|Page 1 of 9:||        |
|Index||89 reviews in total|
Rico Bandello, a petty crook nicknamed LITTLE CAESAR, plots
rise to become crime boss of the Big City.
Edward G. Robinson made a tremendous impact in this star-making saga of a thoroughly detestable little man who bandies his way through society's underbelly for a short time until fate brings him his just reward. The evil spawn of a deplorable age, Rico cares for neither booze nor dames, only pure raw power. Even loyalty & friendship are weaknesses to be deplored since no one can be ultimately trusted. Robinson, with his frightening eyes and large ugly mouth, makes this human scum fascinating to watch - a cheap little monster in expensive suits, a moral nonentity with a big gun.
Douglas Fairbanks Jr does a fine job with what little the script gives him as Rico's longtime buddy; the bland nature of his performance contrasts nicely to Robinson's florid acting style. Even more compelling is Glenda Farrell in an important early role as Fairbanks' girlfriend - this talented actress would soon become one of Hollywood's premiere tough talking brassy blondes.
Stanley Fields, Sidney Blackmer & George E. Stone all deliver vivid portraits of crooks & criminals that Rico must intimidate or use. Special mention should be made of William Collier Jr who gives a touching portrayal as the mob's getaway driver who loses his nerve and attempts to go straight.
Movie mavens will recognize an unbilled Lucille La Verne as the old crone who intimidates Rico near the end of the picture.
With LITTLE CAESAR and PUBLIC ENEMY (1931) Warner Brothers established themselves as the Studio that could produce topnotch, gritty crime dramas. The reputation was well deserved and the films were appreciated by movie viewers already enthralled by the headline exploits of real life Depression desperadoes.
LITTLE CAESAR was made at a critical time in U.S. history. Prohibition
in, the depression was overwhelming, and mobsters were running rampant. I
don't think the filmmakers realized it, but they have made a movie that
paints the "Mafia" as glamorous and flashy. A message appears before the
flick, telling the public how "we" must stop gangsters like Tom Powers
(James Cagney,PUBLIC ENEMY) and Rico, (Edward G. Robinson, LITTLE CAESAR).
The movie probably had youngsters and adults alike wanting to live the
of a man who had a city in his grasp, and no one who was anyone was
"yellow". All seriousness aside, this blueprint of a long history of mob
pictures is silly, dated, and damn watchable. You can't take your eyes
A film with dialogue like the ultimate cliche "Go on. I'm...done for" must be a waste of time right? Not if you appreciate pre-historic cinema and the Vitaphone films of the early talkie period. Actors like the great Edward G. Robinson were born to talk and deliver lines at machine gun pace. This is what the audiences of the time were looking for. And that mug. Audiences would not see such a face on a gangster until Brando's GODFATHER. If you love GOODFELLAS, THE GODFATHER, Cagney and Bogart films, and even PULP FICTION, this is a must see. Experience an American original - the first potent "La Cosa Nostra" movie. Rat tat tat tat tat!!!
RATING: 10 of 10
Boy, is this gangster movie dated but Edward G. Robinson makes it so
entertaining! Robinson, like James Cagney, can dominate a film. He
certainly does that in this movie, and is sure fun to watch as "Enrico
Everything about the movie, including the DVD transfer (although a lot better than the VHS) is dated-looking and sounding, but that helps make it interesting. The dialog is so passe that it's almost weird. I put on the English subtitles so I could understand everything because the slang of those days is something foreign to us nowadays. The different expressions of the day are fun to hear (and read).
The acting by the man (Thomas Jackson?) who plays the main cop is also strange, very wooden-like. He just didn't sound natural. Some of the other actors were likewise, others were fine. It was one of the early "talkies" so maybe things were still needed to be smoothed out, film-wise and acting-wise. In other words, some of the actors sounded professional and others amateurish.
The following year, James Cagney's "Public Enemy" came out and was much better, production-wise. What a big difference in the camera-work, for one. This film may not be the caliber of "Public Enemy" but it's still good and one to have in your collection.
Technically it is not the first gangster movie. D.W.Griffith's
MUSKETEERS OF PIG ALLEY was, and after that there were films in the
silent period dealing with gangs and crime. But the cycle of anti-hero
gangsters began in the sound period with LITTLE CAESAR (1930/31)
followed by THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931) and SCARFACE: SHAME OF THE NATION
(1932). Each made a movie star out of the lead actor: Edward G.
Robinson as Enrico Bandello in LITTLE CAESAR; James Cagney as Tom
Powers in THE PUBLIC ENEMY; and Paul Muni as Tony Carmonte in SCARFACE.
The interesting thing about these three sound classics is that the central anti-heroes are not the same (except in their willing use of violence). Cagney enjoys the violence as much as Muni, but Cagney has a great sense of loyalty to his friends and a deep love for his mother. Muni respects his mother, but his family love is centered on his sister (Ann Dvorak), and his loyalty to friends ends the moment he suspects they are no longer obeying him or are threatening him. And Robinson? He has no close contact with any family in the story (his last words are addressed to the Virgin Mary ("Mother of mercy"), not his own mother), and never has a girlfriend (a fact made more clear in the novel). However, he has very strong feeling dealing with his close friend Joe Massara (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.), and actually hesitates only once in killing anyone: when he might have to shoot Joe to get at Joe's girlfriend Olga (Glenda Farrell). Suddenly his eyes get teary - one wonders how close he felt towards Fairbanks. His loyal associate, Otero (George E. Stone) does not hesitate to try to shoot Fairbanks, and he wounds him, but they are forced to flee before Otero can finish the job. Interestingly, Rico/Robinson is not as moved when Otero, fatally wounded, tells him to flee a scene or two afterward.
The gangs in PUBLIC ENEMY and SCARFACE are successful and organized, but we never fully see this. Not so in LITTLE CAESAR. One critical approach to the film has likened it and the rise of Rico to Andrew Carnegie's advise to young businessmen at the turn of the century. And we do see the organization going from Joe and Rico and Otero to Sam to Diamond Pete Montana to "the Big Boy" (who lives in a mansion with accoutrements). Interestingly when the gang is destroyed, the news of the trials and executions do not include Montana (who has always kept a low profile - he never has his picture taken), or "the Big Boy". The ones who learn the rules of corporate America, as applied to crime gangs, survive: the Lucianos and Costellos, not the Siegels or Anastasias or Schultzs.
The film set stardom for Robinson, although (like Cagney, but oddly not like Muni) Robinson was stuck mostly in crime movies in the 1930s. It wasn't until the later 1930s that he was able to show he could play other types of characters, although even when not a gangster he was cast as the villain (THE SEA WOLF). He never did win an Oscar for this part, still his best known), but he did have a long distinguished career in movies, capped (after his last film, the under appreciated SOYLENT GREEN, with a life achievement Oscar. Not bad for a man whose best known character died in a gutter wondering why he was ending this way instead of on top.
Seminal gangster film about the rise and fall of Enrico Bandello, a
Chicago hoodlum, based on the novel by W.R. Burnett. The prototype for
Enrico was, like so many other gangster heroes, mobster Al Capone. If
you know a little bit about his life story, you got your basic gangster
plot for practically all films that followed, like Tony Camonte in
This film was the first of "the big three", together with PUBLIC ENEMY (1931) and SCARFACE: SHAME OF THE NATION (1932) and provided the blueprint for the modern gangster crime flic. It was the first gangster film to reach a wide audience and launched Edward G. Robinson to stardom. The story is simple and straightforward and might feel a little overly familiar to modern audiences, but the film lost little of its power and still holds up pretty well. It's a tough movie, but mostly tough talking with not much violence on screen.
