18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on January 26, 2003
It is too easy to view LITTLE CAESAR and to laugh at the often caricatured voice of Edward G. Robinson as the small time hood who clawed a rapid rise to the top of Chicago's underworld only to tumble equally fast. What the modern viewer may fail to grasp is that when LITTLE CAESAR was released in 1930 Robinson was no star and the gangster movie did not exist as a genre. With his menacing voice and tough guy attitude, Robinson changed all that. It is because of him that later cinema gangsters like Pacino and Brando could strut their stuff.
At the beginning of the film, Robinson is Rico Bandello, the 'Little Caesar.' He drifts into Chicago and invites himself as a member of the ruling gang. Even then, with nothing but his gravitas and physical presence, he could take words that were meant to be conciliating and twist them into a snarl laden with menace. What I found interesting was that whenever Robinson went face to face with an adversary, Robinson forced him to look down at his own diminutive height as if to say, 'Your size means nothing, fool.' It becomes soon clear that the mob boss will surrender his place through default. Rico Bandello manages to cram into little more than an hour a case study in the ephemerality of the solitary gangster who relies more on his brutal personality than on some hired brains to run his criminal enterprise.
On a technical note, the sound track was at times incomprehensible, an excusable flaw since sound engineering had just begun the year before. Further, the dialogue sounds incredibly cliched, but again, to the audience of 1930, Rico's words were jarringly original. When a gasping, dying, Little Caesar spits out as a last snarl of defiance, 'Is this the end of Rico?', Edward G. could not have known that his ending of this gangster film was but the prologue of a series of crime movies that are as popular today as when Rico Bandello lay on a filthy street, shocking America with his surprisingly emotional epitaph.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on November 10, 2001
I had never seen a golden age gangster picture before so I decided to make a start with this one. I mainly rented it to see Douglas Fairbanks jr. (being a fan of Fairbanks Sr.'s silent films) I thoroughly enjoyed it.
A word of warning, this was made in 1930 and the sound cinema was still in it's infancy. Some of the acting is still between the mnore obvious emoting of silent cinema and the more subtle sound acting to come. Also, this was the start of a genre and so it is probably not as sleek as its successors.
That out of the way, this is the tale of the rise and fall of Rico (Edward G. Robinson) known as Little Caesar. A small time gunman who claws his way to the top of the mob and then tumbles from his throne. His downfall is caused, inadvertantly at first, by Joe (Fairbaks), his best friend from his small time hood days who became a nightclub preformer and wants to leave the mob behind.
Robinson chews up scenery as Rico and it is a joy to watch, in spite of sharing top billing, Fairbanks isn't in it all that much in the middle. Honorable mention goes to the actor who portrayed the head detective so well, he seemed to take almost satanic glee in catching crooks in their own egos.
Another sidepoint, Rico is not likable because he was never meant to be. Sure, his determination is interesting but underneath it all he is just a petty operator. This movie really has no hero (Joe is a bit weak and the detective is off his rocker in my opinion) and to have this in mind before watching will keep things enjoyable.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on May 6, 2005
There are some movies that defy criticism. LITTLE CAESAR is a creaky old early talkie that suffers from static camera movements and competently undistinguished direction by Mervyn LeRoy. LITTLE CAESAR is one of the most important movies in Hollywood history, boasting a memorable to immortal performance by Edgar G. Robinson as the title character, Cesare Enrico `Rico' Bandello, and one of the greatest endings in cinema (Mother of mercy, is this the end of Rico!?) Whaddya know, whaddya say about a movie like LITTLE CAESAR?
I suppose you start by saying it's a great movie, but it sure feels old. Action takes place around concealed microphones, musical underscoring is virtually nonexistent, and some of the melodramatic elements - like the scene with the doting Italian mother - seem to belong to the age of Victoria, paper collars, and gas footlights. On the other hand, Robinson's performance as the brutal and ambitious gangster is timeless and close to perfect. There's a glowering, guttural, feral quality to it that pulls the movie up with him. His best scene comes towards the end of the film. The fallen and unrecognized Rico, unslept eyes dark and watery, hip flash of hooch nearly drained, listens as a couple of other flophouse denizens read aloud a newspaper article about the great, missing Little Caesar. Robinson grunts and mewls as the newspaper is read aloud, responding to what he hears. With nothing but facial expressions, body language and grunts Robinson pulls back the skin covering Rico's psyche and presents it for public inspection. It's a marvelous bit of business tucked into one of the greatest movie acting jobs ever.
The transfer print isn't pristine, but acceptable - usually pretty good. As is their custom with their Gangster releases, Warner Brothers packs the dvd with a bunch of extras.
- The 17 min. `End of Rico, Beginning of the Antihero' special offers a brief history of the gangster movie from the silent era to the present, discusses how Robinson got the breakthrough part, and the history of the cigar as a prop in gangster movies.
