Friday, December 31, 2010

AFTER THE THIN MAN: Ringing in a New Year and a Classic Film Series

This revised post appears as part of of the

Classic Film & TV Cafe  Dogathon, running from February 19th to 22nd. It's doggone fun!


When The Thin Man (TTM) became a surprise smash hit in 1934, a sequel was inevitable. Already frequent co-stars and close platonic friends, William Powell and Myrna Loy teamed up again onscreen in 1936 as Dashiell Hammett’s husband-and-wife sleuths Nick and Nora Charles, introduced in Hammett's 1933 novel. We film aficionados know all too well that at best, sequels are often a pale shadow of the original film. Happily, that wasn’t the case with After the Thin Man (AtTM). (Enjoy the attached trailer!) Retired detective Nick and his heiress wife Nora are as happily into each other as before, still slinging cocktails and witty banter while looking for clues. The original gang’s all here: Powell and Loy are again joined by director W.S. “One-Take Woody” Van Dyke and screenwriters Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, working from an original Hammett story and earning Oscar nominations for their screenplay; and Loy is once again stylishly clothed by designer Dolly Tree. The production values are a little glossier this time around; even the opening credits sequence (including a sketch of Asta looking eagerly at a fire hydrant) looks smarter and snappier than in the first film! There are even musical numbers, including “Smoke Dreams” by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed (yes, that Arthur Freed, for all you movie musical fans). 

Although two years passed between the two movies in real life, the events of AtTM take place immediately after Nick and Nora’s Christmas adventures in New York City (hooray for my hometown!), and our sassy lovebirds look more appealing than ever. In fact, we first see Nick and Nora on the train with Asta, their cute wirehaired fox terrier, all of them eager to return home to San Francisco. Their TTM traveling companions, Tommy and Dorothy, last seen as Newlyweds On A Train, are nowhere to be seen; I’m guessing they’d either already left or are *ahem* still aboard, enjoying their honeymoon (and they deserve it, after the agita they went through in the first film!). The quips start as soon as Nick and Nora prepare to disembark:

Nora: “Are you packing, dear?”
Nick (knocking back booze): “Yes, darling, I’m just putting away this liquor.”

Once poor exhausted Nick and Nora get off the train, they can’t catch a break, let alone their breath! For starters, they open the door of their home to discover a raucous  welcome-home surprise party where there seem to be way more party-crashers than guests, including Ward Bond, and Charles Arnt, who played golfer/mental patient Crawford in My Favorite Brunette. Also, watch for Billy “Whitey” Benedict in an early scene where Nick and Nora drive through the streets of San Francisco. Wouldn’t you think that with Nick and Nora’s kind of money, they could afford better home security?  Our soignee sweethearts’ hopes of kindly but firmly bidding their unexpected guests adieu and sleeping through New Year’s Eve are dashed by a desperate phone call from Nora’s favorite cousin, Selma Landis (Elissa Landi of The Count of Monte Cristo; The Warrior’s Husband; and The Sign of the Cross. Also, according to the IMDb, Landi was rumored to have been the secret granddaughter of Sissi, Empress Elizabeth, the beautiful consort of Emperor Franz Josef of Austria. But I digress….).

Seems Selma’s husband Robert Landis (Alan Marshall of Tom, Dick, and Harry; The White Cliffs of Dover; and many TV series, including 77 Sunset Strip and Surfside Six) is missing. No big loss: Robert is an unrepentant wastrel playboy fortune-hunter type who only married Selma for her money. While Nick and Nora (in her nice way) feel his disappearance is good riddance to bad rubbish, Selma is nevertheless stuck on the guy even though she hates herself for loving him. What’s more, Robert’s being scammed out of money at the Lichee Club by club owner Dancer (Joseph Calleia of The Glass Key and Gilda, among others) and on the side, he’s been seeing the club’s two-timing chanteuse, Polly Byrnes, played by singing, dancing, scene-stealing Dorothy McNulty — before she went all flaxen-haired and became a star as Penny Singleton in the Blondie movies from 1938 to 1950, not to mention the voice of TV's animated Jane Jetson!
Seems Mrs. Asta made a friend while
Asta and family were away!
Intruder in the dust!
If you thought TTM’s Wynant family was a dysfunctional bunch, wait until you get a load of Nora’s dreary (yet funny) Nob Hill clan! I was itching to smack Nora’s domineering, pompous Aunt Katherine (Jessie Ralph), who’s more interested in covering up scandalous family skeletons than letting Selma have a life of her own. For that matter, I longed to give put-upon Selma a smack, too, or at least a good tough-love talking-to; someone’s gotta help that girl stop being such a spineless wuss! Consider my little rant as a compliment to writers Goodrich and Hackett’s ability to engage my emotions, and the excellent acting of both Ms. Ralph and Ms. Landi; they’re maddeningly convincing in their roles!

