; Lucille Watson and Anne Revere, such a fine actress whose career was ruined by the Hollywood witch-hunts of the late Forties and early Fifties. In a part that lasts probably no more than 20 seconds we even have Moose Malloy, I mean Mike Mazurki, in a barbershop.
So what could make a fan of Nick and Nora Charles queasy? Here's a hint. Says Nora outside a pool hall to Sycamore Springs' police chief, "There's a man here. I want you to arrest him." "What for?" says the chief. "Does it have to be for something?" Nora asks with genuine innocence. Is this the smart, sophisticated Nora from the first two Thin Man movies? Not even close. With The Thin Man Goes Home, MGM has nearly finished the job of turning Nora Charles into an adoring wife and cutely innocent early version of Lucy Ricardo. The affectionate banter between Nick and Nora remains, but little is left of Nora as a sophisticated semi-equal partner in her husband's adventures in murder and crime. Now Nora's role is to provide comic relief so that we can smile indulgently at the situations the little wife gets herself involved in. I watched the movie with a smile because Powell and Loy are so good together. But in a sad way I also felt I was watching Nora Charles' death by the safe, middle class conventions of Hollywood.
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About the reviewer
C. O. DeRiemer (Charley2)
Since I retired in 1995 I have tried to hone skills in muttering to myself, writing and napping. At 75, I live in one of those places where one moves from independent living to hospice. I expect to begin … more
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