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A Gangster from Chicago named Bugs
bkoganbing15 July 2014
Edward G. Robinson who would occasionally channel his gangster image into comedy roles does it for the first time here in The Little Giant. He plays a gangster from Chicago named James Ahern aka Bugs Ahern who has seen the end of Prohibition and has wisely salted away his money. Wanting a little class and wanting to mix with the upper crust he moves to Santa Barbara and starts mixing.

Unfortunately he mixes with a family of society crooks father Berton Churchill, mother Louise Mackintosh, son Donald Dillaway. Worst of all he falls for Helen Vinson playing one of her patented bad girl roles who is a notorious flirt.

Robinson has rented a mansion from down on her luck society girl Mary Astor who along with thousands of others had her savings wiped out by investing in the junk bonds that Churchill's firm sold. And now he's sold the firm to Robinson.

No one makes a sucker out of Robinson and he settles the matter with some friends imported from back east who do it Chicago style. The real Bugs Moran would never have been this gentle as Robinson's old beer salesmen were in The Little Giant.

Robinson got deserved kudos for essaying comedy and he would do it many times in his career. You have to see how he and his friends play polo Chicago style.

A must for fans of Edward G. Robinson.
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Yet Another Pre-Code Gem From Warners
fowler125 August 2000
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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A fast-paced Edward G. Robinson classic
audiemurph3 February 2012
Like every great First National picture, this one starts off quickly, with Edward G. Robinson in full, glorious gangster mode, speaking the classic language of the Prohibition movie gangsters, words like "mugs" and "rods" ornamenting his lines. But there is a twist here: Robinson (as "Bugs" Ahearn, the "Beer Baron"), is going to quit the illegal beer business (since Prohibition has ended), and go straight. In fact, Bugs has a dream: to become successful in high society.

The script is very fast paced and delightful, and in a couple of places, quite shocking, reminding us of how progressive pre-Code Hollywood could be; I almost fell out of my chair when Robinson's flunky and companion Al, when asked by Robinson whether he ever saw a painting like the one in his living room, responds with, "not since I stopped using cocaine"!! Another shocker comes later when Robinson refers to some slimy society people as "fags". Oh dear!

Robinson was an amazing actor. He constantly shifts back and forth between the know-it-all wiseguy bully, and a would be high society snob, who is very unsure of himself. This uncertain, unconfident Robinson, a tough guy who swallows his pride and grovels before his betters, is pleasing to see, and he does it very well. Perhaps one of the great Robinson scenes of all time is when Mary Astor seduces an unsuspecting EGR on a couch. Robinson plays it beautifully, as he has no idea that he is being seduced; and in a delightful moment, when Mary Astor has shyly moved away, sudden realization hits EGR as to what might have just happened. He turns to the camera, and I swear he makes exactly the kind of faces, registering surprise and possible comprehension to the audience, exactly as Oliver Hardy famously did a thousand times in his career. A priceless and lovely moment.

There are many satisfying moments in this film, and I highly recommend this. The early EG Robinson movies are gifts to be treasured, and this is one of the best.
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Robinson and Astor Make the Film Work
Michael_Elliott30 December 2011
Little Giant, The (1933)

*** (out of 4)

When F.D.R. gets elected President, Chicago bootlegger Bugs Ahearn (Edward G. Robinson) decides to get out of the business. He heads off to California where he plans on crashing into society and he thinks he's doing a good job but he doesn't realize that his love (Helen Vinson) is actually from a corrupt family that is just using him. THE LITTLE GIANT isn't a perfect movie and it's not really that funny either but it's impossible not to fall for its charm and especially the charm of Robinson. Most people will always remember Robinson for his tough guy roles but if you dig deeper into his filmmography you will see that he was actually able to play just about any type of character. This film is without question a spoof of his tough image but it works so well because you can believe Robinson in the part of the gangster but also believe him in the sillier stuff where he's trying to be a gentleman. There are some very good moments scattered throughout the film but I think the real highlight is in the final ten-minutes once Robinson realizes what has happened and he decides to bring a little Chicago out West. Vinson is also very good in her supporting role as she has no problem playing this brat and we get nice work from Russell Hopton and Kenneth Thomson. Mary Astor is also extremely charming as the woman who falls for Robinson, although he doesn't know it at first. Both actors are so good together that the film actually drags a bit when they're not together. Fans of Robinson or the Warner gangster pictures are certainly going to want to check this out just to see the studio and star spoofing themselves.
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Moving up the society ladder
TheLittleSongbird24 January 2019
My main reason for seeing 'The Little Giant' was to see fine actor Edward G. Robinson, who was in many great films and always a bright spot, in an early role. A role that was also a relatively different one, with him in comedy it was very different from his tough guy image, so it was interesting to see how he would fare in this regard. Another interest point was the film being one of the first gangster comedies.