Then there’s Nick and Nora’s family friend David Graham (young James Stewart in an early role), who’s still in love with former fiancĂ©e Selma despite her wishy-washy qualities. David made a deal with Robert to pay him $25,000 in exchange for divorcing Selma, after which she and David could presumably live happily ever after. Before you can say “Dr. Phil,” the plan goes awry in myriad ways. Robert rings in the New Year at the Pearly Gates after being shot dead (ding-dong, the jerk is dead!), and Selma may end up hanging from a noose instead of hanging around with dreary Aunt Katherine and the other elderly “waxworks” in the family mansion. It’s up to Nick, the underfoot-but-eager Nora, and the put-upon Lt. Abrams (Sam Levene, one of my favorite character actors.  I first saw him in his scene-stealing role in the 1979 thriller Last Embrace, but after AfTM, Levene originated the role of Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls on Broadway, among many other memorable roles) to save the day — right after a good night’s sleep and some tasty scrambled eggs, of course….

 
Cousin Selma isn’t the only one in AtTM having relationship issues: while Nick, Nora, and Asta were away solving their Manhattan murder mystery during Christmas week, Mrs. Asta and a randy black Scottie dog came out to play — and Asta’s wondering what side of the family that new black puppy came from! Asta’s not rolling over and playing dead, though. Indeed, he gets more to do in AtTM than in TTM: when a rock with a message gets thrown through Nick and Nora’s window, Asta thinks they’re playing and lead our spunky couple in a merry chase to try to rescue the rest of the clue before Asta eats the whole thing!

Hey, that bubbly brunette is Blondie!

In Hammett’s original novel, Asta wasn’t a male wirehaired fox terrier, but a female Schnauzer! However, when the hit novel became a hit movie, every dog lover wanted a pooch like Asta, as played by Skippy in the first two Thin Man films. In later Thin Man movies, the job was taken over by other fox terriers trained by ace trainer Rudd Weatherwax and his family, in addition to Frank  Inn; these folks brought us Lassie and Benji, among other animal performers. To this day, Asta is one of cinema’s most beloved dogs. For instance, the name “Asta” is a frequent answer in The New York Times crossword puzzles in response to clues such as “Thin Man dog” or “Dog star.” Skippy was quite the in-demand canine star back then, bless him; click here for Skippy’s filmography!


Nick and Nora go over scrambled yeggs
over scrambled eggs!
 AtTM is good, zesty, quotable fun, another one of those delightful films where if I tried to quote every line I like, I’d end up quoting virtually the entire script. Here’s my favorite, discussing New Year’s resolutions at the Lichee Club after ringing in the New Year in wild and wacky style:
Nora: “Any complaints or suggestions?”
Nick: “A few.”
Nora: “Which?”
Nick: “Complaints…You don’t scold, you don’t nag, and you look far too pretty in the mornings.”
Nora: “I’ll remember: must scold, must nag, mustn’t be too pretty in the mornings.” (They kiss.)


Even walkies are a wow with  the Charles clan!
As New York Times film critic Frank S. Nugent said in his 1936 Christmas Day review, “Nick’s ultimate solution of the case—which we could not reveal if we would—is about the most thoroughly upsetting denouement of the year and is practically enough to drive the second-guessers in the audience to the nearest soda fountain for a sedative or a rhubarb and soda.” Without giving too much away, I’ll only say that I’m not surprised that the appealing thespian playing the killer ably tapped into his darker side in much later roles. There’s another, happier surprise at the end, but if you haven’t already seen AtTM, I urge you to buy or rent it and enjoy it for yourself. Heck, give the other four Thin Man films a try, too. They may not all be as perfect as the first two, but they’re all great fun to watch, and Powell and Loy are always charming cinematic company on New Year’s Eve, or any time! 


