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By John Hubbuch
The Lake Theater's penultimate film in their yearlong celebration of their 75th anniversary is After The Thin Man. Throughout the year on the second Monday of each month, the Lake has screened a film that played in 1936 — the year the Lake opened for business. The series affords filmgoers a chance to see these movies on the big screen without commercials instead of at 2 a.m. on the commercial-filled small screen.
The series closes on December 12 with Frank Capra's Mr. Deeds Goes To Town. Showtimes are always at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. and admission is $5.
The Thin Man series, one of Hollywood's most successful series, stars William Powell, Myrna Loy and their dog Asta (a frequent crossword puzzle answer). Six Thin Man movies were made featuring the witty and sophisticated Nick Charles, a detective, and his rich society wife, Nora.
After The Thin Man debuted on Christmas Day in 1936. It is the second film in the series following the hugely successful The Thin Man that came out two years prior. The complicated plot involves lots of twists and turns. Nora's uppity Aunt Katherine enlists Nick to help find Nora's cousin's playboy husband who is missing. The Charles' spend New Year's at a wonderfully seedy Chinese nightclub in San Francisco in search of the playboy. Twenty-four hours and three dead bodies later, Nick — in classic genre fashion — assembles all the suspects together in one room. Using his deductive powers, charm and witty repartee, he gets his man — or woman (no plot spoiler am I.) It's all pretty predictable, but no one really cares because it's done with such charm and style that you will be smiling throughout the film.
There is a special bonus to this film because it is the coming out party for the iconic American actor James Stewart. It is great fun to see famous actors performing before they were famous — think Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy, or Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver.
When you watch After The Thin Man also keep in mind that Myrna Loy had at age 29 already appeared in 80 films before becoming a star in the first Thin Man. She and William Powell, who was 15 years older than her, appeared together in 14 films.
Mr. Powell starred in My Man Godfrey, an earlier series offering for which he received an Academy Award nod for Best Actor. Although they were very close friends, they were never lovers, but the public always believed them romantically linked.
In a famous story, when the two stayed at the St. Francis hotel in San Francisco as part of a promotional tour, they were given a suite in the name of Mr. and Mrs. William Powell. Being good sports they played along, as did Powell's true paramour, Jean Harlow, who had come along on the promotion. Harlow and Loy then became best friends. True story.
There is another thing a modern viewer will notice: Nick Charles is pretty much sloshed the whole movie. Back then there was no Socialites Against Drunk Driving and it was New Year's: martini plus tux equaled sophistication. Nick and Nora are still about as cool and sophisticated as it gets.
After The Thin Man is less about plot, and everything about mood and atmosphere. In 1936 the country was mired in The Great Depression and the movie gave Americans a chance to watch some beautiful people solve a crime and get their minds off their troubles. That's why we still flock to the movies. Even today when we can stream movies most anywhere on any number of different electronic gizmos, there is something special about the shared experience of watching a movie on the big screen in the dark with strangers. May it always be so.