Nick and Nora Charles (William Powell and Myrna Loy) are returning by train from New York to San Francisco after solving what private detective Nick promises will be his last case. The news of the case has certainly got around, and there is a selection of reporters there to meet the couple and their dog, Asta, but Nick continues to protest that all he wants now is a quiet life living off his wife's money. On the way back to their house they Nick is constantly interrupted by people he knows through his work, including a pickpocket who unsuccessfully tries to steal Nora's purse, but any thoughts of peacefully retiring dissipate when they arrive home to find the house full of partygoers all getting ready for the imminent New Year. And that's not all that will stop Nick and Nora from settling down tonight, when they receive a desperate telephone call from Nora's cousin Selma (Elissa Landi).
There aren't enough films taking place at New Year, are there? You'd think it was the perfect time to set a story, what with the significance of the date, the change of year, out with the old and in with the new and all that. And in truth, After the Thin Man doesn't really exploit its setting either, making it merely another excuse, as if they needed it, for its protagonists' drinking. This was the first sequel to the smash hit The Thin Man, and boasted a script by husband and wife team Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, based on a Dashiell Hammett plot - just as the original had been. Like that film, there's plenty of witty banter, mostly coming from the mouth of Powell when there's not alcohol going into it, but where the first instalment felt light, breezy and loose, here things are more tied down to the convoluted narrative that seems to take an age to resolve itself.
Selma's troubles are that her husband not only doesn't love her, but only married her for her money and now spends long periods away from her in nightclubs - it's like a Nick and Nora relationship gone wrong. She hasn't seen him in days, although why he'd return on New Year's Eve hasn't got through to her in her distraught state, and she is taking comfort from the man she should have married, David, played here by an on-the-brink-of-stardom James Stewart. Nick and Nora attend a boring dinner party held by Nora's overbearing Aunt Katherine (Jessie Ralph) and make up their minds to track Robert down; well, Nora does, anyway. Naturally this means a trip to the nearest nightclub, and the tangled threads of the story begin to take shape bringing in Robert's singer girlfriend (a dark haired Penny Singleton), the club owner (Joseph Calleia on top, shifty form) and a few suspicious others to muddy the waters after Robert is murdered.
Powell gets the best opportunities here; witness when he is in an embrace to celebrate the New Year only to realise he isn't kissing Nora but a stranger, or when the lights go out in the office and he hides under the desk to escape the commotion with only the telephone for company. And there is a colourful cast of supporting characters to enrich the mood - watch for veteran baddie George Zucco as a shady doctor with thick glasses. But the film goes on far too long, with the traditional rounding up of the suspects in the same room for the "I suppose you're wondering why I called you all here" denouement seeming to take up a third of the running time (it may not, but it feels that way when you're watching it). So a mixed bag, then, but Powell and Loy survive with their dignity intact and a promise of a new sequel by the end, which was fulfilled three years later. Music by Herbert Stothart and Edward Ward.