Asta picks the darndest times to play hide-and-seek! Gimme that clue!
Oh, that Nick and Nora, always on a toot!
Can we come along?


Lt. Abrams and our heroes realize the check is not in the mail!



41 comments:

  1. Just a reminder: AFTER THE THIN MAN will be on TCM on March 13th at 11 a.m. ET! Save the date and set your DVRs! :-)

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  2. After the Thin Man sparkles almost as much as The Thin Man itself. 1930's movies are perfect New Year's fare, with a little haute couture, some bright and witty dialog, quarts of champagne consistantly bubbling...ah, the glamor.

    This brings me to one question...Why did I spend New Year's Eve watching 50's TV westerns?!

    It was awfully nice dropping by again Dorian!

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  3. Emm, you summed up the appeal of the THIN MAN movies beautifully. The "Welcome" mat is always out for you here at TotED; drop by anytime! Happy New Year to you and yours; may 2011 be chock full of good things, film-related and otherwise!

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  4. New Year's Resolutions for 2011:

    1. Build a time machine.
    2. Place Dorian and her manuscripts/stories into time machine.
    3. Send time machine back to Hollywood in the 1930s.
    4. Await spontaneous addition of further interesting movies from that time period.

    Other than that, not too much to add, except that I agree with you concerning the rather charming ending to the film (AFTER THE THIN MAN is one of the very few films I don't mind if I only catch the last ten or so minutes).

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  5. Michael, I like the way you think! :-) (I'm also reminded of the running gag in SUBURBAN OUTLAWS with hero Zach Zimmerman's half-kidding goal to build a time machine.) Thanks, my friend, and may 2011 be chock full of all the good things you richly deserve; you're due for a lucky break!

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  6. Please join me in welcoming Moira Finnie, TotED's newest Follower! Moira, we hope you enjoy yourself here in our little cinematic sewing circle! I was intrigued by your own blogs, too; I look forward to reading more of them.

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  7. By the way, if you still need your THIN MAN movie fix, ANOTHER THIN MAN (the one on Long Island, with little Nick Jr. celebrating his first birthday with papa Nick's colorful cronies, as I recall) will be on TCM tomorrow, Saturday, January 8th, at 12 noon ET. Set your DVRs if you need to! :-)

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  8. Great remix! This is one of the best cast sequels to the original. Plus, the Mr. and Mrs. Asta subplot is hilarious! Great pick for dogathon!

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    1. Thanks, Gilby -- I'm delighted that you enjoyed our AtTM remix! I enjoy all the THIN MAN movies, but the first two are my favorites. Asta's subplot always cracks me up! :-)

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  9. Dorian, very entertaining review of the best of the THIN MAN sequels (and maybe the best THIN MAN movie). That's a great photo of Asta peeking around the corner at Nick and Nora (but, then again, your pics are always amazing). Do you know why Asta was changed from a female Schnauzer, as in the novel? Gotta love the subplot with Mrs. Asta!

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    1. Rick, thanks so much for your praise of our remix, especially the pictures! Vinnie deserves the kudos for designing the GIF pix; he's the computer whiz in the family! :-)

      I must admit I haven't the slightest idea why the folks behind the THIN MAN movies decided to make Asta a male wirehaired fox terrier instead of keeping her a Schnauzer like she was in Dashiell Hammett's book. Heck, if I recall correctly, Lassie was always played by a male dog even though her character was female! Does anyone reading this have any theories about this "sex change"? :-)

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  10. Dorian,
    The Thin Man series is was my first introduction into Classic Films. Being my mothers favorite along with Charlie Chan I saw them over and over as a kid.

    Asta is one adorable movie dog with a rather large fan base so he is quite recognizable, the perfect choice for the Dogathon. The fact that he found a mate during the series was beyond adorable. And I think we can all agree that the cute little dog in The Artist reminds us all of Asta, all of the hi-jinx that added to the fun of these films.