'The Little Giant' turned out to be something of a little gem, nothing little about it. Found myself really entertained and relaxed watching it, with the odd shock/surprise thrown into the mix, and it is a shame that 'The Little Giant' is not known more than it is. It won't be one of my favourite films any time soon and won't consider it one of the greats, but it is not very well known at all these days, when there are films that are not particularly good yet make a lot of money and in some cases are popular, and obscurity is where it should be nowhere near close to being near or in. There is so much right with 'The Little Giant' and the not so good things are both barely any and not big at all.

Would have liked 'The Little Giant' to have been longer, an hour and a quarter seemed rather too on the brief side.

Helen Vinson is ever so slightly on the bland side but only in comparison with everybody else.

Robinson however is terrific, he is immensely gifted when it comes to the comic timing and he also gives the right amount of intensity when necessary. He has great chemistry with the cast, namely the very charming and zesty Mary Astor and with Russell Hopton, also very good. The characters are both interesting in personality and worth investing with. Roy DelRuth directs briskly, never allowing the energy or tension of the storytelling to slip (the film being full of both).

Just as good was the tightly structured and sharply witty script, that also had some remarkably ahead of its time content that one is shocked is in the film, the amoral tone likewise. The production values are slick and don't look as though they were made without enthusiasm or care. The film is always engaging and with never a dull spot.

Overall, a little gem. 8/10 Bethany Cox
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Eddie Robinson and Comedy
theowinthrop16 April 2006
Warning: Spoilers
It is generally conceded that Edward G. Robinson (his memoirs tell us that the "G" was for "Gould", but it was a made-up name, so he just left it a "G") was one of the finest actors in Hollywood history, who repeatedly missed out on deserved "Oscar" recognition, although he did get a career "Oscar" shortly before his death in 1971. But most of the performances he is best recalled for ("Little Caesar", "Double Indemnity", "The Ten Commandments", "Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet", "The Sea Wolf", "Key Largo", "The Woman In The Window", "All My Sons") were dramatic parts. In fact, many were outright villains. He did play comedy, and when the film was intelligent it was usually with good results. In particular his gangster comedies, "A Slight Case of Murder", "Larceny, Inc.", and "The Whole Town is Talking", show him to best effect. And there is this early comedy (I believe it was Robinson's first comic turn).

Bugs Ahearn is like Remy Marko in "A Slight Case of Murder". Both are beer baron racketeers from the 1920s and early 1930s, who have made a pile, but face the end of "prohibition" by trying to turn legit - or as close to legit as possible. Remy (sticking to the New York Metropolitan area) decided to continue his brewery as a competitor with now other legitimate beer companies, not realizing (until it's almost too late) how dreadful his swill tastes. Bugs decides he's made enough, pulls up stakes and heads for the West Coast. He will now try to join the "beautiful people" in high society. But while Remy has his loyal gang members and his wife and daughter to support him, Bugs goes it alone. And is taken to the cleaners.

I don't think that the view of the rich that appear in these films (and other gangster films of the 1930s) would be as dark again until the last ten years. Although some of the film noir movies showed a seedy side to the wealthy and prominent (notably in those films based on Raymond Chandler and Dashiel Hammett novels), the films of the last decade made in the wake of scandals like EXXON, certainly made the bulk of the public question the rich. In 1933 the same serious questioning was going on. Economic heroes of the 1920s like Michael Meehan, Jesse Livermore, William C. Durant, Samuel Insull, and Richard Whitney became criminals or pariahs in the 1930s as investigations revealed their thefts or skirting of the laws. Even J.P. Morgan 2nd (an uncle of Whitney by marriage) was shown to have made a "mistake" in underestimating his income tax in the early 1930s. Comparatively speaking, gangsters like Remy or Bugs were more openly criminal than their white collar counterparts - who stole millions from small investors, and did not break laws to service a need for mild alcoholic beverages. So it was easy to side with Bugs or Remy when they face these secret villains - like the rest of the population did.

Except for former wealthy woman Mary Astor, who finds she likes Bugs, all of the wealthy people in this film are parasites who see Bugs as dirt to use to get rid of worthless stock before they are left holding the bag. The choice of Burton Churchill as the head of the Cass family, as unctuous a villain in the 1930s as you could find, was perfect. His respectable demeanor hiding a wolf-like passion for money at the expense of the gullible - here Bugs, who is smitten by Churchill's equally villainous daughter Helen Vinson.

At the end of "A Slight Case Of Murder" Remy found out the error of his beastly beer brew, and snookered the white collared villains (bankers) into giving his loan an extension while he found a new beer formula that worked. Here the ending is more satisfactory, with Bugs asking his pals from Chicago to assist him, and forcing Churchill and his confederates to buy back the worthless stock. The scenes of this were very satisfying to depression America audiences.
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Movin' On Up
GManfred27 May 2013
Prohibition ends and gangster boss Bugsy Ahearn, like so many during the depression, finds himself unemployed. What to do? Fortunately, he has laid aside much of his ill-gotten gains and has no money worries. So he decides to improve himself, to acquire some culture and move in elite circles. And therein lies a very funny story.

Edward G. Robinson shows a flair for comedy and shows off some of his immense talent as a social climber who decides to shoot the moon. He moves from Chicago to the West Coast, buys a mansion and falls for a lady from a family of swindlers, and generally falls into a series of mishaps, each one funnier than the last. He gets excellent support from Mary Astor, who becomes his guide to the finer points of becoming 'quality'.

You will gain great respect for Robinson if you've only seen him in tough-guy roles, as he carries the picture as a society naif in this written-for-the-screen comedy. There are no dead spots, either, as the story moves along briskly in an enjoyable 75 minutes. It was shown at Cinefest, Columbus, O., 6/13.
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A look at what might have happened had there not been an end to Rico...
mark.waltz30 November 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Prohibition has come to an end, and just as fast as Kevin Costner's Elliot Ness was ready to go get a drink, bootlegger Edward G. Robinson is ready to become respectable. He doesn't plan on getting hoodwinked by a bunch of "fags", he says, referring to the wealthy people of Santa Barbara in that term to indicate "well-dressed swells", not cigarettes, bundles of sticks or gay men. This is a sassy pre-code comedy of the snobs versus the slobs, where Chicago meets California elite, where manners meet muscatel. Along the way, Robinson rents a huge mansion from the pretty but broke Mary Astor who hires her former servants out to him but begs their confidentiality in order to pay off back taxes. As for the wealthy family who gets him involved in a business scheme, there's the fickle Helen Vinson, a socialite with candied lips but an acid tongue, pompous father Berton Churchill, horse-faced mother Louise Mackintosh (whom I whinny at every time I see her) and good for nothing brother Don Dillaway. It is clear from the beginning that Astor is more the one to teach Robinson the real meaning of good breeding, and it is also apparent that Robinson will utilize his band of merry dumbbells from Chicago to seek revenge on the family who underestimated his lack of sophistication.

This is delightful pre-code comedy, with shots of the reformed mobsters attempting to play polo, and much witty dialog to boot as Robinson tries to fit in an element that perhaps he was better avoiding. He gets to learn that all so-called "decent" people aren't necessarily "nice" people and they find out that he isn't above resorting to old methods in order to cinch a business deal. Churchill, it seems, is bilking clients with worthless stock, and when Robinson gets involved, he is the one left holding the bag. But big business for him is just like his was during the depression, and after a memorable opening where he expresses his fury towards FDR for ruining his business. The cops who used to try to catch him smuggling his illegal beer now jeer him for being a has-been so he sets off to prove he can be legitimate. This gives Robinson a lot of juicy material to handle and two beautiful if different leading ladies to play off of. That makes this one of those pre-code films that remains entertaining and historically interesting, although his Bugs is certainly not as threatening as his Rico was in "Little Caesar".
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Robinson takes a nice foray into comedy...
planktonrules8 January 2010
Warning: Spoilers
This film begins with the election of Franklin Roosevelt and an end to Prohibition. As Edward G. Robinson is the head of a gang selling illegal liquor, he knows his days of riches and glory are over. Instead of continuing in a life of crime, he wants to return in style and live among the gentry. The only problem is that although he thinks he's got class, he's a total clod...a likable clod, but a clod nonetheless. And, in society, he sticks out like a sore thumb. He is only accepted, eventually, by some selfish swells who only want him around for a chance to drain him of his money. The problem is that Robinson is such a sucker, he has no idea he's being played. At the same time, his personal secretary (Mary Astor) has fallen for him and she knows what sort of people his new "friends" really are but is afraid to tell him.

Despite Robinson being an ex-crook AND chump, he's excellent here because no matter what he was like, you can't help but feel sorry for him. There is a certain vulnerability and charm about him--making this film work very well. He also seemed to have a nice knack for comedy--something that would become very apparent with later successes such as THE WHOLE TOWN'S TALKING and LARCENY INCORPORATED. His friend and sidekick, Russell Hopton, is also quite good--and it's surprising that he didn't get more work with such excellent performances.

