Wednesday, July 10, 2013
(January 1931, U.S.)
Before I entered my college years and began discovering the great classic black and white films of cinema's history, I'd really only had two glimpses of actor Edward G. Robinson. The first was as Dathan in Cecil B. DeMille spectacular 1956 version of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS because I would watch it every year on ABC-TV's annual broadcast. The second was...well, take a look at this picture...
Get the idea? This is what happens when you spend the bulk of your childhood (and adulthood, admittedly) watching Looney Tunes! So like I said, as I discovered classic films, I came to realize that those great Warner Brothers cartoon images of Robinson were a consistent homage to his character in the gangster film LITTLE CAESAR. Now by today's moviegoing standards of excessive violence on screen, this little film would be practically unwatchable for those who crave that sort of crazy excitement. However, keeping a very open mind that this was the year 1931 and both the Great Depression and Prohibition were in high gear, the violence the film depicts, as well as the studio's message to stand against the very violence it depicts, becomes very clear in its relevance. You see, people? You have to open up your mind, your imagination and your appreciation to fully understand and enjoy films of eras long since past.
Robinson's character of Caesar Enrico "Rico" Bandello is a very obvious tribute to the legendary gangster Al Capone and is the film that would inevitably inspire many gangster films of the 20th Century, including Brian DePalma's SCARFACE (1983) and THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987). Rico starts off as a mere small-time criminal but moves to Chicago to seek greater fortune and glory in the criminal underworld. Interestingly, despite the fact that this film takes place during the era of Prohibition, there is surprisingly no mention or reference made to the transaction of illegal liquor, but rather traditional gang robberies instead. Rico slowly rises in the ranks of his gang and eventually takes over as leader with hardly a conflict or standoff with the gang's previous boss. Rico is a dangerous man who's never afraid to let his gun (or his "rod) do the talking. He takes what he wants and expects all those under him to follow his commands without question, including the man who is supposedly his best friend, Joe Massara (played by Douglas Fairbanks Jr.). Yet despite all of this viciousness, there's a moment one cannot ignore when Rico's human conscience gets the better of him and he backs away from actually shooting his best friend. For just one brief moment, loyalty and friendship take over and expose his weak side. When the law does finally catch up with Rico, he's forced to flee and lay low for months. The man's rise is immediately flanked by his fall when we find him later living in a flophouse and becomes enraged when he learns that he's been dubbed a coward in the newspapers. Foolishly, he telephones the cop who's been hunting him down to announce that he's coming for him. The call is traced (didn't know cops could do that in 1931), and he's ultimately gunned down in the name of American justice. During the era of Prohibition-related crime and violence, it was likely very important that movie studios show the bad guy getting his just dues in the end. Hey, whatever worked!
So let me just say a heartfelt thank you to Bugs Bunny because if he hadn't matched wits with Warner Brothers animated version of Edward G. Robinson, I might never have had any interest in watching LITTLE CAESAR. Funny how things come about!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Caesar Enrico Bandello (to Joe Massara): "You didn't quit! Nobody ever quit me! You're still in my gang! You got that? I don't care how many fancy skirts you have hanging on to you! That jane's made a softy out of you!"