The Story (continued)
The Thin Man (1934)
Later that night after the Christmas party, in their bedroom (with separate beds), Nick is still adamant about not taking the murder case. He doesn't want to end his retirement, but Nora again requests that he get involved. Then, she asks about Christmas gifts he has for her:
Nora: What are you going to give me? I hope I don't like it.
Nick: Well, you'll have to keep 'em anyway. 'Cause the man at the Aquarium said that he wouldn't take them back.
Knocking is heard at their door. Nora lets a stranger into their hotel room, and unexpectedly, he walks uninvited into their bedroom while wielding a gun. He demands that Nick assist him: "I gotta talk to ya. I want ya to tell me somethin', I want you to give it to me straight. Get me?" Nick responds to the gunman:
Hey, would you mind putting that gun away. My wife doesn't care, but I'm a very timid fellow...All right, shoot. I mean, uh, what's on your mind?
The thug identified as Joe Morelli, one of Julia's romantic partners, fears that he was set up to be a prime suspect for Julia's murder:
I'm Joe Morelli (Edward Brophy)...I didn't knock Julia off...I ain't seen her in about three months. We was all washed up...I wouldn't have any reason to hurt her. She was always on the up and up with me, but that dirty little Nunheim - he got sore with her because I clicked and he didn't. And he put the finger on me.
Nick tries to convince Morelli that he isn't involved in the case, and that he should go talk to the police to clear his name.
When police bang on the door, the criminal reacts nervously and draws his gun. Nick knocks Nora out with a solid punch to her jaw to get her out of the way of the assailant's line of fire, and then tosses a pillow into the gunman's face. The detective narrowly escapes serious injury with only a slight flesh wound. The police barge in and assist him in subduing the gunman. After being revived with a drink, Nora complains about having missed the action while unconscious, with little care for Nick's injury:
Nora: You darn fool, you didn't have to knock me out. I knew you'd take him, but I wanted to see you do it.
Nick (laughing): There's a girl with hair on her chest.
The police harrass Nick with questions, but he doesn't offer clear answers. When the plainclothes cop finds an unregistered pistol [the one Dorothy falsely claimed to have used to kill Julia] in his dresser drawer (after Nora has shouted: "What's that man doing in my drawers?"), they promise to question him further the next morning when he feels better. During the whole incident, Asta has hidden under one of the beds. Nora quips that Asta has more sense than her husband does.
The next morning, Christmas Day, Nick practices shooting with a popgun/air pistol that he has received as a Christmas present. Clad in pajamas and a robe, he is stretched out on the sofa, with bent knees and the gun propped between his feet. The amateur sharpshooter irreverently takes aim at the balloons hanging on their Christmas tree. He also tries a backwards shot by reflecting his target in a mirror, but misses and breaks a window, and then thanks Nora for his present:
Ah, but sugar, this is the nicest Christmas present I've ever had.
On the front page of the morning paper, he reads about the previous night's shooting in their bedroom:
Nick: ...I know as much about the murder as they do. Oh, I'm a hero. I was shot twice in the Tribune.
Nora: I read you were shot five times in the tabloids.
Nick: It's not true. He didn't come anywhere near my tabloids.
Nora answers the telephone and announces that MacCaulay is on his way up to their room:
Nick asks: Aren't you hot in that? (Nora is wearing a full length mink coat indoors.)
Nora: Yes, I'm stifling. But it's so pretty.
Nora reads a telegram they have received from Philadelphia, from Clyde Wynant: "Will you take charge of investigation on Julia Wolf murder? Communicate with Herbert MacCaulay." She believes the inventor wouldn't ask Nick to investigate if he was indeed guilty. She again asks her husband to take the case, but he responds negatively: "You take it. I'm too busy."
MacCaulay arrives and tells them that he has heard from Wynant. After reading their telegram, he asks:
MacCaulay: What are the chances of getting you to do what he wants?
MacCaulay: Would it help any if I could persuade him to meet you...
MacCaulay: He gave me a code message to insert in the Times in case I wanted to get in touch with him.
Just then, the police telephone for MacCaulay, and he tells them after hanging up:
Wynant's tried to commit suicide. They want me to go down and identify him. Well, I guess this changes the whole story, doesn't it? That looks like an admission of guilt. And I had such hopes. I thought if you got on the case, you'd be able to clear him.
When Asta plays with a balloon - and it breaks - Nora commiserates with the pet:
Asta, is your balloon busted? So's mine.
Nora explains that she is disappointed that Nick won't be able to solve the mystery, but then, he suddenly decides to take the case, with a hunch that Wynant isn't the killer: "I'm going to find out. I'm tired of being pushed around. Come on, Dr. Watson, let's go places." He escorts her, holding her arm, as they walk off together.