But the film would probably be instantly forgettable without Robinson's superb performance. Whenever he's on screen, his presence is incredibly menacing. The rest of the cast is so so, but Thomas Jackson as Flaherty, Rico's nemesis, gives a wonderfully cynical performance, mocking Rico and all the other gangsters. Like most other early gangster films, it lacks the real emotional depth and complexity that came with later films, like the French gangster films of the fifties or THE GODFATHER and was made primarily as popular entertainment. Pleasant entertainment nevertheless with Edward G. Robinson portraying the first classic gangster role in screen history.
Camera Obscura --- 8/10
WARNING: This review may reveal some scenes of the movie!
In the film that made Edward G. Robinson a star, we get to see one of the nastiest, meanest characters ever put on film. As "Rico," Robinson plays a no-holds barred gangster. As an example, at one point he believes one of his gang is feeling guilty and going to the priest to confess...so he guns him down on the steps of the church.
I first started watching the film simply because I'm a bit of a film buff and felt that it should be a film I see, regardless of how good (or bad) it might be. But by the end of the film, I had been pulled into the story. It revolves around a small-time thug and his buddy who go to the city to make it big. Soon Rico is muscling in on the "big guys" turf, taking over his territory with his own brand of shoot first, ask questions later. I could tell you more, but you should see the movie instead.
Robinson is great in the film. Toward the end of the film there is an amazing shot of just his face, staring into the camera -- no words, no other characters, just Robinson as Rico, and you get a chance to see truly great acting! Just the mood he creates with his eyes alone in this one shot is worth seeing the entire film. Throw in a good storyline, an entire gang of thugs who are terrified of the chief thug, great direction, and you wind up with a great film. And don't worry parents -- this is still a film from 1930, so there is no sex, no language, and even the majority of the violence (which is minimal considering this is a film about the mob!) is hidden from sight. Even the ones you see have no blood involved -- just the sound of a gun and a person slumps over to die.
When you see a film like this on a station like Turner Classic Movies, you get the added benefit of additional trivia. According to the introduction, the book upon which this movie was based was written after the author, listening to a friend of his sing on the radio live from a local club, was gunned down on the air when the mob broke into the club with Tommy guns blazing. Imagine the shock of hearing your friend killed live on the radio...
Finally, during the introduction of the film it was also stated that at the time of release, complaints were made that the film glorified the mob and their violent ways. I disagree. If Robinson's portrayal doesn't turn you off of violence and the mob, then you probably aren't human -- which is probably exactly the point of this film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
With those words, Edward G dies in a hail of bullets, a man who has
fallen to the gutter from the hierarchy of the crime boss. This is the
essential gangster film which set the standard for those that followed.
The film is now 73 years old and still never fails to amaze you because
of the performance by it's star. Robinson, a former player in the
Yiddish theater, certainly wasn't physically attractive and his voice
and mannerisms begged to be parodied. It was those very things that
made him the premier gangster of the 30's.....and as his career matured
he tempered his performances.
The story revolves around Rico and his compatriots as they move up in the world......some are left behind either by choice (as with Fairbanks) or they simply are "rubbed out" as Little Caesar climbs the crime corporate ladder. His downfall is rapid and extreme and his final home is a flophouse.
The supporting cast is strong and includes two of my personal favorites, the ubiquitous George E. Stone and the sassy Glenda Farrell.
It must be said that some of the performances are a bit overdone but we must remember that this was 1931 and sound was new to the movies. Actors had not quite adapted to the more restrained acting needed for film. Nevertheless, Little Caesar is the touchstone of the crime film. It merits repeated viewings.
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.
