With Edward G. Robinson, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Glenda Farrell, Sidney Blackmer
Directed by Mervyn LeRoy
Black and White
Reviewed by JL and JB

Mother of Mercy!     The first major gangster film of the 1930s, LITTLE CAESAR was as popular as it was controversial.  The general public ate it up -- it was a huge box-office success and made Edward G. Robinson a major star -- but there were those who felt that such films glorified criminals, an attitude that led to the establishment of the Production Code four years later.  LITTLE CAESAR is loaded with every possible gangster-film cliche (a mob boss's rise and fall, pinstripe suits, pinky rings, tommy guns, bootleg liquor, wise-guy slang), and it might seem dreadfully old-fashioned in terms of film technique to today's audiences.  But it retains most of its power, its main strengths being its brisk pace (there's a lot of story packed into 80 minutes) and, of course, Robinson.  His Rico Bandello would serve as the template for hundreds of Robinson imitators for years to come, but no imitation can capture the depth of Robinson's performance, from the swaggering assurance of Rico's ascendancy to the tragic isolation of his downfall.  And if you want to read between the lines regarding Rico's relationship with Joe (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) and Tony (William Collier, Jr.), you go right ahead.  In all, the film is a creaky chestnut that still packs a punch.  Y'oughta see it, see?  Nyaah.   - JL

     Sometimes the fun of watching old movies is in seeing the birth of a star.  LITTLE CAESAR, creaky and lethargic as it often is, still works because of Mister Emanuel Goldberg, known to the world as Edward G. Robinson, my favorite actor of all time.  The minute he sits down at the diner and starts ranting about fellow gangster Diamond Pete Montana ("He's doing BIG things, in a BIG waaaay!"), Robinson begins a career of stealing the spotlight from anybody and everybody else in his films, a habit he kept up all the way through the 1960s (THE CINCINNATI KID, Steve McQueen) and into the 1970s (SOYLENT GREEN, Charlton Heston).  In KEY LARGO, he steals the film from the trio of Bogey, Bacall and Lionel Barrymore before even saying a word or getting up out of the bathtub.  If he didn't quite steal DOUBLE INDEMNITY from Fred MacMurray, he at least made sure that you could never imagine the film with anybody else in the part of the insurance investigator whose "little man" in the pit of his stomach told him when things were fishy.  Of the great triumvirate of Warner Brothers male leads, it was Robinson who eventually came out on top, simply by not dying too early like Bogart or retiring too early like Cagney.  Eddie G. just kept working, decade after decade, until his death in 1973.  He had his share of bad films, but also left behind a legacy of many unforgettable performances, Rico Bandello of LITTLE CAESAR being the first and remaining one of the best.  If I haven't made it clear, Eddie G. is the goods, ya git me?  And I don't care who knows it, see? ½  - JB

Classic Gangsters     Edward G. Robinson     The Stuff You Gotta Watch

Stuff You Gotta Watch
Copyright © 2010 John V. Brennan, John Larrabee