Outside on the street, they talk to the police detective again who informs them that Wynant's suicide was a phony. He theorizes how Wynant killed Julia:
Wynant went to Julia's apartment and found Morelli there. Sees she's two-timing him. There's a fight. He doesn't pull anything on account of Morelli. Let's his lawyer go ahead and give her money to give to him so that she'll think it's all blown over. Then, when she isn't expecting it, he let's her have it.
Nick lets the police lieutenant know that Arthur Nunheim (Harold Huber), one of their stool pigeons, has been hanging around Julia [this was the information that he learned from Morelli]. The lieutenant suggests going to question Nunheim.
In this same scene, Nora is walking Asta on a leash. Shot from the waist up, the leash is seen being jerked along in the direction of a passing fire hydrant and lamppost. Nick tells Nora that he is leaving with the detective to go and question Nunheim, by himself: "I think you better let us go alone." Nora counts herself into the case, threatening: "Catch me letting you go alone!" She quickly jumps into the cab that she thinks they are entering. But her husband tricks her - he sends her off alone, by instructing the taxi cab driver to take her to Grant's Tomb (to keep her out of danger).
The two surprise Nunheim in his apartment with his girlfriend Marion (Gertrude Short). The lieutenant accuses Nunheim of lying about his familiarity with Julia, and of running after Julia: "What's the idea of telling me you knew the Wolf girl just by sight?" Nunheim claims his innocence, but his girlfriend mocks his answer - proving that he is lying. [Nunheim probably witnessed Julia's murder and knows who killed her.] He is asked about his whereabouts the afternoon that Julia was killed. Nunheim is reluctant to answer, and ducks out on them through the back bedroom and down a fire escape.
In the next scene, Nunheim is seen on the phone, blackmailing someone for $5,000 more to "play dumb" and leave town. While attempting to collect the money, Nunheim is killed by an unknown assailant. The same gun that killed Julia is used in Nunheim's murder. Nora calls Nick at the police station from Mimi's place:
Nick: How'd you like Grant's Tomb?
Nora (snapping back): It's lovely. I'm having a copy made for you.
Nora tells him that she has also done some detective work, and found out that Chris Jorgensen, Mimi's new husband, has disappeared. Mimi defends Chris: "I tell you. He didn't do it...I'll tell them who did do it. And I'll give them proof." She hands over to the lieutenant her ex-husband's watch chain that she took from Julia's hand after the murder. The police lieutenant quickly concludes that Wynant was the murderer who had reasons to kill them:
Well, I guess that cinches it, eh, Charles? He killed them both, the Wolf girl and Nunheim.
Newspaper headlines read:
Wynant's Ex-Wife Gives New Murder Evidence.
Double Murder Laid to Wynant.
Wynant Now Wanted in Second Murder Case.
A $5,000 reward is offered for Wynant's whereabouts.
With their dog Asta, Nick prepares to leave and search Wynant's workshop for clues. He is suspicious because it is closed. Nora is now upset and pouting because Nick brought her to New York, but has taken on a dangerous assignment - nonetheless, at her urging:
Nora: I think it's a dirty trick to bring me all the way to New York just to make a widow of me.
Nick: You wouldn't be a widow long.
Nora: You bet I wouldn't.
Nick: Not with all your money.
Nick: Well, any port in a storm. (She resists a kiss from him) Good-bye, sugar!
Nora: (worried that he will get hurt) Nicky, Nicky... Take care of yourself.
Nick: (laughing) Why sure I will.
Nora: Don't say it like that! Say it as if you meant it.
Nick: Well, I do believe the little woman cares.
Nora: I don't care. It's just that I'm used to you, that's all.
They kiss and embrace. She threatens Asta if Nick is hurt: "If you let anything happen to him, you'll never wag that tail again."
As Nick searches Wynant's workshop with a flashlight, Asta senses something under the floor with a sharp sense of smell. Nick compliments Asta: "Asta, you're not a terrier, you're a police dog." They discover a body buried in the basement. When an intruder threatens, Nick shouts: "Don't make a move or that dog'll tear you to shreds!" But Asta cowers in the corner. Nick holds a gun on the man and learns that he is Wynant's bookkeeper, Tanner.
Tanner believes Wynant murdered Julia because she stole $50,000 worth of bonds. The bookkeeper fears Wynant is out to get him too. [Because Tanner embezzled some money, he is back late that night to fix the books, so he won't be the next target.] Shortly after, the police arrive to question Tanner. They determine that the body has been buried for at least a few months, and is badly decomposed and unidentifiable. The lieutenant, however, makes more quick assumptions about the body and how Wynant was involved. Nick doesn't want to make any conclusions until he locates Wynant.
Nick asks the coroner if he can look at the body himself. While examining the body's X-rays, Nick notices an old shrapnel wound in the corpse's leg - a crucial clue necessary to solve all the murders.
New headlines continue to sensationalize Wynant as a serial murderer:
Horror Murder Leads to Wynant.
