A Slight Case of Murder (1938) had its origins in a stage play by Damon Runyan who specialized in tales of good-hearted gangsters, with direction assigned to Lloyd Bacon who headed up the non-singing bulk of 42nd Street (1933).
At the end of the Prohibition Era, drunken happiness erupts across the country. Remy Marko (Edward G. Robinson) is forced to rethink his gangland activities.
He decides to become a legit brewery. He instructs his men to throw their guns in the east river, shave every day, & wear clean shirts. However, Marko's Gold Velvet brand can't compete with well made stuff. In four years he's nearly bankrupt.
Economizing, he has to bring his daughter Mary (Jane Bryan) home from a pricy Paris school. His daughter arrives unexpectedly engaged to marry Dick Whitewater (Willard Parker), a state trooper.
Margaret "Wicked Witch" Hamilton plays the orphanage matron, a place Marko calls his Alma Mater. Each year he selects an orphan to spend the summer on his Saratoga estate. He wants "the ugliest, worst" little hellion, someone nobody wants.
Therefore Douglas Fairbanks Rosenbaum (Bobby Jordan, one of the guys in the Bowery Boys series) is released from the orphanage's dungeon.
Meanwhile back at the gangster-flick part of the story, Little Dutch (Geroge Lloyd), who had been a bigtime gangster during Prohibition, is fresh out of stir. He & three of his boys are soon murdered by the fifth member of his old gang. This occurs at Marko's Santiago residence.
Marko's well-meaning mugs think up comical ways to get rid of the bodies. Marko doesn't yet know the gangsters left half a million hidden in the house. When he learns of it, realizing it's money taken off numbers racketeers, he can't help but feel there's no reason not to use it to bail out his failing brewery.
Of course, the fifth member of the "bad" gang will be coming for the dough, & Mary's lawman sweetheart may also have a say in the outcome.
Robinson is great in this. He obviously enjoyed doing comedy. The array of character actors who usually do severe gangsters are given an opportunity to play it for laughs, & they're great fun.
But the script is too busy by half, with one gangster after another entering the tale. There ends up being twice as many characters than the story needed. And four corpses in a light comedy ain't all that funny. There's a romantic comedy element, but it's buried in the gangster-spoof. So the film's not perfect, but it'll please anyone who wisely likes Edward G. Robinson.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl