A Slight Case of Larceny (1953) DVD Review: Bottom of the Barrel Comedy

The beginning of the end for Mickey Rooney and Eddie Bracken.
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It's always interesting to watch a titan fall within the realm of film - even one who was as diminutive as the late Mickey Rooney. Hailed as a prodigy in his youth, Rooney escalated into the bright limelight of Tinseltown as an adult, starring in the ever-popular Andy Hardy series. As the 1950s rolled around, however, Rooney found himself in a precarious situation. He had been married and divorced several times over already (those numbers would keep growing as time went on), and was only nine years away from declaring bankruptcy when A Slight Case of Larceny was released to - and subsequently yanked from - theaters in 1953, during which time Rooney was in the midst of a mess all the way 'round.

Still, a guy has to eat (or at least tend to his various vices and alimonies), so a starring role in even the smallest production has got to look promising. Sadly for Rooney, A Slight Case of Larceny probably only hastened the decline of his career. The first film to have been made solely to entertain lobotomy patients, A Slight Case of Larceny is a downright awful comedy, wherein Rooney gets a chance to ham it up with another multi-faceted performer who was washing up on shore, Eddie Bracken. Rounding out the cast in this lightweight disaster are the lovely Elaine Stewart (a stunningly gorgeous actress who sadly, never made it in the industry), Marilyn Erskine, seasoned B movie heavy Douglas Fowley, and a surprisingly big credit for a tiny cameo by Robert Burton (Sky Full of Moon, which also featured Ms. Stewart).

The weak, painful-to-watch story here finds Rooney as Augustus "Geechy" Cheevers - an absolutely unlikable mooch who dreams big of being a millionaire, but who would prefer to take the express elevator straight to the top instead of climbing the stairs. When he drifts back into the life of his ex-Army buddy Fred Clopp (Bracken), he promptly manages to get Freddie fired from his job and moves in with he and his family, much to the chagrin of Mrs. Clopp (Erskine). After conning Fred into mortgaging his home, the duo of Cheevers and Clopp open up the cleanest service station in existence. It's cleanliness, however, is mostly due to a complete lack of business more than anything else, so Geechy soon starts devising schemes to get people in, including putting up his own stop signs on the highway and other unlawful acts.

But it isn't until a big oil competitor (Fowley) opens up shop across the street that Cheevers' nefariousness really rolls into action, and this perfect contender for the GOP forces his pal to dig a tunnel under the street so that they can syphon gasoline from their rivals and make nothing but a pure profit during the price war that ensues. Truly, it's even less funny than it sounds.

Ms. Stewart first starts out as Fowley's employee, but who eventually comes to work for the story's so-called good guys and even starts to fall for an utterly creepy and brazen Rooney. Don Weis directs from a Jerry Davis screenplay adapted by a story by James Poe - who amazingly went on to write the screenplays for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Around the World in 80 Days. Dabbs Greer has a small bit in the film as a gasman, Joe Turkel (creator of the Replicants in Blade Runner) can be seen as a holdup man in one scene, and Barry Sullivan's voice can be heard in another as a radio announcer.

Rescued from the deepest, darkest mists of a vault containing film history's flops, A Slight Case of Larceny has been preserved for future generations to shake their heads over at by the folks at the Warner Archive Collection. And as to whether or not that move on their part will be one to be commended or condemned, their presentation of the lackluster comedy is spot-on, and there's even a trailer for the film (that looks as if it was culled from a video source) that is surprisingly even worse than the feature presentation itself - which, incredibly enough, was nowhere near being Rooney's worst, so I suppose there's some sort of redemption to be found here for you curiosity seekers.

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