Little Caesar

Little Caesar

4.0 1
Director: Mervyn LeRoy

Cast: Edward G. Robinson, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Glenda Farrell


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The first "talkie" gangster movie to capture the public's imagination, Mervyn LeRoy's Little Caesar started a cycle of crime-related movies that Warner Bros. rode across the ensuing decade and right into World War II with titles such as All Through the Night (1941). At the start of the picture, Caesar Enrico "Rico" Bandello (Edward G. Robinson, made up


The first "talkie" gangster movie to capture the public's imagination, Mervyn LeRoy's Little Caesar started a cycle of crime-related movies that Warner Bros. rode across the ensuing decade and right into World War II with titles such as All Through the Night (1941). At the start of the picture, Caesar Enrico "Rico" Bandello (Edward G. Robinson, made up to look a lot like the real-life Al Capone) and his friend Joe Massara (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) are robbing a gas station -- later on, at a diner, they're looking over a newspaper and see a story about Diamond Pete Montana (Ralph Ince), a gangster so well known that he gets headlines and stories written about how powerful he is. That's what Rico wants, more than money or anything else: to be czar of the underworld and "not just another mug." Joe admits that sometimes he just thinks of trying to become what he wanted to be when he started out: a professional dancer. They head east to Chicago (which is never named, but with the talk of the north side and the territories, you know what city it is) and Rico talks his way into the local mob run by Sam Vettori (Stanley Fields). The leader has his doubts over how quick Rico is to go for his gun, but also thinks he might be useful if he is as fearless as he says and can be kept under control. Soon Rico is Sam's top enforcer and bodyguard, but it isn't long before he starts acting like the boss, questioning other members' loyalty and bravery and pushing into Sam's role as leader. He also commands the loyalty of the gang through his resourcefulness at planning and pulling jobs that are tough and risky, and getting away with them; the only exception is Joe, their respectable "front man," who has found romance with an actress (Glenda Farrell) and a career, and wants out of helping the gang. Rico won't let him leave, and pushes him to help them on a brazen New Year's Eve robbery of a restaurant, during which the new crime commissioner is shot dead by Rico. Now the heat is on, but instead of keeping a low profile, Rico seizes control of the gang from Sam and secures his power by ruthlessly rubbing out the only member (William Collier) who seems likely to squeal, gunning the man down on the steps of a church. Before long, Rico is the first among equals among the local mob chieftains, sharing a dais at a dinner honoring him with his nominal boss and one-time idol Diamond Pete. He's also making enemies by the bushel -- Flaherty (Thomas E. Jackson), the cop heading the investigation into the murder of the commissioner, won't let up and makes it his personal business to nail Rico, and the rival chieftains don't like the publicity Rico's getting or the attention it brings to all of them. Rico survives attempts on his life and consolidates his hold on the streets, and is suddenly on the edge of achieving his goal -- the "Big Boy" (Sidney Blackmer), the wealthy social Brahmin who really controls crimes in the city, invites him to a meeting to tell him that Diamond Pete is finished. Rico is going to be in charge of the rackets across the entire city and making sure the local bosses stay in line. He is at the pinnacle of his career, and then Rico overreaches -- he can still be nailed for the murder of the commissioner, and is paranoid enough not to trust Joe, even though Joe helped saved Rico's life and insists that he'll never squeal; Rico also plans on supplanting the Big Boy. His rise to power unravels as fast as it happened, in an outburst of violence that drives him underground. But with an ego as big as his, Rico can't stay hidden for too long, and Flaherty is waiting for him. The violence in Little Caesar may seem tame by today's standards -- although seeing a proper print of the movie, such as the 2005-issued DVD, does restore some of that impact -- but it was shocking at the time, and proved riveting and even seductive, especially because it was tied to a very charismatic performance by Robinson. Between his portrayal and the sounds of pistols and Thompson submachine guns, the movie was a sensory revelation and literalized the violence that had been suggested purely by visuals in such silent gangster classics as Josef Von Sternberg's Underworld (1927), itself yet another telling of a version of Capone's story. The language was also something newly coarse and bracing in movies, at a point when talkies were only a couple of years old. There's also a slightly homoerotic undertone to aspects of the character relationships that managed to get past the censors: Rico doesn't drink and seems uninterested in women; his fixation on Joe Massara, and his seeming competition for Massara's loyalty with the latter's fiancée, are couched in what seem like almost romantic terms; and his feeling of betrayal when Massara says he wants to leave the mob to get married seem almost more appropriate to someone caught in a romantic triangle. This is all made especially vivid when Rico laments not having killed Massara, admitting that he's been undone over "liking a guy too much." It's all nearly as striking as some of the more pointed psychological elements in subsequent gangster movies, including Tony Camonte's incestuous fixation on his own sister in Scarface (1932) and, at the far end of the cycle, Cody Jarrett's mother-fixation in White Heat (1949).

Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Amy Robinson
The seminal early gangster flick Little Caesar made a star out of brilliant character actor Edward G. Robinson, introduced a new level of screen violence and paved the way for the antihero as screen icon. Ambitious career-criminal Rico (Robinson) abandons small-time holdups to chase his fortune in the big city, an act that ultimately brings him into conflict with his more straight-laced partner (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.). Rico's desperate quest for respect, power, and status drives him to the top of the underworld but, of course, also precipitates a tragic fall just in time for the closing credits. As with a lot of early talkies, many passages are distressingly static; but director Mervyn LeRoy compensates with a number of striking visual sequences. Particularly noteworthy is the stunning montage of dissolves that comprises the central nightclub heist. While Robinson was always charismatic, he almost always played something of a loser, and the snarling, explosive, animalistic Little Caesar stands out as one of his finest and most original creations.
All Movie Guide - Dan Jardine
The rise of Al Capone to the head of America's criminal class inspired this Edward G. Robinson vehicle. Appearing just as talking pictures were finding their feet, Robinson's gravelly snarl and sociopathic disdain for human conventions became the template for countless future gangster anti-heroes. In fact, virtually every aspect of Little Caesar, from the seedy settings and rough-hewn slang to the pinstriped suits and ever-present Tommy Gun, became part of the language of the genre. Little Caesar sprints by in a brisk 77 minutes, powering through the rapid rise and inevitable descent of its flawed and ambitious protagonist as if a getaway car were waiting outside. The film insightfully plays on the Horatio Alger ideal of the all-American self-made man to examine this impulse's darker, anti-social implications, while offering a tragic arc of Greek proportions. The story's violence is discernibly in your face, and the performances are about as subtle as the gangster's suits. Ironically, the film, which purportedly aimed to expose the dark underbelly of the gangster life, was so riveting that it wound up glamorizing its targets, a fact not lost on movie censors of the time. Little Caesar was followed quickly by Public Enemy (1931) and Scarface (1932); the three films ushered in a legion of imitators to follow, but they were also, at least for a time, the last "true" gangster movies, as their ambiguous representation of glamorous criminals brought down the much stricter 1934 content restrictions of Joe Breen's Production Code Administration.

Product Details

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Warner Archives
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Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Edward G. Robinson Rico Bandello
Douglas Fairbanks Joe Massara
Glenda Farrell Olga Strassoff
Sidney Blackmer Big Boy
Thomas E. Jackson Sgt. Flaherty
Ralph Ince Diamond Pete Montana
Maurice Black Amie Lorch
Stanley Fields Sam Vettori
George E. Stone Otero
Kernan Cripps Detective
George Daly Machine Gunner
William Collier Tony Passa
Armand Kaliz DeVoss
Nicholas Bela Ritz Colonna
Lucille La Verne Ma
Landers Stevens Commissioner McClure [uncredited]
Ferike Boros Actor
Ben Hendricks Kid Bean
Noel Madison Peppi
Louis Natheaux Hood
Larry Steers Cafe Patron
Ernie S. Adams Cashier

Technical Credits
Mervyn LeRoy Director
Ray F. Curtiss Editor
Francis Edwards Faragoh Screenwriter
Leo F. Forbstein Musical Direction/Supervision
Tony Gaudio Cinematographer
Anton Grot Art Director
Robert N. Lee Screenwriter
Robert Lord Screenwriter
Earl Luick Costumes/Costume Designer
Erno Rapee Score Composer,Musical Direction/Supervision
Hal B. Wallis Producer


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Little Caesar 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago