Edward G. Robinson - Rico Bandello
Douglas Fairbanks Jr. - Joe Massara
Glenda Farrell - Olga Strassoff
William Collier Jr. - Tony Passa
Sidney Blackmer - Big Boy
Ralph Ince - Diamond Pete Montana
Mervyn LeRoy - Director
Hal B. Wallis - Producer
Francis Faragoh - Screenwriter
Tony Gaudio - Cinematographer
W.R. Burnett - Original Novel
Erno Rapee - Film Score
Based on W.R. Burnett's novel and directed by Mervyn LeRoy, this is generally acknowledged as having spawned the modern gangster movie. Moreover, Little Caesar also lays out a blueprint for the genre, encapsulated in the last, incredulous words of Edward G. Robinson's Little Caesar / Enrico Bandello, "Mother of God, is this the end of Rico?" Here is the ethnic--usually Catholic--background, the driving ambition to be somebody, the ruthless resort to treachery and violence as stepping-stones to wealth and power, and the sexual inadequacy and or family ties that lead indirectly but inevitably to destruction.
No more than functionally directed by LeRoy, the film owes almost everything to Robinson's performance as a strutting bantam with a superman complex and paranoia to match. His is first seen as a petty hoodlum robbing a gas station, then making his way to Chicago to forge a reputation as a trigger-happy torpedo dreaming about the diamond rings sported by an acknowledged big shot (Ralph Ince).
Rico is brilliantly and unsentimentally portrayed as a born small-timer who builds himself a facade (persnickety about his dress, refusing to smoke or drink), but inside remains a formless quagmire of impulses (his murder of the DA), treacherous opportunism (his takeover from Field's gang boss) and stupidity (although he reiterates the need for organization, it is never with a strategy in mind, always a bid to secure his latest precarous position).
Entirely characteristically, he is finally lured out of hiding to meet his death by a police sergeant (Thomas Jackson) provoking him with childish taunts of "Chicken!" As an archetypal gangster--in some way sexually wounded or incomplete--Rico has no time for women and seems capable of an emotional commitment only to his hometown friend and partner, Joe.
It is a pity that the tragic inevitability of his downfall just as he is reaching for the top--an inevitability of both character and background--is undercut by the miscasting of Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. as Rico's childhood friend whose breakaway to pursue a career as a dancer (and to marry his partner, Glenda Farrell) is seen as the ultimate betrayal by Robinson. Bandly played by Fairbanks and obviously reared in an entirely different world, the character makes nonsense of Rico's disastrous weakness, when, clearly motivated by an inextricable mixture of homosexual attraction and childhood nostalgia, he cannot bring himself to shoot his old friend.
In some prints, to forestall criticism by the church, Rico's "Mother of God" line was altered to "Mother of mercy . . ."
--PHIL HARDY, from The Gangster
Film Encyclopedia, 2001.
A selection of Little Caesar related films.
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A selection of Little Caesar related books.
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