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Edward G. Robinson,
Rico is a small-time hood who knocks off gas stations for whatever he can take. He heads east and signs up with Sam Vettori's mob. A New Year's Eve robbery at Little Arnie Lorch's casino results in the death of the new crime commissioner Alvin McClure. Rico's good friend Joe Massara, who works at the club as a professional dancer, works as the gang's lookout man and wants out of the gang. Rico is ambitious and eventually takes over Vettori's gang; he then moves up to the next echelon pushing out Diamond Pete Montana. When he orders Joe to dump his girlfriend Olga and re-join the gang, Olga decides there's only one way out for them. Written by
Little Caesar which popularized both the gangster film and Edward G. Robinson is a great study in the criminal mindset and the ruthlessness it takes to get to the top of that world. After all in White Heat look at the epitaph James Cagney gave to his career.
We meet Robinson and a friend Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. in some greasy spoon in the middle of nowhere. Fairbanks wants to go into dancing, but Robinson knows exactly what he wants. He wants to rise to the top of the criminal world. Not for riches or fame, but simply raw naked power. As he says to have a bunch of guys working for you who will do ANYTHING you say. The more men you have doing that, the more powerful you are.
And the film is a study in the rise and fall of Robinson in his chosen field. But the top is a lonely place.
It's been said there's an undercurrent of homosexuality running in Little Caesar between Robinson and Fairbanks by some critics. I've never subscribed to that point of view. In doing what he's doing Robinson essentially cuts himself off from all kind of human contact. His only other attachment is the fawning George E. Stone from his gang.
Robinson needs Fairbanks as a friend and confidante. We all need that, someone we can unbend with and show our true feelings, even if it's confiding our criminal ambitions.
But as the plot develops Fairbanks who's been on the fringe of Robinson's activities, meets Glenda Farrell and they fall in love. And through her partially Fairbanks develops a conscience about what he's seen.
How Robinson deals with it and what becomes of everyone involved is for those interested in viewing the film. But after over 70 years, Little Caesar holds up very well because of its universal theme.
Loneliness at the top is an occupational hazard for all ambitious people. It's never expressed in such raw terms as in the gangster film genre. But it's still used. Used in fact in both the Paul Muni version of Scarface and in Al Pacino's version as well.
Mervyn LeRoy did a fine job in directing this groundbreaking piece of entertainment. Robinson's portrayal once seen is never forgotten.
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