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Before Edward G. Robinson had his career role in Little Caesar he did a
few films including a couple of silent movies and in several of them
played a gangster. Watching Outside The Law you think you are watching
Robinson in a dress rehearsal for Little Caesar.
All the snarling all the mannerisms are there for Robinson in this film. He plays a gangland boss who likes to control all the crime action in his are and get his cut. But Owen Moore and moll Mary Nolan aren't splitting with anybody when they pull a bank job. So it's a question of whether the cops will get them or Robinson.
Nolan though she overacts considerably as did just about everyone in those early talkies. She tries to vamp Robinson, but he's as uninterested as he was in Little Caesar.
Curiously enough both Moore and Nolan were coming close to the end of their respective careers. Both were known for high living and partying away in the Roaring Twenties. They both died too young.
But Robinson was just getting started and you'll swear you are seeing Little Caesar. Had he been the main character as he was in Little Caesar this could have been the breakout role for him.
Tod Browning directed this film and it's remake of one he did ten years earlier with Lon Chaney. A real treat for fans of Eddie Robinson.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I just saw this film on YouTube, and this mortality tale (about Irish mobsters, crooks (the lovers Connie Madden (Mary Nolan), and Irish Born Owen Moore (Harry 'Fingers' O'Dell)), and of course, Cops is worth watching. Edward G. Robinson, who already has his Rico (from "Little Caesar") persona down pat (cigar and all), and his 'Cobra' Collins is the main reason to watch. What is interesting is he is actually half-Chinese (they show him with his mom), and yet, he is at the "Top of the Irish Rackets." Every scene involving Robinson s excellent, in fact the only non-Robinson scene that is really good, is with Connie, a kid (whose dad is a Police Captain), and puppies, and how this kid can melt her extremely cold heart. Spoilers Ahead: If anyone has seen "Three Godfathers" (with John Wayne), they can anticipate how it ends, with the outlaws willing to accept jail, to do the right thing (in this case saving the kid's father after he got shot by Robinson, instead of fleeing with $500,000 (of course, Robinson gets his at the hands of 'Fingers'), and both Connie & 'Fingers' are redeemed by Christ (there is a scene of a Cross embedded in the floor). In fact, like "3 Godfather's" where Wayne gets sentenced to the minimum 1 year in prison for a bank robbery, they got sentenced from 1-4 years for a bank robbery (the cop put in a good word for them). If people like uplifting films, Robinson & Gangsters it is worth watching. 9/10 stars.
1930's "Outside the Law" was the first of director Tod Browning's three Universal pictures, to be followed by the immortal "Dracula" and "Iron Man" (both 1931). Leaving MGM after his first talkie, 1929's "The Thirteenth Chair," Browning debuted at Universal with this remake of his own 1921 silent crime drama, also titled "Outside the Law," one of his first collaborations with the late Lon Chaney. Second billed Edward G. Robinson easily dominates as gang leader Cobra Collins, who demands a piece of the cut when the local bank is robbed by a small time crook (Owen Moore) and his moll (Mary Nolan). What truly sinks it are the endless scenes depicting the two crooks alone in their apartment, coddling a nauseating little boy who just happens to have a police captain for a father. It's rather dispiriting to think that a director like Tod Browning, with a real feel for the macabre, would display such a heavy hand with such maudlin sentimentality, yet the glacial pace is a reminder of how he botched "Dracula." The unsympathetic bickering of the two insufferable leads clearly has the opposite effect of what was intended (their unspectacular careers quickly petered out, with Moore dead by 1939, and Nolan by 1948). Browning's next feature would leave this old fashioned claptrap in the dust: the 1931 "Dracula" (his triumphant return to MGM produced the shocking "Freaks" in 1932). Already typecast as underworld kingpins, Edward G. Robinson would follow this forgettable fluff with "The Widow from Chicago," leading to the vastly superior and uncompromising gangster classic "Little Caesar," released early in 1931, and then a pair of intriguing titles opposite Boris Karloff, "Smart Money" (co-starring James Cagney) and "Five Star Final."
This flick has Robinson in his vintage character form as a gangster named Cobra, with his cigars and his infamous "Ny'a See". Fingers and Connie play a robbery team thats moving in on Cobra's turf and is forced to hid out from the law, and Cobra. Nothing great about this film that should make one go crazy to see it. The most enjoyable parts in the movie is Robinson doing his ol' mob boss routine where it almost gets humorous.
Around 1979 or so I was in MOMA and decided to look at the film collection. They had two movies that day that I saw. One was a silent film entitled THE FIELD OF HONOR starring Allan Holubar, a prominent early actor/director/producer. That was a silent film set in the Civil War. Then there was this movie. It was not a great film, but I was curious to see it because Robinson was in it. It is not one of Robinson's best films so it is rarely revived (I don't even think it has been shown on TCM or AMC or Channel 13. The interesting thing is that Owen Moore is the hero and Mary Nolan the heroine. They are "good criminals" as opposed to Robinson who is a violent boss - thug. This was made before the full effect of the movie code, the "Hays Office", the Catholic Legion of Decency, etc. was felt, so that at the end despite the arrest of Moore and Nolan (Robinson gets bumped off), you feel the jury is going to be easy on them - however, the final verdict is not heard by the movie audience. Aside from Robinson, only Louise Beavers (a few years before her great performance in the original IMITATION OF LIFE) and Rockliffe Fellows are recalled - Fellows because he played the criminal Alky Briggs, who engineers the kidnapping of Zeppo's girlfriend in the Marx Brothers film MONKEY BUSINESS. Nolan has a choice moment (again, before the full effect of movie code censorship occurred) when she is forcibly grabbed by the slimy Robinson, and she rubs the spot with her hand as though she is using the world's heaviest piece of steel wool on the spot. Robinson is enjoying the moment. It is like a companion to his moment in the more memorable KEY LARGO when he is seen whispering something sordid to Lauren Bacall. We never hear it, but his facial look is so disgustingly suggestive we love watching her haul off and slap his face at the end of the moment. In that case, though, Robinson did not like the result of the moment.
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