Little Caesar (1931)

“You can’t go back on a gang.”

Little Caesar is the 1930 gangster film starring Edward G. Robinson as thug Caesar Enrico “Rico” Bandello. The film was made during the prohibition era and it’s generally agreed that Little Caesar was responsible for generating the popularity of the gangster genre. Little Caesar is a merciless gangster who claws his way to the top of the crime world. He’s initially admitted to crime boss, Sam Palermo’s gang as a henchman, but it’s not long before Little Caesar takes over and starts running things his way.

Edward G. Robinson as Little Caesar is electrifying. He’s ruthless and ambitious. Many other Edward G. Robinson roles play with a slight comic effect, but there’s no comedy here. The only human foible Little Caesar suffers from is a slight tendency to vanity. Little Caesar is a sneering, violent punk–a cold killer. Robinson dominates each scene, and his facial expressions reflect with just the movement of an eyelid just what evil things he intends to do next.

The story concerns the rise and fall of Little Caesar, and he makes some fatal errors–most notably his treatment of his loyal friend Joe (Douglas Fairbanks Jr). Joe wants to leave the gangster life and find reputable work as a professional dancer. Little Caesar is mean and petty enough to forbid Joe to lead a crime-free life. The policemen who tirelessly pursue Little Caesar are portrayed as hard-edged, dedicated men who don’t hesitate to joke about neck stretching, and the final scene is memorable. Unfortunately, the film’s other characters all pale in comparison to Little Caesar, and the film suffers as a result. Special note: Art Deco fans will delight in Little Caesar’s swanky apartment.

The quality of the Warner DVD is good. I had a few white vertical lines in a couple of places, and there were a few fuzzy long distance shots of Little Caesar’s face. But when one considers the age of the film, this isn’t bad at all. The DVD also comes with several extras. One segment includes Leonard Maltin hosting Warner Brothers Night at the Movies. This contains some newsreel footage, amongst other things. There’s also a 17 minute documentary Little Caesar: End of Rico beginning of the Anti-hero which includes an interview with Martin Scorsese. From director Mervyn Leroy.

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