Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Larceny, not murder

TCM continues its salute to Star of the Month Mickey Rooney tomorrow morning. The first film up is A Slight Case of Larceny, tomorrow at 6:00 AM ET.

Rooney and Eddie Bracken star as a pair of men who, wanting to be masters of their own lives, open up a gas station of their own. Business is going moderately well until, at the same intersection, a much wealthier businessman who owns a bunch of stations opens one up to compete with our two heros. Being part of a group means that the other owner can have lower overhead, and can suffer some losses for a bit as the other outlets will make up for it. So, their competition offers a discount on gas that's sure to make everybody go to that station and to fill up, and not the one owned by Rooney and Bracken.

What's a struggling businessman to do? Rooney gets a "bright" idea: tunnel under to the other station, and tap their gas line, so that they can steal gasoline and offer it at a bigger discount than the competition. And since they're not paying anything for the gas, their margin will be higher. Now, this is a cockamamie scheme, and you know it can't possibly succeed. At first, it does seem to succeed, although it goes wrong thanks to a botched robbery leading to a gas explosion....

By 1953 when A Slight Case of Larceny was made, MGM was making two types of movies: the prestige film, and the ultra-bare-bones B film. The prestige movies were just as good as what they were making before and, once widescreen came into vogue, their prestige movies would look as though they had even better production values. The B movies, however, started to look rather more threadbare, the way Gene Kelly describes the old MGM backlot at the beginning of That's Entertainment! 20 years later. A Slight Case of Larceny is clearly in that B movie camp; the sort of thing that would have been episodic TV or a TV movie had it been made a few years later. That's not to say it's not worth watching. While it's not up to the level of what Rooney was doing in the 1930s and 1940s, A Slight Case of Larceny is still a fun enough little comedy, in part because of the comedic skills of both Rooney and Bracken.

A Slight Case of Larceny has yet to receive a DVD release; either Warner should make it part of their Archive collection, or else come up with another Mickey Rooney box set. But if you want to see the movie now, you'll have to watch TCM's airing. And have fun marvelling at the gas prices.

Edit: It might help to include the body of the post....

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