Prohibition is ending so bootlegger Bugs Ahearn decides to crack California society. He leases a house from down-on-her-luck Ruth and hires her as social secretary. He rescues Polly Cass from a horsefall and goes home to meet her dad who sells him some phony stock certificates. When he learns about this he sends to Chicago for mob help. Written by
Ed Stephan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Although the early sound era presented some problems - such as stationary camera shots with the actors nailed to their marks, and minimal use of background music resulting in long stretches of torpor - by 1931 most of these bugs had been corrected; thus the pre-censorship period of '31-'34 is chockfull of some of the most vigorous, creative and satisfying movies of Hollywood's Golden Age, however little-known many of them may be. LITTLE GIANT is one such hidden gem. A lightning-paced gangster comedy from the Warner-First National studio (where speed and economy were stylistic hallmarks), it's fast, funny and flippant in a manner that the decayed virgins of the Hays Office would render, if not impossible, at least awfully difficult after '34. Edward G Robinson plays Bugs Ahearn, a Chicago bootlegger put out of business by Prohibition's repeal, who decides to relocate to California and buy his way into society. Once there, he's immediately preyed upon by the type of 'respectable' vipers & parasites his background has left him ill-equipped to recognize, let alone fend off. This 'fish-out-of-water' comedy benefits greatly from a cheerfully amoral tone and a slew of zesty performances, not least of them Mary Astor's as a busted heiress who is the only non-hood here who's on the level. The mix of slapstick and rat-a-tat verbal comedy, coming at you at fast as it does, works very well, and nobody was better at this kind of hectic farce than the woefully-underrated Roy del Ruth, who was one of a number of sure & steady craftsmen who hit their peaks only under the Warners' aegis. In Del Ruth's case, the coming of the Code (and his subsequent move to MGM) proved to be disastrous: though he continued to direct till the late 50s, his post-Warners work was so drained of zest and inspiration that he is hardly remembered at all today. Even the auteurist crowd dismisses him as a competent hack. But do yourself a favor and seek out everything he did prior to 1935, and you'll be rewarded with a body of work that will surprise you with its cynical bite and confident staging. They play as well today as they did the day they opened. (Highly recommended, besides GIANT, are BLESSED EVENT, LADY KILLER, EMPLOYEES ENTRANCE & TAXI.)
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