LITTLE CAESAR (First National Pictures, 1930, released early January
1931), directed by Mervyn LeRoy, from the novel by W.R. Burnett, is not
a movie dealing with the history of the pizza franchise, but a pioneer
gangster melodrama of an underworld thug who rises to the leadership of
a powerful gang. Although not the first gangster story captured on film
nor the first gangster role enacted by Edward G. Robinson, the film set
the standard for gangster films to come. As one of the few movies
released during the early sound era to still hold interest today, the
true success of LITTLE CAESAR is the casting of Robinson in the title
role, referred to on many occasions as Rico, or his full name of Cesar
Enrico Bandello. There's no question that Robinson, a fine actor with
the "bulldog" face, is the ideal choice when it comes to playing
gangster-types. Within a year, Warners produced another legendary actor
with another underworld story, THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931). His name, James
LITTLE CAESAR, usually compared with THE PUBLIC ENEMY, would become companion pieces when reissued later in the decade each intact with a forward introduction that reads, "Perhaps the toughest of the gangster films, LITTLE CAESAR and THE PUBLIC ENEMY had a great effect on public opinion. They brought home violently the evils and associate with prohibition and suggested that necessity of the nationwide of house-cleaning. Tom Powers in THE PUBLIC ENEMY and Rico in LITTLE CAESAR are not two men or are they nearly characters. They are a problem that sooner or later, we, the public, must solve." Unlike its rival, THE PUBLIC ENEMY, Rico is ambitious and power hungry from the start, and kills those who betray or stand in his way while Cagney's Tom Powers character is a cold-blooded killer who does away with some of his victims for the fun of it.
Aside from Robinson's memorable performance and his occasional repeated catch phrase, "You can dish it out, but you can't take it," LITTLE CAESAR is full of classic scenes: Rico's introduction to "the boys" through the use of high range camera angles; the New Year's Eve robbery of a Bronze Peacock Night Club where Rico's best pal, Joe Massara (Douglas Fairbank Jr.) works as a dancer, and selected as a lookout for the gang by standing by the cigarette counter at the stroke of midnight; Rico's termination of a cowardly Tony Passa (William Collier Jr.) in front of the church steps after wanting to break from the gang and to seek help from his parish priest, Father McNeil; Rico's near machine-gun assassination attempt by a rival gang ordered by leader Little Arnie Lorch (Maurice Black) after purchasing a bundle of newspapers headlining his honorary banquet event; Rico's confrontation with Joe for betraying him for the sake of a woman, Olga Stassoff (Glenda Farrell), only to find he is unable to gun them both; Rico's reaching bottom by sleeping in a flop house, appearing dirty, teary eyed and in need of a shave; Rico eluding his capture by Flaherty; and the most famous closing line in movie history, "Mother of Mercy, is this the end of Rico?" While portions of LITTLE CAESAR may appear primitive to contemporary viewers with its early use of sound technology, such as echos from spoken dialogue between the two main characters (Robinson and Fairbanks) in a diner, and others either in office or police station; or Vitaphone orchestration (by Erno Rapee) commonly heard in early talkies; or the lack of the sight of blood following the shooting of intended victims. The real topper comes from Glenda Farrell's little girl sounding voice as she shouts, "Happy New Year" to Joe Masarra. Her brief dancing segment with Joe to the underscoring of "If I'm Dreaming, Don't Wake Me Too Soon" (from the 1929 motion picture musical, SALLY, starring Marilyn Miller) is performed in long shot camera range. It's possible that doubles were substituted for Fairbanks and Farrell, considering the fact they aren't quite believable to be taken for professional dancers.
With a fine cast of supporting actors, ranging from gang members to crime bosses to police commissioners, include Stanley Fields as Sam Vetorri, gang boss who keeps his office at the Club Palermo; Armand Kaliz as DeVoss; George E. Stone as Otero; Sidney Blackmer as "Big Boy"; Ralph Ince as Diamond Pete Montana; Maurice Black as Little Arnie Lorch; and Noel Madison as Peppi. Look fast for character actress Lucille LaVerne, appearing without screen credit, in an extended cameo as "Ma" Magdalena, as tough old hag of a woman (plus a minor touch of an Italian accent), who makes a lasting impression as the only character in the story to stand up to Rico with fierce eyes and get away with it. And speaking of memorable impressions, top acting honors also goes to Thomas E. Jackson as Inspector Tom Flaherty with his distinctive snarling or nasal-tone voice supplying funny one liners ("Why didn't you come to Sam's neck stretching party, Rico? It was a BIG success!").
