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Sunday, June 1, 2008

A SLIGHT CASE OF MURDER (1938)

Jack Warner must have burned when Edward G Robinson spun a hit over at Columbia Studios gagging up his gangster image in the delightful THE WHOLE TOWN IS TALKING/’36. (It also made a full-fledged star out of Jean Arthur & let John Ford helm smoothly out of his fach.) If the public wanted Eddie G as a comic gangster, Warners would do it themselves, and pocket the profits. Studio regular Lloyd Bacon helmed all three ‘gagster’ pics (this one, BROTHER ORCHID/’40 & LARCENY, INC/’42), each of them overplayed in Warners ‘smart B’way’ manner, but all enjoyable on their modest terms. This one has a real Damon Runyon pedigree, a solid Feydeau farce construction, a few good supporting perfs (Allen Jenkins & Bobby Jordan largely making up for the resistible Jane Bryan). It even has a solid plot peg: Prohibition Beer King finds his product isn’t good enough once the prohibition laws get lifted. Generally, typecast actors overplay to get comic effects, guying their regular roles. But Robinson knew to pull back on his trademark snarls & rat-a-tat-tat delivery, especially when the material was this thin.

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