Nick and Nora sign off with... Song of the Thin Man (1947)

This post is part of the wonderful 1947 Blogathon, which covers many of the fabulous films from that year. Click here to check out the many other fun entries! You'll be surprised at how many great works appeared in 1947. Be sure to check in tomorrow, the 14th, for my second entry in the blogathon. I had such a hard time choosing which movies to cover, I just had to do two posts, so we'll be swimming around with Esther Williams and Jimmy Durante tomorrow. For now, though, let's have a ball with the incomparable Charles family...

Instead of doing my usual plot details, I thought I would try something different. A lot of people seem to malign the Thin Man series after the first two entries, something I just can't agree with. Admittedly, I'll watch anything with William Powell and Myrna Loy, especially if they're together -- if there was ever a pairing that could carry a film with simply their chemistry, I'd bet it was Powell and Loy. W.S. Van Dyke II was quite astute when he re-teamed the twosome after the success of the drama Manhattan Melodrama, although MGM wasn't sure if the pair could carry off such a screwball couple. Van Dyke directed four of the six Thin Man movies, but unfortunately, he became ill with cancer and a bad heart. Being a Christian Scientist, he refused treatment and committed suicide in 1943. The series's fifth entry, The Thin Man Goes Home (1945), was directed by Richard Thorpe, while our movie today, Song of the Thin Man, was helmed by Edward Buzzell. While Van Dyke's presence is missed, I'd like to focus on the positives of the end of the Thin Man series.

Quick synopsis: On the S.S. Fortune, a gambling boat, bandleader Tommy Drake (Phillip Reed) is cruel to his alcoholic clarinetist Buddy Hollis (Don Taylor), and both men are in love with the band's singer, Fran Page (Gloria Grahame). Drake owes money to gangster Al Amboy and tries to get an advance on his salary from Mitchell Talbin (Leon Ames), a man who just booked Drake's band for a better gig. Talbin refuses to loan him the large sum, so Drake steals cash from the boat's owner, Phil Brant (Bruce Cowling). Before he gets two steps away from the safe, though, he's shot and killed. Brant is arrested for the murder, but his wife, socialite Janet Thayer (Jayne Meadows), knows he's innocent and asks Nick Charles for help. Lots of spoilers ahead.

Gloria Grahame and Keenan Wynn.
Filmed before she hit her stride, Gloria Grahame plays a small part as the singer, Fran. She didn't do her own singing, but she still makes an impression, as Grahame always did. It's a shame that her character gets killed off about halfway through the film, especially since Fran and Buddy Hollis had such an interesting relationship that we hardly ever got to see. Keenan Wynn plays "Clinker," another guy from Drake's band. Clinker fills in the role of the third party that tags along with the Charleses as they gather clues. He spouts lingo that makes Nick's head whirl, and he's their ticket to the world of jazz musicians.

Nick Charles, Jr.
Cute, little Dean Stockwell is Nicky, Nick and Nora's son. I'll admit I wasn't a fan of the introduction of a baby to the series, but I enjoy him in this film. As we all knew would happen, Nicky is enthralled by the dangerous and exciting stuff his father experienced, and he wants to be a detective just like him. When he sees the Drake murder in the newspaper, he immediately wants to work with his dad to figure it out. One of the funniest scenes occurs when Nora demands that Nick spank their son after catching him trying to avoid practicing the piano. Nick is definitely not the disciplinarian of the two, so when he lays his son over his knee and raises his newspaper, memories overtake him: proudly seeing Nicky at the hospital when he was born, teaching him how to ride a bike... But then he remembers when he crashed the bike and Nicky laughed at him--now he can go through with the spanking! It's also adorable to see that Asta has become best friends with the boy. A running gag in the film is that the terrier keeps sleeping beside Nicky instead of in his own bed. It's pretty darn cute.

The dialogue.
The married team of Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich provided the wonderful scripts for the first three films, but by the fourth they were no longer contributors, which is a shame. However, there still are gems to be found in Song of the Thin Man. They may not be as fast and furious as the previous films, but they're there nonetheless:
A man after a shot was fired and hit Nick's bottle of scotch: "Was anyone hurt?"
Nick: "Yes, an old friend of mine went completely to pieces."

Nick when a guy sticks a knife in his back as he's holding a piece of sheet music: "If you're afraid of my bursting into song, it'll be a little difficult with the piccolo part."

Nick after he and Nora hear something surprising: "Mrs. Charles always wears her mouth open with this outfit."

Nick: "The prettier the bait, the better the catch... That's an old saying I just made up."

Surprisingly dark tone.
When you ask someone what the Thin Man series is about, the likely answer is Nick and Nora, not the murder mysteries that serve as the plot. Song of the Thin Man actually gets a little scary at times. Early in the film, Nick turns in Brant so he'll be protected in jail, but Brant and Janet see it as a betrayal. When Janet later disappears with Nicky, Nora is terrified that something bad is going to happen to her son, and you're right there with her. The whole film, Jayne Meadows plays Janet with a subtle malice, whether she's pissed at her father for rejecting Brant or she thinks the Charleses are out to wrongly convict her husband.

