A Slight Case of Murder appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The transfer showed some minor flaws but usually looked quite good.
Sharpness caused few concerns. Occasionally I thought the movie was a little soft, but those instances were infrequent. The majority of the movie was nicely distinctive and concise. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and only a little edge enhancement could be seen.
Source flaws were reasonably modest for a nearly 70-year-old film. I saw some specks, marks, grit and lines at times, and the movie was a bit grainier than expected. Nonetheless, the image was pretty clean given its age. Blacks came across with nice depth and clarity, while shadows showed good detail. This was a solid presentation.
Similar thoughts greeted the monaural soundtrack of A Slight Case of Murder. Once I factored in the flick’s age, I noticed no significant issues. Speech showed a little edginess at times, but I didn’t think the lines were problematic. Dialogue seemed easily intelligible and without concerns.
Music appeared clear, though it lacked heft. Effects were clean and concise. They also failed to demonstrate much range, but they were acceptably accurate and lacked distortion. No problems with source flaws marred the presentation. Again, the track wasn’t special, but it was pretty solid for a product of its era.
As we move to the DVD’s extras, we start with an audio commentary from film historian Robert Sklar. He provides a running, screen-specific discussion. Actually, Sklar doesn’t usually focus on the material that appears on-screen, as he prefers to follow his own thoughts.
And that technique usually works well. Sklar starts with notes about writer Damon Runyon and the project’s development. He then gets into the career of Edward G. Robinson and issues connected to the studio. From there the commentary looks at the movie business in the late Thirties as well as production specifics such as cast and crew, censorship code concerns, and other general topics.
Ironically, I think the fact that Sklar watches the movie as he talks creates some problems. Since he usually focuses on his pre-determined notes, the presence of the film appears to distract him; he sometimes stammers and loses his train of thought, and I think this occurs because he starts to follow the flick. Nonetheless, Sklar offers a ton of good information here. He digs into the historical issues well and makes sure we learn a lot about the movie and its background. This is a consistently strong commentary.
A creative and fun addition to the set, Warner Night at the Movies attempts to replicate the cinematic experience circa 1937. This feature starts with a preview for The Dawn Patrol. We also get a period newsreel, an animated short called The Night Watchman and a patriotic historical short entitled The Declaration of Independence. These are the kinds of pieces that might have preceded a theatrical showing of Murder, so if you activate this feature, you get an attempt to duplicate a night at the cinema. I like this program and think it’s quite clever.
Next comes a new featurette called Prohibition Opens the Floodgates. This 17-minute and 58-second piece features movie clips and interviews. We discover notes from film historians Drew Casper, Rick Jewell, Anthony Slide, Eric Lax, Vivian Sobchack, Lincoln D. Hurst, and Patricia King Hanson, producers Robert Evans and Irwin Winkler, directors Lili Fini Zanuck and Larry Cohen, screenwriters Michael B. Druxman and Nicholas Pileggi, and actors Michael Madsen, Theresa Russell and Talia Shire.
“Floodgates” looks at the effects of Prohibition and its depiction in movies. We see how gangster flicks embraced that period and showed its events. The piece looks at organized crime and its involvement in illegal liquor along with how cinema displayed those stories. “Floodgates” offers a pretty good snapshot of the era. We find decent information about the way things worked in that period and how those elements emerged on the big screen. A little more detail would be good, but the show touches on the general issues well.
When A Slight Case of Murder works, it does so due to a fun, self-effacing performance from Edward G. Robinson and a good level of restraint. When it flops, it does so due to predictable guys and its one-note nature. The DVD boasts pretty positive picture and audio, and it tosses in a few nice extras highlighted by a good audio commentary. This isn’t a great movie, but the DVD presents it well.
Note that you can buy A Slight Case of Murder alone or as part of a six-movie “Tough Guys Collection”. The latter packages Murder with San Quentin, Each Dawn I Die, Bullets or Ballots, ”G” Men, and City for Conquest. This set is a steal for folks who want to own the various movies. It retails for about $60, which equals the list price of three of the DVDs separately. It’s like a “buy three, get three free” deal and is a serious bargain.