21 February 2005 | theowinthrop
If you see a man in woe...
This film, "Larceny, Inc.", and "The Whole Town Is Talking" are the three film comedies that Eddie Robinson made in the best years of his film stardom that stand up today. All have their comic high points, but "A Slight Case of Murder" remains my favorite because of the twists in it's plot. Robinson's Remy Marko is a beer baron who made it big, but never stopped to wonder why. Even Capone or Dutch Schultz would have sought to make their product digestible, but Robinson apparently never considered it (it does not help him that he never drinks - he based his knowledge of his product on what his loyal torpedoes Allan Jenkins and Harold Huber tell him). It is only when he finally, belatedly tastes it that he realizes that he has been selling swill these years. His success was due to strong arming speakeasy owners in Prohibition. Once Prohibition ends he no longer can use strong arming, as the speakeasy owners are now legitimate bar owners again.
The twists keep coming: The real villains are the bankers who look forward to stealing Remy's failing business (led by usually good guy John Litel - here an unusually opportunistic man). Remy's wife (Ruth Donnelly) is perfectly at home as a legal moll, but she is desperately trying to be a grand dame. Remy's daughter Mary (Jane Bryant) is trying to marry Dick Whitewood (Willard Parker) who is a state trooper (and Remy, despite becoming legitimate, discovers that he still dislikes and distrusts cops). Dick's father (Paul Harvey) is mostly choleric due to not knowing anything about Remy's background and not liking what he sees. And this very weekend Remy's charitable side is demonstrated when he brings a poor kid from the orphan's home to his house. The boy, Douglas Fairbanks Rosenbloom (Bobby Jordan), is a potential hoodlum (Margaret Hamilton, as the orphan home head, is glad to let him out of a cage he's kept in), with pretensions of being a poet. The introductory "summary" line above is part of a couplet he creates. To top all four of Remy's old enemies have just committed a robbery, and are lying in wait to dispose of him. They are disposed of by a fifth member, who can't flee with the loot before everyone else arrives (followed by Remy's old chums, coming for a party).
The film is an absolute comic joy, and one wishes more comedies like this came along for Robinson. But then he did so nicely in straight dramatic parts too.