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Warner Home Video presents
A Slight Case of Murder (1999)

"If you're going to commit a murder—and I don't recommend it—one thing you should definitely not do is sleep with the investigating officer's wife. It just makes for a lot of unnecessary complications."
- Terry Thorpe (William H. Macy)

Review By: David Krauss   
Published: September 17, 2006

Stars: William H. Macy, Adam Arkin, Paul Mazursky, James Cromwell, Felicity Huffman
Director: Steven Schachter

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild violence)
Run Time: 01h:33m:40s
Release Date: September 26, 2006
UPC: 053939772128
Genre: crime


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B CB+B D-

DVD Review

No, A Slight Case of Murder is not a remake of the 1938 Warner Bros. gangster spoof starring Edward G. Robinson, but it might be a better movie if it was. Although this comedy-laced made-for-television thriller often pays homage to the gritty noir mysteries of Hollywood's Golden Age, its gimmicky script and trite presentation only make us pine for such bona fide classics as Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice. Unfortunately, Barbara Stanwyck and Lana Turner aren't on hand to save this muddled mess, which derails almost as quickly as the life of its unctuous protagonist.

We first meet Terry Thorpe (William H. Macy), a vitriolic film critic for a New York City cable station, as he examines the dead body of his illicit girlfriend, who's just met a grisly end after slipping on a wet floor during a "tussle" with the two-timing heel. Afraid the police might scoff at a claim of accidental death, he forgoes calling 911 in favor of covering his tracks and slipping out of the woman's apartment. Murder, however, is rarely neat and tidy (just ask Fred MacMurray or John Garfield), and almost at once Thorpe becomes ensnared in a web of blackmail and deceit that mirrors (and is often fueled by) his favorite old films. The characters with whom he tangos include a slimy private investigator (James Cromwell) with ulterior motives, a nosy detective (Adam Arkin) who's also peddling his own screenplay, and Thorpe's dewy-eyed steady (Felicity Huffman), who knows nothing of her lover's sordid past and desperate present. Add to the mix an unlikely femme fatale in the form of a ditzy housewife who cooks up such nauseating 1950s confections as chicken surprise and pineapple-marshmallow bake, and A Slight Case of Murder becomes one kooky cocktail.

That's the point, of course, but rampant foolishness sends this promising film down the tubes. Macy and director Steven Schachter (who together co-wrote the screenplay) can't compete with Woody Allen, and as a result, the film never rivals its obvious role model, Play It Again, Sam. Schachter has a knack for evoking a noir mood—his voyeuristic opening sequence, reminiscent of Hitchcock's Rear Window, is especially effective—yet too much forced humor lends A Slight Case of Murder a cartoon-ish quality that disrupts momentum and diffuses tension. The best witty thrillers (like Deathtrap) know when to turn serious and ratchet up suspense, but A Slight Case of Murder stubbornly mines the comic well long after it has run dry. Thorpe's asides to the audience (in the form of confessional monologues and wry facial expressions) enliven the action at first, but become tiresome over time.

Movie buffs will enjoy the myriad references to (and occasional clips from) such noir staples as Gaslight, L.A. Confidential, and Notorious, and how Macy and Schachter seamlessly weave most of the genre's stereotypical elements into the film's fabric. In one of the best scenes, Thorpe—perhaps unwittingly, perhaps not—describes his own dire predicament, as he lectures to a group of college students about the noir anti-hero ("a good man tripped up by fate"), who "walks a cityscape rife with traps set to destroy him," and whose small world quickly evolves into a drama of "claustrophobic desperation." Unfortunately, too many silly episodes, such as Thorpe donning a ridiculous disguise to rob a bank to raise blackmail funds, often overshadow such marvelous moments.

Macy files an energetic, engaging portrayal (though he possesses surprisingly little chemistry with Huffman, his real-life wife), but in a bit of noir irony, his schizophrenic script sabotages his performance, and makes him look as misguided as his alter ego. Sadly, errors in judgment define A Slight Case of Murder, both on screen and off, and it's the viewer who dies the slow, agonizing death.

Calling Edward G. Robinson...

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: C

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Rationo
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Though A Slight Case of Murder is a made-for-television movie, Warner has blown up the print to widescreen proportions and enhanced it for 16x9 TVs. As a result, head room is often a bit tight, but the image itself looks crisp and colorful. Close-ups especially pop with detail, and an uncharacteristic lushness (at least for noir) predominates throughout. Very faint speckling appears from time to time, but only rarely grabs attention.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby stereo track offers little in the way of fidelity or separation, but cleanly reproduces the dialogue, as well as Kevin Kliesch's unobtrusive music score.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 22 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French, Spanish with remote access
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: No extras whatsoever adorn the disc.

Extras Grade: D-

 

Final Comments

A Slight Case of Murder may be a slight cut above most TV movies, but it's hardly worthy of a DVD release. Fans of film noir with a sense of humor may enjoy a rental, but those who revere the genre may find all the silliness a bitter pill to swallow.

 


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