Overall, this is one of the best gangster flicks of the 1930s. Exceptionally well written and acted, and especially great in the end. Fully of laughs and wonderful moments--especially when his friends from Chicago come to save the day. A film not to be missed.
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Very cute, similar to 'Brother Orchid'
HotToastyRag11 March 2019
The Little Giant is so adorable, and so entertaining, I accidentally watched it twice without recognizing it until halfway through! I love Edward G. Robinson, so it was no hardship to sit through one of his classically touching films about a gangster who wants to go straight and find class in high society. If you loved him in Brother Orchid, check out The Little Giant.

When Eddy G and his faithful sidekick Russell Hopton go to Santa Barbara after their bootlegging days are over, they're snubbed by high society. Only after his wealth becomes apparent does Eddy G get noticed, and unfortunately by the wrong woman: Helen Vinson. She's a gold-digger and seduces Eddy G while the rest of her family tries to swindle him out of money. This sounds depressing, but like I said, if you liked Brother Orchid, watch this movie. It's cuter and more heart-warming than it sounds. There are tons of jokes as he tries to come across as high class, like calling Plato 'Pluto' and asking what state California is in. Plus, it's always sweet to see Eddy G in a romance, and this time around he gets to fall in love with both Helen and Mary Astor!
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The Little Giant Finds He is Out of His Depth in Society!!!
kidboots28 November 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Part of Edward G. Robinson's longevity in movies was his ability to choose the occasional film that showed he could laugh at the tough characters he created. In "The Whole Town's Talking" (1935) and "A Slight Case of Murder" (1938) he successfully kidded his own genre but he did it first with "The Little Giant" (1933).

He plays Bugsy Ahearn, a Chicago beer baron and the film begins with the election of President Roosevelt. That spells the end of prohibition but O'Hearn has already started making plans - reading books on ancient Greece by Plato (Pluto!!!), buying modern art, taking up golf, in other words getting "cultured"!! - he is determined to "crash society"!!! His gang is like one big happy family but after he and Al (Russell Hopton) go out to California, he finds he is swimming with sharks when he becomes entangled with the fortune hunting Cass family. He falls instantly in love with Polly (Helen Vinson) but each of the family fleeces him in different ways until the father sells him a worthless company. Of course they don't realise he has made his money bootlegging and when they do that is the only excuse they need to break Polly's engagement, flee the country and leave him holding the bag - but not before he sends for his old cronies to dispense some Chicago rough justice of his own.

This movie is just so much fun - Edward G. Robinson almost over- powers the whole cast and he really struts his stuff and gives the movie going public exactly what they expected from him in 1933 but with the added bonus of laughs!!! Mary Astor is as usual gorgeous and fully up to Robinson as Ruth. She plays a once wealthy girl, whose father has been financially ruined and she is now reduced to renting out the family mansion to Ahearn. She becomes his unofficial teacher, showing him how to act, how to give dinner parties and also that not everyone is as horrible as the Casses. Helen Vinson played the fortune hunting Polly to perfection but, strangely, I found her not as attractive as she usually is. Berton Churchill had also perfected roles like the conniving Father Cass and he was excellent. Shirley Grey was another example of a pretty, talented actress who just didn't make it big - she played Ahearn's cast off mistress, Edith. It was nice to see Russell Hopton with a decent part in a grade A film. He has one of the best lines in the movie. When O'Hearn asks him if he has ever seen a painting like that before, he replies "Not since I stopped using cocaine!!!!!"

Highly, Highly Recommended.
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steve-667-1019024 August 2020
Playing an idiot in a "fish out of water tough guy in society role", does not suit the star. His strength was in his rapier sharp mind and sardonic manner which isn't in evidence here.

The sequence on the polo pony is cringeworthy. Still, it's E.G. so I give it a 5. The ending saves it. No spoilers. Check it out.
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Shrewdly Done
dougdoepke22 April 2019
When I think comedy, Eddie Robinson doesn't jump to mind. Here, however, he's fairly amusing in a muted comedy of manners. Most importantly, he doesn't mock his iconic tough guy image. Instead he plays an out-of-work bootlegger at prohibition's end eager to transition into upper class society with his ill-gotten gains. Trouble is he can't leave his tough guy ways behind, especially his streetwise lingo and muscle men. That makes for some amusing situations when he mixes with the refined upper crust. The comedy's pretty restrained on the whole, neither of the popular madcap nor screwball of the time. The production's also pre-Code which means some mild innuendo and bra-less gowns (Vinson).

