Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Pre-Code Blogathon Special: Little Caesar

Little Caesar 
Starring: Edward G. Robinson, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Glenda Farrell, William Collier Jr., Sidney Blackmer, Ralph Ince, Thomas E. Jackson, Stanley Fields, Maurice Black, George E. Stone, Armand Kaliz, Nicholas Bela, Ferike Boros, Lucille La Verne,  Noel Madison, Tom McGuire, Henry Sedley, Landers Stevens
Director: Mervyn LeRoy 
First National Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures Inc., USA. 1931. 
This is my contribution to the Pre-Code blogathon event (March 31- April 3 2015) hosted by Shadows and Satin  and pre-code.com . Visit their sites for great articles on movies made between 1930 and 1934!
The movie is based on the book "Little Caesar" by William R. Burnett.

Caesar Enrico "Rico" Bandello (Edward G. Robinson) and Joe Massara (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) are two street criminals making gas station robberies. Rico wants to be a real gangster boss like Diamond Pete Montana. Joe is more interested about dancing and girls. Rico and Joe head for east looking for greener pastures.
Edward G. Robinson
Rico "Little Caesar"
Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
Joe Massara
Rico joins Vettori's (Stanley Fields) crime gang. Joe meets dancer Olga (Glenda Farrell) who arranges him a job at dance hall Bronze Peacock managed by De Voss (Armand Kaliz). Olga wants Joe to leave the criminal life behind, but Joe does not know it is possible anymore. Once a gang member always a gang member.
Edward G. Robinson and Stanley Fields
Rico joins Vettori's gang
Armand Kaliz, Glenda Farrell and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
Olga gets Joe a legal job
In Little Arnie Lorch's gambling house Vettori, Little Arnie Lorch (Maurice Black) and Pete Montana (Ralph Ince) negotiate about keeping gang wars and violent crime down for a while because the new head of Crime Commision McClure (Landers Stevens, uncredited) is tough on crime and incorruptible. Rico is always ready to shoot his way out, so Pete must give hotheaded Rico a warning.
Ralph Ince
Diamond Pete Montana
Vettori's gang uses Joe as legal front for preparing robberies. As they are rivals of Lorch, they want to rob Bronze Peacock that is in protection by Lorch. Rico forces reluctant Joe to attend the robbery. During the robbery Rico shoots McClure. Rico's recklessness puts him against Vettori. Vettori is weak so Rico takes the true leadership of his gang with Otero (George E. Stone) as his right-hand man. Gang's driver Tony (William Collier Jr.) cracks under pressure. There is a touching scene where Tony's mother (Ferike Boros) contemplates how Tony used to be a good boy before. Rico kills Tony on the steps of a church.
Planning the heist
Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Glenda Farrell
Olga is worried about Joe
William Collier Jr. and Ferike Boros
Tony and his mother
Sergeant Flaherty (Thomas E. Jackson) becomes Rico's nemesis, watching as Rico rises from foot soldier to gangster boss. Rico even gets into favour with "the Don of Dons" Big Boy (Sidney Blackmer). However Rico gets too ambitious and his downfall comes fast. His arrogant pride becomes the final nail in his coffin.
Thomas E. Jackson
Sergeant Flaherty
Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Glenda Farrell and Edward G. Robinson
Things are getting dangerous
Edward G. Robinson Rico
Mother of mercy, is this the end of Rico?
In the 1930s atmosphere of Great Depression, Prohibition Era and the rise of Al Capone, Hollywood became interested in hard-boiled crime stories. Being one of the first feature length gangster movies, Edward G. Robinson (along with James Cagney and Paul Muni) was one of the actors who created the archetype of silver screen mob boss, later imitated and parodied by everyone and their dog.

The acting in the movie is overall good, but what makes this movie a true classic is the magnificent performance of Edward G. Robinson. Rico is a brawler who shoots first and asks questions later. He is vain and over-ambitious. Like Al Capone, Rico is not afraid to appear in newspapers. Rico enjoys luxury life but he is also an absolutist. After his downfall Rico is stripped of his wealth and fame, he is forced to live in homeless shelters and he even starts drinking. Joe on the other hand goes straight, testifies against the gang and becomes a musical star with Olga.
Edward G. Robinson and Stanley Fields
Rico is not afraid to show his face in the newspapers
This movie has several points that would not have been accepted under the Hays Code. Although not as violent as Howard Hawks' "Scarface" (1932) there are plenty of murders and cop killings for a 1930s movie. The gangster way of life is also shown to be glamorous. Olga's dresses are more revealing than was later acceptable. Joe and Olga seem to live together without being married (scandalous!). Also one of the controversial aspect of the movie was the hinted homosexuality of Rico. This is shown in Rico's distaste for women, his jealousy over Joe and in the scenes of Rico and Otero together. The writer of the original story William R. Burnett was annoyed by this adaptation and he wrote a complaint to the film studio.
George E. Stone and Edward G. Robinson
Otero admiring his boss
For a modern viewer to movie may seem bare-boned and overly talkative at times. Still it is the prototype of Mafia films, having everything that is essential to the genre: hotheaded antihero, protagonist who tries to leave crime behind, gang wars, drive by shootings, lavish mob funerals and slowly progressing incorruptible police detectives. It is essential watching for those who want to learn about the roots of gangster movies.
Drive by shooting Mafia style
Rating: Very good


  1. I greatly enjoyed your write-up on this iconic classic -- Little Caesar is definitely a must-see, both for gangster films and the pre-Code era. I especially appreciated your analysis about Rico's hinted homosexuality, which I hadn't considered in previous viewings. Thanks so much for a great contribution to the blogathon!

  2. This is a terrific film, and your post has definitely done it justice.

    Also, you've posted some beautiful screen caps here. I need to take lessons from you.

  3. That's interesting that the author was annoyed by the film, given how iconic it became. I love this movie. Robinson is just riveting in it...The arrogance of Rico is so fascinating, and frequently funny.

  4. Edward G Robinson gives a great performance in this - it's impossible to tear your eyes away from him. This is a great contribution to the blogathon.

  5. A great review of a pre-code classic. I defy anyone not to enjoy it. And great images too - made me want to dig out my DVD and watch it right away!

  6. It is a great film, but not my favorite gangster film from the period. Edward G. Robinson is truly the soul of the picture and gives an amazing performance... plus his relationship with Doglas Fairbanks Jr is a top-notch topic in the film.
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)

  7. You're right in pointing out how great Robinson is here-- he really nails that high wire act between a tough hood and a passionate (too passionate?) friend. Thanks for your contribution!


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