Archive for Thomas E. Jackson

Little Caesar

Posted in Classics, Drama, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , on February 27, 2013 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Small-time criminals Caesar Enrico “Rico” Bandello (Edward G. Robinson) and his friend Joe Massara (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) move to Chicago to seek their fortunes. Rico joins the gang of Sam Vettori (Stanley Fields), while Joe wants to be a dancer. Olga (Glenda Farrell) becomes his dance partner and girlfriend.

Joe tries to drift away from the gang and its activities, but Rico makes him participate in the robbery of the nightclub where he works. Despite orders from underworld overlord “Big Boy” (Sidney Blackmer) to all his men to avoid bloodshed, Rico guns down crusading crime commissioner Alvin McClure during the robbery, with Joe as an aghast witness.

Rico accuses Sam of becoming soft and seizes control of his organization. Rival boss “Little Arnie” Storch (Maurice Black) tries to have Rico killed, but Rico is only grazed. He and his gunmen pay Little Arnie a visit, after which Arnie hastily departs for Detroit. The Big Boy eventually gives Rico control of all of Chicago’s Northside.

Rico becomes concerned that Joe knows too much about him. He warns Joe that he must forget about Olga and join him in a life of crime. Rico threatens to kill both Joe and Olga unless he accedes, but Joe refuses to give in. Olga calls Police Sergeant Flaherty and tells him Joe is ready to talk, just before Rico and his henchman Otero (George E. Stone) come calling. Rico finds, to his surprise, that he is unable to take his friend’s life. When Otero tries to do the job himself, Rico wrestles the gun away from him, though not before Joe is wounded. Hearing the shot, Flaherty and another cop give chase and kill Otero. With the information provided by Joe, Flaherty proceeds to crush Rico’s organization.

Desperate and alone, Rico retreats to the gutter from which he sprang. While hiding in a flophouse, he becomes enraged when he learns that Flaherty has called him a coward in the newspaper. He foolishly telephones the cop to announce he is coming for him. The call is traced, and he is gunned down behind a billboard by Flaherty. Ironically, the billboard shows an advertisement featuring dancers Joe and Olga.


The first thing I thought when I saw the title Little Caesar was pizza. I kid you not! Fret not, though, there is nary a pizza in sight, or any food for that matter, except at the banquet. There is a diminutive ruler, well maybe not ruler, but he does rise up to be the boss.

What is this about?

Noted for Edward G. Robinson’s breakthrough performance, this gangster classic centers on Rico “Little Caesar” Bandelli (Robinson), who stages an all-out coup to become mob boss. After moving to the city, Rico and pal Joe (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) join Sam Vettori’s (Stanley Fields) gang. Rico rises quickly through the ranks, and his hit list expands — but just when Rico needs his friend the most, Joe wants out.

What did I like?

Gangster. I want you to think of every gangster you’ve seen, be they in movies, TV, or cartoons. Chances are they were influenced or based on Edward G. Robinson’s Rico. For instance, the Looney Tunes gangster, Rocky, is nothing short…pardon the pun…of being a caricature of the guy. In Dick Tracy, Lips Manlis seems to be based on his appearance, as well (though his comic strip counterpart was based on John Dillinger). In the cartoon C.O.P.S., Big Boss Man talks just like this guy, only a bit more exaggerated. Robinson fought hard to get this role expanded, as it was originally nothing more than a background part, and boy did it payoff, as his legacy still lives on today.

Before the code. Some of you may not know this, but in the earlier days of film, there was a code that said that films couldn’t be too violent, bad guys had to be inherently bad and not sympathetic characters, women could not be objectified, etc. In other words, everything had to be very much black and white (aside from the fact that this was before the advent of Technicolor). This film takes full advantage of not being hindered by that code. There are shootouts, deaths, Rico isn’t quite the despicable villain the code would’ve had him turn out to be, and I believe there would have been some burlesque dancing in here if they would have been given a chance.

Cops and robbers. One of the things that I find missing from today’s films is a good, old-fashioned chase between the cops and robbers. I can’t honestly think of the last time I saw one of these. Going back to a film from the early 30s, I knew I’d get one. I do wish there would have been a high-speed car chase, but a rundown on foot works just as well.

What didn’t I like?

Gay. There is a controversy surrounding Rico and whether he is or isn’t homosexual. I just learned about as I was reading some info. In the book this is based on that isn’t the case, so apparently this director decided to make some slight alterations to the source material in order to make him this way, though I think people are making it seem as if he is homosexual, because I honestly didn’t pick up on it until after I read about that being a possibility. Apparently, if a guy isn’t interested in women, that automatically makes him gay.

Useless dame. The one female in this entire film is useless, I tell ya, useless. all she does is take away Rico’s best friend so that he can dance in a show with her, rather than run the streets as a gangster. The next time we see her is when Joe comes back after his meeting with Rico where he rejects his offer and is now on the mob’s hit list. What does she do? Calls the cops first chance she gets, which leads to nothing but trouble and death. Useless, I tell ya!

EGR. As great as Edward G. Robinson is here in this breakout role for him, I have to be a little down on the guy because this is a role that he was typecast in for the majority of his career. Such a shame, really, as he kills it. Many wonder what else he could have done, had he not spent the majority of his career as a gangster.

Little Caesar is quite the historic picture. Responsible for single-handedly giving Edward G. Robinson a career and legacy, defying the coming film code, and being quite the interesting, fast paced gangster film, this is the kind of classic film that I love to see. Do I recommend it to others, though? Well, I’m not so sure. I say this because many people just aren’t into classic cinema, as they have been poisoned by the slop that pollutes our movie theaters today. If a film doesn’t explain every little detail, have huge explosions and special effects, etc., then it is highly unlikely that people today will go fo it. With that being said, if you are not one of those sheep, then I highly recommend this to you as a must-see before you die!

4 out of 5 stars