- Trailer for 1931's `Five Star Final,' a Edgar G. Robinson vehicle about sex, scandal, and tabloid newspapers.
- The 6 min., one-reel short, `The Hard Guy', stars a very young Spencer Tracy as an out-of-work faddah wit' a sick kid in a depressed area of New York City. Best line - "Guy, you're getting hard-boiled again."
- Cartoon `Lady, Play Your Mandolin.' Musical black-and-white Merrie Melodies offering. A happy-dance musical with spaghetti limbed gorillas and horses. Stars Warner Brothers' Mickey-Mouse-on-rat-pills star, Foxy.
- The usual informative, worth-your-time entertaining commentary, this time supplied by film historian Richard Jewell.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on November 11, 2002
The rise and fall of a vicious gangster. This is the landmark film that launched the gangster movie cycle, a powerful movie that chronicled for the first time in talkies the sleazy and slick underworld, epitomised by a snarling and ambitious creature with no redeeming virtues, Robinson, in the role which was forever identified with him. Eddie is a dedicated killer and thief as seen from the very beginning of the film: viewing him over 6O years later, the viewer can't help but to wonder at his incredibly perceptive performance. Rico has a pseudo homosexual relationship with Joe Massara (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) and the scene where Rico pays an old harridan (Lucille LaVerne) practically his entire fortune to hide him out in a secret back room of her store is memorable: boy, does she take advantage of the situation! The ending line was originally "Mother of God, is this the end of Rico?" In order to soften the tone for American Bible belt audiences, the line was changed to "Mother of mercy". The film was a huge smash in it's day and films such as THE PUBLIC ENEMY, SMART MONEY, THE FINGER POINTS & SCARFACE were soon to follow.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Hollywood got the message when 37 year old Edward G. Robinson bellowed into the phone, "This is Rico speaking. Rico! R-I-C-O! Rico! Little Caesar, that's who!" in the iconic LITTLE CAESAR (1930). The dark moral tale recounts the rise and fall of pugnacious Caesar Enrico Bandello (Robinson), a hoodlum with a Chicago-sized chip on his shoulder, few attachments, fewer friends and no sense of mobster etiquette.
Extras: a 1930 newsreel, the Spencer Tracy short "The Hard Guy," "Lady Play Your Mandolin" cartoon and the new featurette "Little Caesar: End of Rico, Beginning of the Antihero." The interesting commentary's by cinema historian Richard Jewell.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on July 26, 2006
I really enjoy them old timey gangster films, and while Little Caesar (1931) isn't one of my absolute favorites (I've always been partial to the James Cagney features), it's still a damn good picture and worthy of the attention it has gotten over the years. Based on a novel by W.R. Burnett and directed by Mervyn LeRoy (I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, Little Women, No Time for Sergeants), the film stars Edward G. Robinson, `the best actor never to win an Oscar', at least while alive (Bullets or Ballots, Scarlet Street, Key Largo) in one of his earliest `talkie' features. Also appearing is Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (The Prisoner of Zenda, Gunga Din), Stanley Fields (Destry Rides Again, Island of Lost Souls), Thomas E. Jackson (The Woman in the Window), Glenda Farrell (Gold Diggers of 1937), George E. Stone (Some Like It Hot), Maurice Black (The Front Page), Ralph Ince (The Sea Wolf), and Sidney Blackmer (Rosemary's Baby).
As the film begins we see a couple of small time mugs knocking over a filling station, eventually winding up at a diner where we meet them proper...there's Caesar Enrico Bandello (Robinson), also known as Rico, and Joe Massara (Fairbanks Jr.). Tired of small timing it, Rico decides they should head east to Chicago, as that's where the action is, ultimately joining up with a gang lead by a local hood named Sam Vettori (Fields). While Rico's got his eyes on the prize (moving onward and upward), Joe seeks to extricate himself from the life by taking a gig as a dancer at a club named The Bronze Peacock. Vettori gets word from his boss Diamond Pete Montana (Ince) to cool it on the rough stuff as the new crime commissioner is cracking down hard. Vettori and his boys, being criminals and such, can't sit still for long and end up knocking over The Bronze Peacock (using a reluctant Joe as the inside man), which leads to power struggle and Rico taking charge. After tying up some loose ends, Rico's notoriety grows, drawing the attention of not only his peers, but also law enforcement officials (one in particular name Flaherty, played by Jackson). A failed attempt on Rico's life leads to him horning in on even more territory, so much so he's given rule over the entire North Side by Big Boy (Blackmer) himself (seriously, there's a character named `Big Boy' in this film), but is that enough? Nah...why settle for the frosting when you can take the cake? Eventually Rico's meteoric rise to power reaches its apex, leading to his inevitable downfall, triggered by a past event and an old loyalty.