Buddy Hollis intensifies things, as well. From the very beginning, the audience sees that Hollis is having trouble sustaining his talent, which is blamed on Fran dumping him for Tommy Drake and his subsequent alcoholism. As the film goes on, we learn that Hollis was committed to a rest home. He plays the same song over and over on his clarinet; he's despondent; he stares at Nora in an unsettling way. Nora tries to get information out of him by sneaking away from Nick and Clinker and acting like she's a friend of Fran's, but Hollis finds out she lied and he gets violent, almost killing Nora. Nick figures that Hollis was present when Drake was shot, so the poor guy is later used to identify the killer at the very end, which leads us to...

The twist ending.
In the series' customary way, the mystery is solved as Nick gathers all the suspects in one location, this time the S.S. Fortune. Everyone thinks they were just invited for the re-opening of the ship, which includes the Tommy Drake Band returning with Buddy Hollis as their clarinetist. When Hollis comes out in front to do his solo, he sees the killer and freezes, causing Nick to deduce that it's Mitchell Talbin. Talbin confesses, but all of a sudden a shot rings out. Talbin's wife (Phyllis Morison) shot him! She was Tommy Drake's lover and used her necklace to pay off his debts to Amboy (a payment that goes unnoticed by all except Nora). She swore that she would kill Drake's murderer and before she can be stopped, she plugs Talbin a few more times and he dies.

It's still Nick and Nora.
The characters are essentially the same as they've always been, which is fantastic. They question suspects at 4 a.m. Nora wears marvelous clothes. Nick has dialed back on his drinking only slightly. Being amongst jazz musicians makes them feel old at first, what with the weird words and late night/early morning jam sessions. But then Nora picks up on all the lingo to Nick's confusion, and they're as cool as they ever were.

Myrna Loy actually hated the film, writing in her autobiography that "the characters had lost their sparkle for Bill and me, and the people who knew what it was all about were no longer involved. Woody Van Dyke was dead. Dashiell Hammett and Hunt Stromberg had gone elsewhere. The Hacketts were writing other things. Surprisingly, though, [it] was pretty well received, particularly in England, where, according to the Hollywood Reporter, 'Most of the cricks gave a cordial welcome to old-timers Bill Powell and Myrna Loy...' I know that only because Bill sent me the article with 'old-timers' circled in pencil and this note scrawled at the top of the page: 'Dear old girl! I know you wouldn't want to miss this! Love, Willy (old boy)" (Being and Becoming).

Loy may not have liked it, but I find Song of the Thin Man to be an enjoyable flick. Is it the best ending to a great series? No. Does it deserve scorn and dismissal? No. Watch the film with an open mind and give it a chance. Remember: the perfection of The Thin Man is really, really hard to live up to.

With love,
Michaela

Comments

  1. I greatly enjoyed your unique post, Michaela! I've never seen Song of the Thin Man, but your post makes me want to give it a whirl! Thanks so much for this interesting and informative contribution to the blogathon!

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    1. Thanks for the kind words! I loved contributing to this blogathon, and I've been working all night on my second entry. I'll let you know when I get it posted.
      Thanks for co-hosting, by the way!

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  2. I agree with you, they can't all be perfect installments in the series, but I enjoy them, even if only for the comfort of the familiar type of plot and for Loy and Powell, who can't disappoint :) Thanks so much for joining in the blogathon!

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    1. Thanks for having me! I loved this blogathon and can't wait to read the other entries. And you can never have too much Powell and Loy in your life. :)

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  3. I haven't seen this film for almost 10 years, which is way too long. Your terrific post has me scouring for online streaming options.

    I like how you organized this post – a great read! :)

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    1. Thank you! I'm glad I inspired you to search for the film. That always makes me feel like I've completed my mission. And thanks for mentioning the organization; I've been thinking about mixing up how I write my posts, so it's good to know you liked it.
      Can't wait to read your post on The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer!

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  4. A great tribute to Nick and Nora! Agree that this isn't the best from the series but it says a lot about the characters that it still works.
    (Vicki from GirlsDoFilm - can't comment through my wordpress account!)

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    1. I'm convinced that Nick and Nora are two of the greatest characters we've ever had, and Loy and Powell really brought them to life. Thanks for reading!

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  5. The only thing I don't like about "Song of the Thin Man" was the part where Nick and Nora were baffled by the musicians lingo. It wasn't that far out to be indiscernible, and it hurt that our favourite couple wasn't the coolest couple around. Other than that, a nice mystery with a unique setting.

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    1. I agree, it's a little disconcerting that Nick and Nora are baffled by something. I wonder if it was the screenwriters' way of acknowledging that the Charleses were older than their 1934 counterparts. I'm glad they let Nora pick up on it, though.
      Thanks for reading!

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    2. One of my fav parts is when the two are baffled by the lingo. It shows they're getting older, but doing so together--turning into the old married couple we always imagined they might become. I also liked how Nora picked up on it and the impressed expression on Nick's face when she does.

      So glad you honored this movie in the blogathon. As you stated, it is often pushed aside in favor of the first installments, but SONG OF THE THIN MAN is special in its own right.

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    3. You're so right; I enjoy all the Thin Man movies, and I agree with others that the first two are the best, but the rest are still good. If they didn't have those two hanging over them, who knows what their reputation would be.

      Thanks for reading!

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  6. I'd heard many thing about The Thin Man. I want to see this movie.

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