While I was doing some background research on Little Caesar, I came across an interesting bit in a book called The Great Depression in America: A Cultural Encyclopedia. The entry for Little Caesar discusses how the now cliched lingo for gangsters (mugs, flatfoots, moll, the goods, etc.), was taken not from real street talk, but from the imaginations of Hollywood writers. It’s a good example of the enduring influence of Hollywood and classic films. Anybody have some other examples?
Above is Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson) and his boys in Key Largo (1948).
Starring: Edward G. Robinson, Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
Co-Starring: Glenda Farrell, William Collier Jr., Sidney Blackmer
Directed by: Mervyn LeRoy
Other notable contributors: Darryl F. Zanuck and Hal B. Wallis – producers.
Favorite scene: Rico meeting Big Boy in his fancy apartment. Rico is out of his element amidst such luxury and his mannerisms are amusing in an otherwise serious film.
Favorite line: “You can dish it out, but you got so you can’t take it no more.” – Rico
Raves: Edward G. Robinson is fantastic as Caesar Enrico Bandello, a gang member who through smarts and force, eventually becomes one of the most powerful gang bosses in Chicago. Rico is a multi-dimensional character, who maybe isn’t the biggest guy on the block, but is sure the toughest gangster in the neighborhood. Robinson is convincing not only as the tough guy, but also when depicting Rico’s concern for friend Joe, played by Douglas Fairbanks Jr. shows through.
Rants: Some of the supporting acting is either over the top or not convincing. It can be a bit disappointing when Robinson is so great in his role.
My take: The film is fairly short, only about 80 minutes, and the pace never lags nor does the plot get boring. Even though the plot isn’t exactly fresh to modern day audiences, Little Caesar was one of the earliest films to show the life of a big city gangster. In this respect, it’s interesting to watch later gangster films, including modern ones, and see just how much influence Little Caesar had on the film genre.
Recommended if: Your in the mood for a good gangster film without a lot of violence but with a great main character.
Modern-Day Counterpart: Scarface (1983). This film is much more violent, but both films have similar story arcs depicting the rise and fall of a gangster.