A Slight Case of Murder (1938)

Director:

Lloyd Bacon

Hilarious, Sometimes Surreal Spoof

8 August 2003 | by Kalaman (Ottawa) – See all my reviews

Edward G. Robinson is excellent in this hilarious, sometimes surreal gangster spoof from Warners, directed by Lloyd Bacon. Robinson is an ex-bootlegger who goes legit after the repeal of the Prohibition. His daughter is in love with a state trooper and his former business associates turn up as corpses in his upstairs apartment. One of the joys of “Slight Case of Murder” is that it is so harmless and never takes itself too seriously. You get the impression that everyone in it seems to be having a great time. It is a fun picture, I’d love to watch it again.

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A Comic Gem!

9/10
Author: drednm from United States
1 June 2005

Edward G. Robinson stars as an ex-bootlegger who tries to go straight after the repeal of Prohibition. The problem is he decides to stay in the beer business, not knowing his beer is swill. Making matters worse, his dopey daughter is back from school in Europe and her boyfriend is a cop. All hell breaks loose at his rented summer house in Saratoga Springs when the family, his stooges, and some unlucky bank robbers all converge during a big house party. What fun! Ruth Donnelly is good as the wife, Margaret Hamilton has fun as the orphanage director, Bobby Jordan (as little Douglas) is hilarious, as is Paul Harvey as the dyspeptic father. Good cast all around includes Allen Jenkins, Harold Huber, Jane Bryan, Willard Parker, John Litel, and Edward Brophy. Carole Landis is one of the party guests, and the great Betty Compson, an Oscar nominee for The Barker, has a bit part as dark-haired Loretta on the piano bench. Best of all, however, is Robinson who is totally at home in this zany comedy.

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Edward G. Robinson at his best

Author: jchorst-2 from Munich, Germany
2 November 1999

‘A Slight Case of Murder’ may never have been a very popular film. But it’s full of weird, comic characters, and the extremely well written textbook brings out the very best of one of the greatest screen actors ever – Edward G. Robinson. The film gives you everything you expect from a sophisticated comedy of the Thirties, and I’ll never forget when I – by chance – saw it first, on TV, about twenty years ago, along with my little sister, sitting on the sofa in the living room of our parent’s house. When the film was over, we looked at each other, a bit helpless, unable to push a “backward”-button, and my sister said: “You know what. As far as I’m concerned, this film could have been going on for ever.” And that was exactly what I felt.

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If you see a man in woe…

10/10
Author: theowinthrop from United States
21 February 2005

This film, “Larceny, Inc.”, and “The Whole Town Is Talking” are the three film comedies that Eddie Robinson made in the best years of his film stardom that stand up today. All have their comic high points, but “A Slight Case of Murder” remains my favorite because of the twists in it’s plot. Robinson’s Remy Marko is a beer baron who made it big, but never stopped to wonder why. Even Capone or Dutch Schultz would have sought to make their product digestible, but Robinson apparently never considered it (it does not help him that he never drinks – he based his knowledge of his product on what his loyal torpedoes Allan Jenkins and Harold Huber tell him). It is only when he finally, belatedly tastes it that he realizes that he has been selling swill these years. His success was due to strong arming speakeasy owners in Prohibition. Once Prohibition ends he no longer can use strong arming, as the speakeasy owners are now legitimate bar owners again.

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The twists keep coming: The real villains are the bankers who look forward to stealing Remy’s failing business (led by usually good guy John Litel – here an unusually opportunistic man). Remy’s wife (Ruth Donnelly) is perfectly at home as a legal moll, but she is desperately trying to be a grand dame. Remy’s daughter Mary (Jane Bryant) is trying to marry Dick Whitewood (Willard Parker) who is a state trooper (and Remy, despite becoming legitimate, discovers that he still dislikes and distrusts cops). Dick’s father (Paul Harvey) is mostly choleric due to not knowing anything about Remy’s background and not liking what he sees. And this very weekend Remy’s charitable side is demonstrated when he brings a poor kid from the orphan’s home to his house. The boy, Douglas Fairbanks Rosenbloom (Bobby Jordan), is a potential hoodlum (Margaret Hamilton, as the orphan home head, is glad to let him out of a cage he’s kept in), with pretensions of being a poet. The introductory “summary” line above is part of a couplet he creates. To top all four of Remy’s old enemies have just committed a robbery, and are lying in wait to dispose of him. They are disposed of by a fifth member, who can’t flee with the loot before everyone else arrives (followed by Remy’s old chums, coming for a party).