    For years I wanted a dog like Asta but a few years ago my close friend got a Wire Fox Terrier and that dog was a handful! Youza, he was always running off, chewing on things when not digging up their backyard.

    Your Thin Man review (original and revised) is great with a lot of info I didn't know included.

    Fun and informative as always. And a must have film for any Dogathon.
    Page

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  11. Page, beaucoup thanks for your kind words about my AFTER THE THIN MAN post! THE THIN MAN was among the earliest classic movies I ever watched, and I loved it and AtTM instantly, and of course I still do.

    Loved your anecdote about your friend and what life with a real fox terrier is like! (We used to have German Shepherds when I was growing up. Alas, now we all have too many allergies to own a dog.) That's why people need to look carefully at dog breeds before buying them -- or better yet, get some lovable mutt who needs a good loving home. But I digress....

    I must admit I STILL haven't had an opportunity to see THE ARTIST yet (what can I say, I've been busy), but the clips I've seen with the fox terrier in THE ARTIST certainly have me even more eager to see the film!

    Thanks again for your praise, my friend! I'm looking forward to your upcoming BRINGING UP BABY post!

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  12. Dorian ~ a great review and a uniquely “doggie-eyed” perspective on one of my all-time favorite film series. You just know Nick and Nora Charles, with their enviable marriage and their wonderful friends, would have a dog as cool as Asta. He was not only a part of the family Charles, but he played his part in helping confuse and solve mysteries. He was also a fully realized canine character with domestic troubles of his own (naughty Mrs. Asta). I can echo Page's memories regarding "The Thin Man" and the films of William Powell. I first became a fan of classic films because of my interest in Jean Harlow and her relationship with Powell. Although my interest in Harlow grew less intense over the years, I discovered the Thin Man series and through the films great character actors such as Sam Levene (never get tired of watching Mr. Levene).

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    1. whistlingypsy, thanks a million for your enthusiastic comments about my AFTER THE THIN MAN post! Your assessment of Nick and Nora and the memorable characters in their orbit is right on target. One of the THIN MAN elements I love most is that the Charles family is as endearing and caring as they are witty, chic, and clever, including Asta; he's not just window dressing but a full-tilt member of the family, bless him! And as I've said, Sam Levene is another of our faves, so I was pleased to see him show up in ANOTHER THIN MAN, too!

      Interesting that you should bring up the relationship between Jean Harlow and William Powell; I know so many classic movie fans who cite them as early favorites of theirs, opening the floodgates to discover other great classic stars. Could it be that Harlow is the movie fan's equivalent of a "gateway drug", or do we all simply have great taste in movies? :-)

      I'm glad you dropped by to join the conversation, whistlingypsy, especially since I've just added your great blog DISTANT VOICES AND FLICKERING SHADOWS to my "Further Distractions" section, where I list my favorite blogs! Come and visit anytime!

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  13. Dorian:

    This is great coverage of the film. I confess that I tried to lay claim to all six THIN MAN films for the Dogathon, but I'm glad you beat me to it; very well done!

    And ... You are now a link on my blog as well!

    - Michael

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    1. Michael, I don't blame you for wanting to lay claim to all the THIN MAN movies; I for one have never seen a THIN MAN movie I didn't like. I guess they just have that effect on folks like us with great taste in movies! :-) Still, I'm glad you enjoyed my AFTER THE THIN MAN post -- thanks for your positive comments and also for including a link to TotED, too! Loved your OH, HEAVENLY DOG post!

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  14. Wow, what a popular pup--trying to steal the show from William Powell and Myrna Loy? Too cute and my vote for a Westminster re-match!

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    1. Eve, any pup who can effortlessly steal shows and hearts from even the fabulous Powell and Loy is "Best in Show" in my book! :-) Glad you dropped by to join in the conversation; it always a pleasure to have you around!

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  15. How fun! Loved all you included in your post! How could I not when it's about The Thin Man! If I didn't have to go to work tomorrow, it would be a Thin Man marathon for the likes of me!