Victim of Wynant Buried in Basement.
Wynant hunted in 3rd Murder.
A large-scale, nation-wide manhunt is orchestrated to find Wynant. Nick is questioned about his progress in the case:
Reporter: Well, can't you tell us anything about the case?
Nick: Yes. It's putting me way behind in my drinking...
Reporter: What's your next step, Nick?
Nick: ...back to California. We've got to go home and rest up from this vacation.
Nora: Back to California, uh?
He wonders about his wife's taste for murder: "My soul, woman, I give you three murders and you're still not satisfied." Nora wants him to stay and find Wynant. Nick surprises her with the revelation:
I did find him...He was down in his shop. That was his body.
Nick explains that the body was not one of Wynant's victims but Wynant himself. The crucial clue: Wynant had shrapnel in his shin that used to bother him. The victim's body did too. Because he had been dead for a few months, Wynant couldn't be a murder suspect.
Nick wishes to keep his information secret, and then has a brilliant idea. He will invite all the murder-suspects (some issued with police warrants) to a large, formal dinner party at his home. He suspects a large number of people, including:
- Lawyer MacCaulay
- Wynant's ex-wife Mimi
- Mimi's "slick gigolo husband" Chris Jorgensen
- Nunheim's girlfriend
- Tanner, Wynant's bookkeeper
Wynant's daughter Dorothy, son Gilbert, Tommy, and others are invited, but not considered potential suspects. White-jacketed waiters at the dinner are actually undercover police in disguise.
After everyone is seated and Nick offers a toast, Nora compliments him on his party, with a sarcastic tone:
Nora: You give such charming parties, Mr. Charles.
Nick: Thank you, Mrs. Charles.
Nick offers some very important news: "Just this. Clyde Wynant did not kill Julia. He didn't kill Nunheim or anyone...I saw him last night." Mimi reports that she saw Wynant the night before too - a claim that she has difficulty substantiating. Nora is the hostess for the party and asks the waiter to serve the guests:
Waiter, will you serve the nuts? - I mean, would you serve the guests the nuts? [She probably meant what she said in her first sentence.]
Nick accuses Mimi of lying and then offers proof. He explains about Wynant's war leg wound, and how his body was hidden and buried in the basement so it would look as if he was a prime suspect. He tells the invited guests: "The murderer is right in this room, sitting at this table." Step by step, he explains and unravels the mystery, and analyzes each of the crimes.
- Julia was robbing Wynant, and splitting some of the money with Tanner. Wynant went after the person he thought was cheating and robbing him. That man killed Wynant.
- After the murder of Wynant, the murderer wired MacCaulay using Wynant's name, and told him to close up the inventor's shop. Then, he destroyed all of Wynant's clothes, but kept his watch chain. He made it look as if the clothes on the body in the basement looked like those of an old enemy of Wynant's.
- The murderer wrote letters to MacCaulay, signing Wynant's name, (and telephoned him too), so payments would continue to be sent to Julia that they could split between them.
- Julia was killed by her co-conspirator, afraid that she would betray him to Mimi as the murderer of Wynant. The murderer left Wynant's watch chain in Julia's hand.
- Then, the murderer killed Nunheim because he was a stool pigeon and knew too much. [Nunheim heard the shots and saw the murderer leave after killing Julia Wolf.] When Nunheim threatened blackmail a second time, he was murdered too.
- The only weak link - Wynant had not been seen physically. The real murderer paid off Mimi to say that she had seen Wynant alive. Mimi was the only one who knew the identity of the murderer. Mimi felt that keeping Wynant "alive" meant that she would continue to be paid off.
- Wynant's lawyer, MacCaulay, drew up Wynant's will, to cut Mimi off if she remarried. But under the law, Mimi was never legally married to Jorgensen. [Jorgensen's former wife admits that she is still married to him.] Therefore, Mimi remained as Wynant's rightful heir. Rather than continuing to receive a small amount of blackmail money from the murderer, Nick argues that she should reveal the murderer and be the rightful heir to Wynant's larger fortune.
- Nick forces the murderer - MacCaulay - to play his hand and threaten Mimi with a gun under the table.
After the mystery has been solved, Nora questions Nick's tactics:
Nora: But Nicky, he might have killed you?
Nick: What's the matter? You sorry he didn't?
Nora: Oh, I'm glad you're not a detective.
He looks at her with open-mouthed astonishment.
In the final sequence on a westbound transcontinental train, Nick and Nora travel back to California and share an adjacent cabin with newlyweds Dorothy and Tommy. They finally adjourn to their respective rooms late into the night. There are upper and lower bunks in Nick's and Nora's room. Nora asks that Nick put Asta in her lower bunk with her for the night. Nick laughs: "Oh, yeah," tosses Asta up onto the top bunk, and joins Nora in the lower bunk. Asta covers his eyes with his paw.