Note too how the upper class Cass's are implicated in crime, but of a different type than Ahearn's gangster sort. Instead, the ruthless family markets worthless bonds to unsuspecting customers, bilking them of needed moneys. Thus, we get a glimpse of white-collar larceny at a time,1933, when the topic was an especially live one. Compared to Ahearn's competition among bootleggers, the Cass's white-collar variety appears less violent but more vicious, a not accidental feature, I suspect.

All in all, the WB flick's a shrewdly done, amusing departure for one of their stable of 30's tough guys. My only gripe is the nutzoid finale on the polo field. It's an effort, I expect, to provide a bang-up climax, one that's unfortunately way out of sinc with the rest of the intelligent restraint. Still, Robinson gets something of an amusing showcase, proving again what a fine actor he was and remains.
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Eddie, For The First Time, Goes For The Yucks
ferbs5410 May 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Most lovers of classic Hollywood film know what an outstanding and versatile dramatic actor Romanian-born Edward G. Robinson could be. In a career that stretched over four decades, Robinson appeared in an astonishing number of quality films, and even the lesser of his pictures were made interesting and watchable by his mere presence. Fewer viewers, I have a suspicion, may recall how adept Robinson could be at comedy, but for proof of this, one need look no further than one of the actor's pre-Code efforts, "The Little Giant." Released in May 1933, this was not only Eddie's first comedic role, but indeed, the very first gangster comedy ever made. Produced by First National Pictures, which had been taken over by Warner Bros. in 1928, the film's mash-up of genres was successful enough to pave the way for later gangster comedies featuring Robinson. John Ford's "The Whole Town's Talking" (1935, and featuring Jean Arthur in her breakthrough role) was perhaps the best of the bunch, followed in 1938 by the borderline screwball "A Slight Case of Murder" and 1942's very funny "Larceny, Inc.," and even some "serious" gangster pictures featuring Robinson, such as 1938's "The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse" and 1940's "Brother Orchid," would contain a goodly leavening of humor. In short, the gangster comedy, as initially proved by "The Little Giant," was a very viable entertainment.

In the film, Eddie plays a Chicago mobster named Francis "Bugs" Ahearn. When Prohibition ends in 1933 (the film was most certainly timely!) and booze is suddenly made legal, Bugs decides to call it quits, pay off his boys, go legit, get some culture and move to Santa Barbara, CA. He's got "a million and a quarter salted away," and with that filthy lucre and his childhood buddy Al (Russell Hopton, very funny here in his straight-man role), he arrives at a posh hotel by the sea, ready to crash high society. After falling in love with a glamorous "skirt" named Polly Cass (Helen Vinson), Bugs decides to buy a ritzy 20-room, 14-bath mansion to impress her, and makes his pretty Realtor, Ruth (a very appealing Mary Astor), both his house manager and social secretary. But what Bugs doesn't know is that Polly is a con artist, from an entire family of con artists; indeed, a family that makes Janet Gaynor's family of crooks in 1938's "Young in Heart" seem perfectly angelic! It seems as if Bugs might be learning polo and buying a wedding ring in vain....

