A Slight Case of Murder

A Slight Case of Murder. Warner Bros. Pictures 1938.

Before watching the movie:

For once, Edward G. Robinson isn’t playing a gangster. He’s an ex-gangster trying to climb the social ladder. And it’s a comedy.

For once, I’m looking forward to an old black and white film without any misgivings. It sounds mad and hilarious.

After watching the movie:

Remy Marco decides to take advantage of the repeal of prohibition by taking his business legitimate, selling his beer openly on the idea that business can only go up now that it’s legal. Unfortunately, his beer tastes terrible, and he doesn’t realize this because he doesn’t drink beer. He goes deeply in debt and finds himself about to lose his brewery to foreclosure. Bringing his daughter home from her boarding school in Paris, he also finds that her fiance has decided to take a job with local law enforcement. And then he finds that his rented summer home has the dead bodies of four of the five men who held up an armored truck.

Maybe it’s the plays. Just when I’d shaken my notion that black and white films tend to get bogged down and dull, this film, like Arsenic and Old Lace, which was also adapted from a stage play, seemed to drag on for much longer than the listed runtime. It’s kind of funny throughout, but the only time I laughed out loud was about two minutes before the end, as the whole plot buttons up neatly.

There are times the editing needs shoring up, as is common for the time. At one point, there were several seconds of silence as one group of characters went through a door, the film cut to another place, and another character went through a different door. This wasn’t to establish any settings or moods, they were just walking without narrative purpose beyond getting where they were going.

The structure of the story is so different to me, the only thing I was able to predict was that the plot threads would rapidly collapse in on themselves and then the movie would end abruptly. It was not the story I expected (though it did at least touch on the idea of Marco getting the blame for the corpses in his house a couple times), but it was fair for what it was, other than being at least 15 minutes too long for itself.

 

Watch this movie: to see Edward G. Robinson play Edward G. Robinson in a comedy.

Don’t watch this movie: if you haven’t the patience for stories told entirely in thick dialogue.

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