The film is an absolute comic joy, and one wishes more comedies like this came along for Robinson. But then he did so nicely in straight dramatic parts too.

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Diversifying After Prohibition

7/10
Author: bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York
12 May 2008

A Slight Case of Murder had its origins on the Broadway stage where this play by Damon Runyon and Howard Lindsay flopped miserably with only 69 performances in the 1935 season. It certainly adapted better for the screen when Warner Brothers bought it for one of their gangster stable, in this case Edward G. Robinson.

The story concerns a gangster Remy Marko who is trying to go straight and get out of the bootleg beer racket now that Prohibition has been repealed. It was a problem faced by any number of people who were not Lucky Luciano or Meyer Lansky.

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In Robinson’s case he’s decided to go legitimate and brew beer legally. Of course no one has the heart to tell him that the stuff he’s been peddling for years has been nothing but swill, not even his family, Ruth Donnelly and Jane Bryan, nor his closest associates Allen Jenkins, Harold Huber, and Ed Brophy.

While all this is going Robinson and the family and friends go to his summer home near the Saratoga racetrack where a big robbery of the bookie’s money has taken place. This was in the days before the para-mutual machines and track bets were taken at the sight by legal bookmakers. The gang decides to hide out in what they think will be Robinson’s deserted home.

Daughter Jane Bryan is romancing state trooper Willard Parker, a prospect the going straight Robinson still finds appalling. No less so than Paul Harvey, Parker’s nervous blue-blood father.

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All these elements mix well for a very funny screen comedy. Robinson who was really getting tired of all the gangster parts, seems to be enjoying himself, referring to himself constantly in the third person, and earning quite a few laughs and keeping up with some of the best scene stealers around. Ruth Donnelly keeps up very well who most of the time remembers she’s now supposed to be respectable, but every so often slips back to her familiar background.

The guy who really is funny here is Paul Harvey. He’s mixing with people he’s not used to and it’s putting quite an evident strain on him.

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One of the running gags in A Slight Case of Murder is how bad the beer Robinson makes. He never drinks himself so he doesn’t know and no one is brave enough to tell him. Damon Runyon who probably sampled every kind of illegal liquor available during Prohibition, knew well the kind of rot gut that was peddled. The classier places imported stuff from across the border, but the dives used whatever they could get. Marko’s lousy beer was something drinking people during Prohibition knew well from. A Slight Case of Murder is one of the few films that ever dealt with that fact albeit in a comic way.

Though the plot situations are certainly dated, the talent of this very good cast is timeless.

Little Caesar Goes Legit

8/10
Author: wes-connors from Los Angeles
9 April 2010

Ex-bootlegger Edward G. Robinson (as Remy Marko) celebrates the end of Prohibition by declaring to go legit, but wisecracking wife Ruth Donnelly (as Nora) wonders about his business sense. “If I can only be sure you ain’t got a bug in your nut,” she tells him. Sure enough, Mr. Robinson’s “Gold Velvet” beer sales fall flat, shootings litter his suburban Saratoga home, and pretty daughter Jane Bryan (as Mary) reveals she is engaged to handsome and amusingly-named policeman Willard Parker (as Dick Whitewood).

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Robinson and veteran director Lloyd Bacon make this an often brilliant and still refreshingly funny “spoof” of gangster pictures, based on a Damon Runyon play. Robinson gets great comic support from velvet-voiced Allen Jenkins (as Mike), Edward Brophy (as Lefty), Harold Huber (as Gip), and the usual suspects at Warner Bros. Watch for marvelous Margaret Hamilton as a reform school teacher, stuffy Paul Harvey as the copper’s dad, and well-spoken “silent” star Betty Compson to make the most of a bit part.

Beer-swigging “bad boy” Bobby Jordan (as Douglas Fairbanks Rosenbloom), the aforementioned Ms. Donnelly, and star Robinson are amazing. Although not finally nominated, hopefully Donnelly was considered for a 1938 “Academy Award” as “Best Supporting Actress” and Mr. Jordan for a “Best Juvenile” performer of 1938 mini-statuette. “A Slight Case of Murder” was soundly listed in “Best Picture” territory, at #5, on “The New York Times” annual bests list. It seems like an entirely accurate placement.

******** A Slight Case of Murder (2/26/38) Lloyd Bacon ~ Edward G. Robinson, Ruth Donnelly, Bobby Jordan, Allen Jenkins

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