Featuring wonderfully snappy dialogue, well-drawn characters and big laffs, "The Little Giant" is an absolute delight from start to finish. The film is remarkably compact, and manages to pack quite a bit of yucks and story into its brief 74-minute running time. Indeed, director Roy del Ruth never lets the pace flag; he would not work with Robinson again, but would reunite with Astor the following year for a picture called "Upperworld," one that I have not seen but which has a good reputation. Robinson and Astor have some definite chemistry on screen, and the viewer wonders what Bugs sees in the comparatively homely Polly when Astor's Ruth is so much brighter, sweeter, prettier...and certainly more honest. Astor's face in the early '30s seemed a bit softer and rounder than the more angular look she boasted in the '40s, and her Ruth Wayburn here is ever so much more attractive than the Brigid O'Shaughnessy that Humphrey Bogart would encounter in 1941's "The Maltese Falcon." Robinson and Astor had apparently appeared together once before, in the little-seen 1923 silent "The Bright Shawl" (also starring Richard Barthelmess, Dorothy Gish and William Powell--what a cast!--and with Astor playing Robinson's daughter), and would also appear together in 1934's "The Man With Two Faces." Being one of the last of the pre-Code films, "The Little Giant" sports some lines that modern-day audiences might not be prepared for, such as the reference to giving someone "the finger," and when Bugs refers to the upper-crust snobs as a bunch of "fags"! And then there is the startling early scene in which Bugs shows Al a piece of abstract art (Robinson, it should be remembered, would, years later, own one of the largest private art collections in the world, and one that he had to sell in 1956 to pay off a divorce settlement) and asks his buddy, "You ever seen anything like that before?" Al's response: "Not since I've been off cocaine"! You've gotta love these pre-Code gems! Anyway, Robinson seems to be having a ball here, turning his 1931 "Little Caesar" role of Rico Bandello on its head and squeezing it for laffs; he even gets to look straight into the camera once, hilariously. And yet, this tough guy with a decent heart manages to arouse the viewer's sympathy, too, as he haplessly mingles with the snooty society folk and chases a girl who is waaaaay wrong for him. How satisfying it is, then, when Bugs uses some Chicago strongarm tactics toward the film's finale to rectify the wrongs done him by the Cass family! And what a sweet little ending, too, to wrap things up with! An enormously pleasing entertainment, it's no wonder that "The Little Giant" opened up a whole new genre of film!
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Ultimate Fish Out Of Water Story
davidjanuzbrown4 September 2012
Warning: Spoilers
If anyone is looking for a great Mob Comedy, that really is a MOB Comedy, this is it. Spoilers: It is about a Bootlegger named Bugs Ahearn (Edward G. Robinson), and his second in commend Al Daniels(Russell Hopton), who decide to go straight after Prohibition ends, and move out to Beverly Hills and find out that the businessmen out there (Such as the Cass Family (Led by Father Donald Hadley (Barton Churchill), and not so sweet Polly (Helen Vinson)), who are far more crooked then the Mob ever was (They have a code of honor). The only person who knows the truth about how they are playing him as a sucker is Ruth Wayborn (Mary Astor), who has to act as his Personal Secretary, but really loves him. Mary knows the truth, because she was once rich, and they swindled her out of her fortune, so she has to rent out her mansion (Which Bugs did not know). When he finds out the truth about how gullible he was (They stuck him and many others with worthless stock certificates) he is so dejected, he gives a $15,000 wedding ring that he bought for Polly to a blind man, begging for money. One of the best scenes occurred in the DA's Office where he was told that not only was broke, but he would be going to jail for the swindle. The only way he could avoid this is get the money back. He asked the DA to let him make a call, and it went straight to the Boys in Chicago, and they could not wait to get back into action (Including boarding planes with Machine Guns). Not only did they got back all of the investors money plus interest, with heavy duty shakedowns (Including torture to a crook who refused to pay up), it was done in a way, that when the Mob took over the crooked investment company, with the assistance of Ruth (Who is good with numbers) they made sure it would be profitable for Bugs, his fellow mobsters, and the people who got their money back. The film ended with Robinson and Astor looking down from the mansion seeing gangsters on Polo Ponies, falling over themselves, and laughing about it. What is interesting is how Pre-Code it was: Including the torture scene, the DA not objecting to Robinson calling in the Mob (Showing gangsters as heroes would not be allowed a year later), Robinson referring to the rich as 'fags', and Al admitting he snorted Cocaine. Like the torture scene, no nos a year later. If you like Warner Bros Gangster films, and Robinson in particular, it should be a must see. Of course, it merits 10/10 Stars.
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Edward G. Robinson in a precode comedy
blanche-24 June 2015
Edward G. Robin is "The Little Giant" in this 1933 comedy which also stars Mary Astor and Helen Vinson.

Robinson plays Bugs Ahern, a notorious bootleg king at the end of Prohibition, who decides to take all his money, quit the mob life, and break into California high society.

He's not exactly a slam-dunk for polite society - he talks like a thug, for one thing -- and when he meets a glamorous woman, Polly Cass, from a prominent family, he falls hard. She invites him to tea, and he goes to buy the right clothes. His credit is checked, and word gets around at the tea that he's a millionaire. Polly and her family are at that moment completely interested and invite him back.

Ahern visits a Realtor, Ruth Wayburn (Mary Astor), and rents a house she finds him, not knowing that it's her house and that she has fallen on hard times. Impressed by Ruth's knowledge of all things upper class, he hires her as his assistant.

Ahern proposes to Polly and also buys into her father's bond business. Little does he know, trouble will follow.

Very amusing comedy, with Robinson, overdressed for most occasions, attempts to deal with old money by playing polo and juggling appetizers. In one of the first scenes, he and his buddy who insisted on coming to California with him, Al (Russell Hopton) are in a very high class French restaurant, where Bugs acts like he can speak French as he orders from the menu (and by the way, at this high-class, expensive restaurant, the entrées were $1.50; also his expensive hotel was $45/day).