    Great energy. I'm hyped. Gimme more!

    Aurora

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    1. Aurora, glad to have you joining in the Dogathon fun! Many thanks for your enthusiastic praise of my AtTM post! No Prez Day holiday for you? Bummer! How about making it an evening THIN MAN marathon? :-) (I work from home, so my hours are flexible. :-)) Glad you came by, Aurora; drop by TotED anytime!

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  16. Dorian, you obviously had a lot of fun writing about Asta and his Charleses. I especially loved your photos and laughed out loud over the Mrs. Asta one! I was always amused that the series chose to keep the "Thin Man" name despite the fact that I believe he was a character in only the first film. You have an awesome blog site. It was fun to visit!

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    1. toto2, I'm glad you dropped by for the Dogathon merriment! You're right, writing about the Charles family (both the two-legged and four-legged varieties :-)) was and is a labor of love. Writing about Nick, Nora, and Asta is almost as much fun as watching the movies (or reading the original novel, for that matter)!

      You're absolutely right, the title character of the original THIN MAN was only in the novel and the first movie. (**SPOILER ALERT** That character, Clyde Wynant, ends up getting killed **END SPOILER ALERT**) I guess once the THIN MAN title caught on, MGM figured it would be easier for movie fans if they just kept using "THIN MAN" in the titles. Hey, whatever keeps us fans happy, right? :-)

      Thanks so much for your praise of my blog site! Please feel free to hang out with us here at TotED any time!

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  17. I've never been much of a dog person, but if I could have Asta, I might become one. That is one cool dog. The background info you provided on Asta was very interesting -- I had no idea they changed the type and sex of the dog -- maybe they just thought Skippy was the best canine actor around and had to use him! BTW, loved your description of the twist and turn in the movie: " Before you can say “Dr. Phil,” the plan goes awry in myriad ways." Lots of fun, Dorian!

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    1. Becky, if I were a pup, I'd be wagging my tail because I'm so happy you're back among us to join in the Dogathon fun and frolic! YAY! Thanks for your positive feedback on my AtTM post; I'm delighted you enjoyed it!

      You know, I think you're onto something regarding the decision to cast male fox terrier Skippy instead of using a female Schnauzer as per Hammett's novel. Judging from my research on Skippy, he was the hottest dog star in Hollywood at the time, so maybe MGM didn't want to take chances on an unknown! Can't a new pup catch a break in Tinseltown? :-)

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  18. Dorian, Awesome review for all of us who love dogs! I loved the first "Thin Man" film, but "After the Thin Man" is my favorite. William Powell and Myrna Loy, as Nick and Nora Charles, make the perfect on screen couple. Great casting of the supporting roles.. Asta, has such a sparkling personality the film would not be the same without him. I read somewhere that they like to use males, because they have more beautiful coats and look better on film.

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    1. Dawn, thanks oodles for your enthusiastic praise for my AtTM post! For my money, Nick and Nora Charles and Asta are the most endearingly irresistible movie sleuths ever. You made an excellent point about animal trainers preferring to use male dogs on film because of their beautiful camera-ready coats. I guess it's like peacocks and peahens in nature; the male of the species tends to have more beautiful plumage than the male, or so they say. But I say Myrna Loy was prettier than any peacock! :-)

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  19. Dorian, you live and learn. I didn't know that George in BRINGING UP BABY, was alias Asta, aka Skippy. Go figure. Wire fox terriers are bundles of joy and trouble. It's amazing to me that they were able to 'train' Skippy to do anything he didn't want to do. :)

    I can only conclude that he was a little hambone to begin with. Ha!

    The scenes around the dinner table in BUB, are especially hilarious.

    Thanks for a very enjoyable review of one of my favorite films. Yes, the ending is a whopper! You just never see it coming.

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    1. Yvette, Skippy was a versatile dog indeed, and such a pro between AFTER THE THIN MAN, BRINGING UP BABY, and so much more -- what range! Maybe hambones were this hambone's favorite treat! :-)

      I totally agree about the surprise ending -- both surprise endings, in fact, though I dare not spoil either of them for anyone who hasn't had the pleasure of seeing AtTM from start to finish! :-) Thanks for your kind words about AtTM; we always look forward to your witty, sprightly comments, my friend!

