Classic Film Guide

Slight Case of Murder, A (1938)

Directed by the under appreciated Lloyd Bacon, this Damon Runyon/Howard Lindsay play was adapted to the screen by Earl Baldwin and Joseph Schrank. It's an offbeat comedy with Edward G. Robinson spoofing his own gangster image as Remy Marco (Remy, not Rico).

After prohibition has ended, Remy decides to go legitimate. Unfortunately, the beer his gang has been making other people buy is awful and won't sell in the free market, and Remy has provided his wife (Ruth Donnelly) with a certain high standard of living, including paying for their daughter Mary's (Jane Bryan) education. They manage until Mary returns home, nearly engaged to Dick Whitewood (Willard Parker), who she doesn't yet know is state trooper. Add to the mix the fact that the now legitimate Remy has intentionally adopted the most juvenile delinquent (Bobby Jordan) from the same orphanage where he grew up to be its finest former occupant. Plus the fact that the bankers (John Litel, also Eric Stanley) are now ready to foreclose on Remy's estate. Lastly, one of Remy's rival gangs has just pulled a job and holed up in Remy's home, where one of its members, Innocence (Joe Downing), gets the drop on all four of them before they get him ... leaving four dead bodies (and the money to solve his foreclosure woes) in Remy's home! Innocence then hangs around the home, hiding out, until he can make off with the dough.

All of these improbable elements come together for a satisfying comedy, which is enhanced by some great character work by veteran supporting players Allen Jenkins and Edward Brophy (also Harold Huber) as members of Remy's former gang gone legitimate; Paul Harvey, who plays Dick the trooper's father that must approve of his son's pending marriage to Remy's daughter Mary; and Margaret Hamilton as Mrs. Cagie.

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