If you're not familiar with old timey gangster films then some of the lingo used within this film may sound strange upon hearing it, so I'm going to provide some definitions, as best I can, to help you along...
Gat - A term used extensively throughout this film, it refers to a gun, most generally the hand held variety.
Rod - Another term used within the film, it, too, refers to a handgun.
(just a note, some other terms used within the genre, but not here, are heater, popper, cannon, piece, persuader, peashooter, thirty-eight - this refers to the caliber of the gun, ordinance, artillery, and so on)
Chopper - A machine gun, sometimes referred to as a `tommy' gun, derived from its full name of Thompson submachine gun.
Bird - I've always thought this a term for a woman, but gangsters will use it in reference to each other, most common when a boss is talking to a group of henchmen...here's an example, "You birds need to lie low for awhile, until the heat dies down."
Heat - When gangster talk about heat, most likely they're referring to increased pressure in general from the authorities that might be cracking down on criminal activity. Generally this term is used after a big score or a hit.
Score - A robbery.
Hit - An assassination.
Mug - A term sometimes used to reference associates, or just people in general..."You mugs really rub me the wrong way."
Moll - Girlfriend of a gangster.
Torpedo - A professional thug or assassin.
Yellow - This is what you call someone if you really want to disrespect them as it's the same as calling them a lowly, gutless, sniveling coward..."Yer as yellow as the day is long!" Gangsters really seem to take offence to this so use it with care.
I really enjoyed this film and while it's not my favorite gangster feature, it's definitely a classic. There's no mistaking Edward G. Robinson owns this picture, as the ruthless, swaggering, self-made, contemptuous, opportunistic lead character never content with his lot in life...the more he gets, the more he wants, so much so he eschews anything (alcohol, women, personal relationships) that might get in the way (ultimately one, or more, of these three contribute to his inevitable downfall). My favorite scene happens right after Rico and his cohorts hold up the nightclub. Robinson's character, who's just plugged a mug, jumps in an awaiting getaway car and tells the driver to floor it. The driver, being a real nervous Nellie, has trouble with the manual transmission, and gets a wallop upside the head so hard from Rico I felt it from my chair. The other performers do well (I particularly liked the sardonic, low-key character of Sergeant Flaherty), providing support for Robinson. One bit I thought odd was the amount of attention given to the character of Tony Passa, who ended up being a weak link in Rico's gang (guess what happens to him). There's a scene with him and his mother I thought unnecessary as she talks about what a wonderful boy he was, just before Rico catches up to him. All in all I thought the story tight, the pacing even and strong, the direction capable, all making for an entertaining and enjoyable experience.
The picture on this Warner Brothers DVD release, presented in fullscreen (1.33:1), looks decent for a film that's seventy plus years old. There is some unevenness in the quality at times, but I think it's unrealistic to expect a pristine transfer given the age of the original elements. The audio, presented in Dolby Digital stereo, comes through well. As far as extras, there's bit called Leonard Maltin's Night at the Movies, which includes an introduction by Maltin, a trailer for a film called Five Star Final (1931), a newsreel of the day, a short feature called The Hard Guy (1930), starring Spencer Tracy, a cartoon titled Lady, Play your Mandolin (1931), and a trailer for Little Caesar. Also included is a featurette titled Little Caesar: End of Rico, Beginning of the Antihero (17:05), a 1954 re-release introduction (0:42), a commentary track with film historian Richard B. Jewell, and subtitles in English, Spanish, and French. One really minor, yet thoughtful, touch I liked was on the main menu...there's a picture of Edward G. Robinson in character, brandishing a gun, with wisps of smoke coming out of the barrel. It's barely noticeable, but it's there...
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
First National Pictures presents "LITTLE CAESAR" (25 January 1931) (78 min/B&W) (Fully Restored/Dolby Digitally Remastered) -- Rico joins Sam Ventori's gang --- He replaces Sam as leader, pushes rival gang leader Arnie Lorch out of town, then goes after the job of next-higher-up Pete Montana --- He accepts when "Big Boy" offers him that prize but his sights are set higher still and also on his best friend Joe's girl Olga.
Edward G. Robinson makes it so entertaining! --- Robinson, like James Cagney, can dominate a film --- He certainly does that in this film -- Edward G. is in top form.