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  20. Fantastic. I adore TTM films, all of them. And I love every single one of the .gif files you've included here. So much fun.

    Excellent post, Dorian.

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    1. kittenbiscuits, thank you kindly for your enthusiastic praise for both my AtTM post and the GIFs! My hubby Vinnie thanks you too, as he is the GIF-master here at Team Bartilucci H.Q.; I explain what I want the GIF to do, and Vin delivers, bless him! :-)

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    1. Caftan Woman, beaucoup thanks, and allow me to return your kind compliment -- you rule, too, for sure!

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  22. Impressive post Dorian! Loved it! You do the most amazing posts!

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  23. Many thanks for your kind words, Monty! They're all labors of love. :-) I enjoyed your ALL GOOD THINGS post about Grace Kelly, too, and left a comment. Your blog posts are so fun and informative!

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  24. Really enjoyed it and also got a kick out of the animated gifs--almost felt like Myrna was delivering a testimonial to your site when I saw her approve! Sounds pretty good to me about Asta being switched to male because of Skippy's stardom. I always giggle quite a bit when we first see "Mrs. Asta" in the movie and found myself doing so when we saw her in your post as well. Just find the very idea of giving Asta a Mrs. in a sequel so perfect, the perfect mischievous counterparts to Nick and Nora themselves.

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    1. Cliff, happy to have you visit us here at TotED! Thanks a million for your enthusiastic praise; props to my GIF-ted hubby for his computer skills! :-)

      Your comment about "Myrna delivering a testimonial...when I saw her approve" put a big smile on my face! I agree with you that Asta and his Mrs. are "the perfect mischievous counterparts to Nick and Nora themselves." Thanks for joining the conversation here at TotED; feel free to drop by anytime!

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  25. Loved reading your thoughts about this film, which really is the best of the Thin Man sequels, in my humble opinion. I have to say, I also adore Skippy as Mr. Smith in The Awful Truth, but as George in Bringing Up Baby, I want to punt his yappy little butt across that Connecticut farm! (No one--but NO ONE, be they man or beast, interrupts my Cary when he's speaking!) ;)

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    1. Brandie, many thanks for your positive feedback about my AtTM post! While I've enjoyed all the THIN MAN movies, I agree with you and pretty much everyone else who feel THE THIN MAN and AFTER THE THIN MAN are the very best films in the series. Between AtTM, BRINGING UP BABY, and THE AWFUL TRUTH, this Dogathon has turned me into a Skippy fan, and I don't mean the peanut butter! :-) I loved your quip about wanting to "punt (George's) yappy little butt" in BRINGING UP BABY -- who wouldn't rather listen to Cary Grant instead? :-)

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  26. Dorian,

    I'd probably rank this as my second favorite THIN MAN film, first being the original. That said, your review is first rate! Powell and Loy are one of the screen's "superb" couples ranking up there with Bogie and Bacall and Tracy and Hepburn. They play off each other so well, it's truly a joy to watch.

    I was totally unaware that Skippy was such a star, and worked both side of the sex gender, now that's acting! What a list of films he was in. Reminds me of one of screen's most famous felines, (of course I had to bring cats into this!) "Orangy" who starred in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANYS, THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN and THIS ISLAND EARTH among others.
    Too bad they never made a film together, we could of had another great team!

    John

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    1. John, I'm tickled and honored for your praise of my AFTER THE THIN MAN post -- thanks a million, my friend! I absolutely agree that Powell and Loy are a star team right up there with Bogie and Bacall and Tracy and Hepburn; it's always great fun to watch these acting teams doing their thing with their dazzling chemistry!

      Skippy was a busy, in-demand little pooch all right; playing both genders, he must have been the most versatile actor since Linda Hunt won her Oscar for THE YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY! :-) Thanks, too, for your reminder that Orangey the cat cut quite a swath in Hollywood with BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S and THIS ISLAND EARTH, among others! Wonder if they paid him in imported sardines? :-) Happy to have you join the conversation, John, as always!

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