The funniest, however, is the polo scene, and also some scenes toward the end when Ahern is forced to call on his old crowd for some help.

Very enjoyable, with Robinson fabulous as a bull in a china shop.
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Fighting fire with fire . . .
oscaralbert7 March 2015
Warning: Spoilers
. . . sums up the plot of THE LITTLE GIANT. This flick demonstrates that while hoodlums such as LITTLE CAESAR, SCARFACE, PUBLIC ENEMY, and Bugs Fenner might snuff a few American thugs, the REAL gangsters wear suits, and mugs such as Charles Keating, Kenneth Lay, and Bernie Madoff are far worse than the Al Capones of this world as they murder the American Dream for thousands of honest Working People at a clip. The Donald Handley Cass Family of California represents the Fat Cat U.S. One Per Centers in THE LITTLE GIANT. Pop, Ma, Sonny, and Sissy all are thieving weasels rotten to the core, willing to prostitute themselves in every way imaginable just to obtain a thousand times their fair share of America's Bounty so that they can enjoy a few hours of creature comforts prior to their Eternity of Burning Down Below. The man who would kill Bugs Fenner three years after portraying THE LITTLE GIANT, Edward G. Robinson, plays the Bugs character himself here--Jim "Bugs" Ahearn, to be exact. When he finds out how irredeemably rancid the Rich really are, Bugs realizes that the only way to deal with them is to give them a foretaste of their Roasting to Come, by literally holding their feet to the fire. Hot-Cha-Cha, as Jimmy Durante would say!
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This is NOT a gangster picture!
AlsExGal5 September 2019
And yet it is in one of the Warner Gangster DVD packs. This is one of those bizarre results from the whipsaw of events - age of DVD, great recession and resulting death of DVD, economic recovery and age of Blu and streaming -that put this relatively obscure film on DVD but leaves the three Show Boat films unrestored and in the Warner Archive. But I digress.

It may be obscure, but it is definitely worth your time. This is a comedy about a gangster, not a gangster film, as I said in my title. Robinson plays Bugs Ahearne, a Chicago gangster at the time of Roosevelt's 1932 election and, by extension, the death of prohibition. Ahearne is wise in that he sees the age of the mob and easy money from bootleg liquor is over, and divides his profits among his gang. Ahearne himself winds up with 1.25 million dollars. Multiply that by about 20 to get today's amount.

Ahearne has been planning for this day, and he has been reading the classics and improving himself. He plans to retire to California and become part of polite society. The problem is, outside of reading, Bugs has never talked to or known any society people in his life. Just like you can't learn to drive a car by just reading books, Bugs doesn't realize he sticks out like a sore thumb.

He also makes the mistaken calculation that people of "breeding" - whatever that is supposed to mean - and culture can be depended upon to be on the level, whether their motives are good or maybe not. Yet he is fooling the society people by pretending to be somebody else, wanting to leave his gangster roots behind. The result is an absolutely hilarious comedy of manners with tons of precode one liners, many of which I cannot repeat even in 2019.

And if you never thought Edward G. Robinson and Mary Astor could have great chemistry, maybe even be considered a comedy team, guess again. With great supporting performances. With a great understated performance by Russell Hopton as Robinson's best friend, who can't imagine life without the mob and tags along with "Bugs" for the ride. I guarantee you will never see polo as the same game again. Highly recommended.
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Robinson is always a treat, and this is part of the early canon
secondtake13 April 2021
The Little Giant (1933)

By 1933 the gangster genre was in full blown maturity, and Warner Bros. Along with Edward G. Robinson were key to that. This is a lesser known movie but still a good one, two years after his phenomenal "Little Caesar." This time, they thought the genre had room for comedy, and it doesn't always take off. Robinson is good, and Mary Astor is also good in a very different way, though not always on the same page as Robinson.

Mostly this is part of the larger picture-there are better Warner Bros gangster films, but this one holds its own.
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The Gent from Chicago
lugonian15 December 2019
THE LITTLE GIANT (First National Pictures, 1933), directed by Roy Del Ruth, with original screenplay by Robert Lord and Wilson Mizner, stars Edward G. Robinson in his first movie comedy. Best known in playing tough guys in gangster roles, Robinson does a parody of his screen image in straight comic touch. Though his later gangster comedies as A SLIGHT CASE OF MURDER (1938) and LARCENY, INC. (1942) were hilarious to say the least, THE LITTLE GIANT is Robinson in rare form without losing his dignity.