Under the production staff of:
Mervyn LeRoy [Director]
W.R. Burnett [Novel]
Robert N. Lee [Continuity]
Francis Edward Faragoh [Screen version & dialogue]
Hal B. Wallis [Producer]
Tony Gaudio [Cinematographer]
Ray Curtiss [Film Editor]
1. Mervyn LeRoy [Director]
Date of Birth: 15 October 1900 - San Francisco, California
Date of Death: 13 September 1987 - Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, California
2. Edward G. Robinson [aka: Emmanuel Goldenberg]
Date of Birth: 12 December 1893 - Bucharest, Romania
Date of Death: 26 January 1973 - Hollywood, California
the cast includes:
Edward G. Robinson ... Little Caesar - Alias 'Rico'
Douglas Fairbanks Jr. ... Joe Massara
Glenda Farrell ... Olga Stassoff
William Collier Jr. ... Tony Passa
Sidney Blackmer ... Big Boy
Ralph Ince ... Pete Montana
Thomas E. Jackson ... Sergeant Flaherty
Stanley Fields ... Sam Vettori
Maurice Black ... Little Arnie Lorch
George E. Stone ... Otero
Armand Kaliz ... De Voss
Nicholas Bela ... Ritz Colonna (as Nick Bela)
Mr. Jim's Ratings:
Quality of Picture & Sound: 4 Stars
Performance: 4 Stars
Story & Screenplay: 4 Stars
Overall: 4 Stars [Original Music, Cinematography & Film Editing]
Total Time: 78 min on DVD ~ First National Pictures ~ (01/25/2005)
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 8, 2007
Iconic means pertaining to images. There's not a lot of plot to this movie, but the imagery blows you away; and stays with you forever. The rise and fall of Rico is a very simple story. He gets to the top by stopping at nothing. His readiness to shoot to kill, almost for the fun of it, scares half the gangsters into submission, and inspires the devotion of the other half. That's the mechanics of his rise. The role of the mysterious Mr Big in the ultra-luxurious pad at the top of the heap is unexplained. Nothing is shown of bootlegging (Rico is teetotal --- until his fall: is there a message there?) or prostitution. There's a cheap early hold-up, followed by an extremely unsubtle cash raid on a night-joint. The protection racket means that Rico's predecessor can spend most of his time playing solitaire. He's too fat, dumb and lazy to keep his seat. Rico appears to have no interest at all in women, but he is vain; he seeks fame and publicity, and has a fatal weakness for his good-looking former gunsel, Douglas Fairbanks Junior, a "sissy" dancer under the thumb of his female partner. It's the explosive performance of Robinson that carries this picture, but also the vivid imagery of the trappings of gangsterhood: the ugly mugs, the hand-irons, the swell banqueting, the comically illiterate speechifying, and the even sweller gangster funeral procession, the sub-human dialogue, the long, low automobiles that scoot round street corners, the rat-ta-tat of the tommy guns drilling holes in china-shop windows and through hoardings. The cigar-chomping. The lean, sardonic cop. The first talkie of its style, and still one of the best.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Skip all that balderdash about Edward G. Robinson's 'Little Caesar" as being "iconic", "genre-defining", or "prototypical".
It's a great movie, made about gangsters when that problem was a fresh, topical, current one. "Ripped from the headlines" is exactly the truth here.
Robinson's performance is flat-out one of the greats of cinema. His "Rico" lives and breathes on screen like few others from the early days of sound film.
Remember, this is a sweet little Jewish gentleman from Turkey, playing a mercurial, merciless Italian mobster.
You'd never know.
His rise from gas station robber to gangland king is, yes, the standard story you all know by heart. But I could not for a moment take my eyes off Rico. The cockiness, the menace, the desperation...the rat-tat-tat delivery of the lines mimicking the tommy gun sound so new to film during that era.
Douglas Fairbanks looks elegant in his role as the partner who wants to get out of the "biz". The other bad guys have great "faces" for their roles, but to be honest, most of them display a "staginess" or artificial quality that only makes Robinson more real, more alive.
The transfer does have some spots where it looks like a film from the 30's, but to be fair, there are many more reels that look pretty freaking sweet...just gorgeous, with crisp details and smooth grays.
The short (17 minute) doc does a great job of placing the film in a proper perspective, and fully enhances your appreciation for the film. The "Warner Night At The Movies" again is outstanding, with a newsreel featuring the girlfriend of the murdered gangster "Legs" Diamond, a nice short featuring a young Spencer Tracy,and a black & white cartoon that characterizes that time period. There's also a trailer for a film where Robinson doesn't play a gangster, which is kinda neat.
Five stars? For the DVD? Oh yeah...easy.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 29, 2010
This is the FIRST gangster movie ever made and it isby far the best. I love Scarface (old and new), Roaring Twenties, G Men, Petrified Forest, Casablanca, and so on and this movie is easily the best. Made in the 30's, it has you rooting for the bad guy Little Caesar known as Rico, played by Edward G. Robinson in this pivotal movie on the century. Actors like James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, even all the way up to Al Pacino and even Johnny Depp in the newest Public Enemies movie would all fall under Edward G. Robinson's gargantuan shadow of acting talent.
Love gangster movies? Love mobs? Love fighting and bad guys and hot gals? Watch this and you will forever be changed. New actors today are great because they know how to mimic actors from the 30's!!!!!!!