At the time of production, Edward G. Robinson probably thought LITTLE CAESAR to be just another movie assignment for him. Never in his wildest dreams did he imagine this was to be permanently linked to him. The continued success of LITTLE CAESAR and Edward G. Robinson, which began playing on commercial television during the late night or mid-afternoon hours for several decades, continues to find a new audience whenever broadcast on Turner Classic Movies (sometimes as a double bill with THE PUBLIC ENEMY), where it was selected at one point in time as part of its weekly showcase, "The Essentials." Also distributed on video cassette and later DVD, LITTLE CAESAR is one vintage crime story that has stood the test of time. (*** machine guns)
As the first mobster to make a big dent in cinema, Rico "Little Caesar"
Bandello deserves respect. But does he make for a great movie? I say
After a final gas station hold-up, Rico (Edward G. Robinson) and pal Joe Massara (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) breeze into the big city to score with mob boss Sam Vettori (Stanley Fields) and his crew. Soon Rico is the one running things, but will his itchy trigger finger and habitual line-stepping run him afoul of police Sergeant Flaherty (Thomas E. Jackson)?
"The bigger they come, the harder the fall," Rico boasts. "I ain't doin' bad in this business so far."
The problem with "Little Caesar" is obvious from the start and more so as the film progresses: Rico is an idiot. He only makes it as far as he does because all the hoods he messes with, like Sam, are even dumber. When he takes over Sam's gang, he just tells Sam he's through and that's that. When he wants to make a statement about running things, he throws a party and invites the papers. When he starts shooting, he zaps the new crime commissioner and then tells everyone to mind not to say nothing about it.
Maybe if the film showed this to be dumb behavior, I'd feel a little different. But instead this is suggested as being the typical road to hoodlum hegemony, and highly effective if not for a human foible or two that slip Rico up.
Robinson stands out in the flawed proceedings almost as much by default as by his considerable talent. He's great with his rough banter, and his flourishes with his cigar, but he is playing a Snidley Whiplash caricature and it shows.
It reminds me of another Romanian-born actor who made his big splash in movies the same year, Bela Lugosi in "Dracula." Both films are atmospheric potboilers focused on a single over-the-top villain. Both are sadly diminished by time with their formulaic conventions, weak supporting cast, and creaky early-sound production.
When "Little Caesar" wants to project menace, we see Rico warn people "my gun's gonna speak its piece," only he doesn't really do much with it. Fairbanks is lost as a lamb in a hurricane playing Joe, especially when he hooks up with Glenda Farrell and tries to make his break from Rico, a matter the film pushes into the background until the last 15 minutes. Watching Fairbanks and Farrell have their clinches reminds you of what was so wrong with early talkies: Even in a clinch, the lovers always shouted at each other.
Though a Pre-Code film, "Little Caesar" makes strange concessions to regional censors. When someone is shot, director Mervyn LeRoy is careful not to show Rico or anyone else actually pulling the trigger. There's no mention of booze, or vice, or any other illegal activity. Apparently these guys make all their money holding up each other's parties.
Critics looking at the film today scrape for matters of interest such as Rico's possible homosexuality, and the matter of how mob activity might be seen as mirroring big business. But in the end, what you get here is a thin story featuring a character who defies gravity and convention without doing very much of anything interesting.
Maybe I should be more grateful to "Little Caesar" for paving the way to other, better gangster films of the 1930s. By itself it is a curio more than anything else, testament to one big talent who left a lasting impression but would make his mark on better films to come.
|Page 1 of 9:||        |
|Plot summary||Plot synopsis||Ratings|
|Awards||External reviews||Plot keywords|
|Main details||Your user reviews||Your vote history|