Following the opening credits to underscoring of "Chicago, Chicago, It's a Wonderful Town," the story fades in with calendar dating Election Day, November 8, 1932, where it is radio announced that Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt wins the presidency of the United States against Herbert Hoover in a landslide. It also marks a new beginning for America, and the end of the Prohibition era. At the Little Giant Social Club in Chicago is James Francis Ahearn, better known as Bugs (Edward G. Robinson), a tough beer baron, who decides pn going straight, paying off his mobster associates, including girlfriend, Edith Merriam (Shirley Grey) with a check for $25,000. and getting some culture in high society. Al Daniels (Russell Hopton), his best friend since boyhood and reform school days, remains with Bugs, with their next venture heading for Santa Barbara, California. Before their departure, Bugs pays a visit to his rival gang boss, Joe Pulido (Harry Tenbrook) to let him know he is leaving town and not being forced out of town. Registering at the Biltmore Hotel, Bugs and Al soon realize they don't fit in the social circle as the find themselves rudely ignored by the social elites. Bugs falls immediately in love with Polly Cass (Helen Vinson), a society girl, and through her decides to forget his next venture to San Francisco and make her acquaintance. Overhearing Ahearn is a millionaire in good standing by her deadbeat brother, Gordon (Donald Dillaway), Polly plays up to Bugs' affections while still carrying on a romance with John Stanley (Kenneth Thomson). To make further impression on the Polly's family, including business tycoon father, Donald Hadley Cass (Berton CHurchill) and his wife (Louise MacIntosch), Bugs rents a mansion from Ruth Wayburn (Mary Astor), a real estate agent, who, unknown to him, leases her home and servants in order to earn the money to pay off her deceased father's debts. After proposing to Polly and buying her father's Cass Bond Investment Company, Bugs learns from Ruth his financial error and the true facts about the Cass family, especially Polly, who has made a fool out him. Others in the cast consist of gangster character types as Dewey Robinson, Tammany Young, John Kelly and Ben Taggart, along with Helen Mann (Frankie), Leonard Carey (Inglesby, the butler) and Charles Coleman in smaller roles.

With several movies bearing the title of THE LITTLE GIANT, ranging from the Universal 1926 release featuring Glenn Hunter, and the 1946 comedy-drama simply titled LITTLE GIANT starring the comedy team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, this THE LITTLE GIANT is fun-filled 76 minute comedy, especially for Robinson fans. Memorable scenes include Robinson's venture in a polo match with the society swells, and his tender moment rehearsal love making with Mary Astor. Helen Vinson, in a role that might have gone to Claire Dodd, who specialized in playing cheating and conniving blondes, is convincing here as is Mary Astor as the former society girl trying to smarten up the ex-mobster from the clutches of the Cass family. Of all its cast members, naturally both Robinson and the frequent underscoring to "Chicago" get honorable mentions.

Distributed only on DVD, THE LITTLE GIANT did enjoy frequent commercial television broadcasts decades ago, ranging from Philadelphia's WPHL, Channel 17, and later WTAF, Channel 29, in the 1970s, to New York City's WNEW, Channel 5 (1978-1983) before becoming available in recent years on cable television's Turner Classic Movies (1994-present). Robinson may sure live up to his movie title as being little, but certainly has become one of cinema's giant as movie tough guys go. (***)
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Tough guy in tails
MissSimonetta28 August 2019
THE LITTLE GIANT didn't change cinema nor is it particularly innovative, but it is a fun little comedy that deserves more accolades from classic movie geeks. Edward G. Robinson plays a retired gangster who decides to break into high society. He mingles with snobs who sneer at his rough manners and ignorance of social niceties, yet secretly covet his millions behind his back.

Robinson was a very versatile performer and he goes great with the comic elements of his role. Mary Astor is a bit wasted as the disgraced society woman who loves him, barely given much screen time to explore her character. The supporting cast is in fine form on the whole.

The film is brief and well-paced, never overstaying its welcome. The situations are amusing, heightened by the fine performances. And as always with movies from the early 1930s, there are some deliciously outrageous things you wouldn't be seeing on-screen again until the 1960s, such as one of Robinson's cronies mentioning he hasn't seen something so crazy since he "was on cocaine."
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An Eddie G Classic
sixshooter50028 April 2020
For the record, with my review, it's not meant to consider the comedic elements, some aspects are dated, but this movie wasn't made with 2020 in it's mind. That said, some parts really did make me laugh.

It's a nice tale of a man trying to go straight, only to get screwed, and then to flex his skills of how he became a big shot in organized crime once. Simple enough, yet rather entertaining, especially when the mobsters show up.

Not serious like Little Caesar, but still entertaining, a fun watch.

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