A Slight Case of Murder (1938)

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*. Comedy doesn’t age well, but I don’t think that’s the real problem with this one. The timing just seems off throughout. And I’m not sure the material was that good to begin with.
*. It’s billed as a gangster comedy, but what it plays like is a bedroom farce without the sex. We have all those doors opening and closing and different people coming out of them upstairs, just narrowly missing each other most of the time, or spying on what’s going on.

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*. Also part of the farce set-up is the social satire. The Marcos are nouveau riche, a family of proto-Sopranos or Prohibition-era Beverly Hillbillies. This is a comic stand-by, and it works well enough here contrasting high and low, criminal and legit.
*. I especially like all the cues were given for how full Marco is of himself as the Big Man. Note how often he refers to himself in the third person, and how both the outer and the inner door of his office are branded with “Mr. Marko” in brass letters.
*. I know it’s unfair to appeal to probability in a piece of fluff like this, but how likely would it be that Marko, who admittedly doesn’t drink beer, to literally have no idea what his beer tastes like, even after four years of running a legit brewery?
*. Yes, that’s the Wicked Witch of the West herself, Margaret Hamilton, playing the orphanage director Mrs. Cagle. You can’t mistake that nose anywhere.

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*. Edward G. Robinson’s star was fading, but he genuinely looks like he’s having fun here with the part of Remy Marco, sending up a part that he had defined earlier in the decade, starting with Little Caesar.
*. A one point Nora tells Remy that Mary has a fiancé, but later in the movie she apparently tells him for the first time about the engagement and he is surprised. A continuity error? I don’t usually care about flagging those, but this one stood out. Especially in a film based on a play, which I would have thought had a tighter script. But there’s also a flub (harder to notice) with the names of the people who receive the various dead bodies.

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*. The gang members in their different get-ups (chef, chauffeur, butler) look like the Three Stooges. I think there’s some kind of comic principle at work there, like the one that puts together odd couples (fat guy with thin guy, white guy with black guy). You get a group of three together and they have to be mixed nuts.

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*. I’ve seen Willard Parker’s height listed as 6’5″. Robert Sklar on the commentary says 6’4″, but also notes how he looks like he’s 7′ in relation to most of the other actors. I mean, yes, Robinson was very short (perhaps 5’4″), but Parker towers over everyone.
*. The man who topples from the roof at the end is clearly a dummy, and does a perfect landing straight on his head. Nevertheless, we’re told he was only injured. I think that kind of fall would have killed him, or at least turned him into a quadriplegic.
*. The main point of interest I find in the film is its casual attitude toward death. The dead bodies go from being a classless inconvenience, to being made into a joke (treated as gag props), to becoming “merchandise.” And then there is the telephone serenade to the dying man, which is also set up as a joke. I know we’re in the world of farce here, but this strikes me as surprisingly irreverent for the 1930s.

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