Monday, February 18, 2013

Little Caesar (1931)

Little Caesar (1931)  is one of the original gangster films and influenced the movies in that genre that were to come. It was directed by Mervyn LeRoy and based on a novel by W. R. Burnett.  Edward G. Robinson stars as Little Caesar aka Rico, a small time gangster looking to make it big. He and his good friend Joe (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) head east to Chicago. But Joe is a reluctant gangster who has dreams of becoming a dancer.  Joe falls in love with another dancer, Olga (Glenda Farrell), but finds it difficult to severe ties with his gangster friend Rico who is now establishing himself as the king of the underworld. The cops are hot on the tails of Rico and his gangster buddies and poor Joe gets caught in the middle.

This is my favorite shot from the film. Lots of well-dressed gangsters all in a row.

Looks just like my apartment (in my dreams!).

This film is filled with Art Deco splendor and well-dressed gangsters who rule the city's seedy underworld. The gangsters wear the best suits with all the accessories: tie-pins, scarves, pinkie rings, tie-chains, lapel buttons and pocket watches. Along with the cloche hats and the evening gowns the ladies wear, any vintage fashion enthusiast will swoon when they see these wardrobes.

Little Caesar is a product of the early talkie era. It came from Warner Bros. studio during a time of experimentation. When you watch the film, you are most likely to notice a lot of breaks in sound where there is nothing but silence or the sounds of movement. There is no score. And the film also has a vestige of the silent film era: title cards.

Edward G. Robinson didn't have a contract when he made Little Caesar and the film was such a big hit that it helped him secure a lucrative 2-year deal. Little Caesar also heralded a new genre of film, the gangster movie, that would prove to be popular for many years to come. Ocean's 11 (1960) makes a hat tip to Little Caesar as both involve a heist that takes place during the commotion of a New Year's Eve celebration.

Spoiler Alert!

Let's face it, Little Caesar makes gangster life look glamorous. And I can see how that would make some conservative types a bit nervous. This is definitely a pre-code movie because even though the bad guy doesn't win, you can't help but admire him a little bit.

Spoiler Over

I very much enjoyed Little Caesar. I haven't found very many films with Edward G. Robinson that I did not enjoy. He always does a great job in his roles. I was happy to see Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in this because I'd like to watch more of him. Gangsters, elegant menswear, Art Deco, New Year's, 1930s are all elements that I thoroughly enjoy!

Thanks to Laura of Laura's Miscellaneous Musings who encouraged others to watch this film and review it during the month of February! It was a fun excuse for me to finally watch Little Caesar.


  1. "saaaaaaaay that kinda stuff dont go here, seeeeeeee???? haha everytime i watch this i end up talking liker those guys for a week at least! it is definitely creaky at times but man its an awful lot of fun and Eddie G is so dynamic, flaws be damned! did you notice the ad on the billboard during the final shootout? ah the irony!! Mervyn LeRoy's resume' at WB is pretty tough to beat!.. if you wanna see another great film directed by him starring Eddie G watch 'Five Star Final', an absolutely merciless look at trash journalism! seen it already maybe?

    1. Hey Paul - OMG thank you so much. I was trying to remember the title Five Star Final and I couldn't remember it. I want to watch that. And you are so right, Eddie G. as you call him was very dynamic. I love that he wasn't necessarily the most handsome guy but you are still drawn to him. AWESOME!

    2. its a must see! also highly recommended for must see early Eddie G is "Smart Money" the only film he made with Cagney, "Hatchet Man" a Wellman picture where he plays a China man (yes its ludicrous for Eddie G to play an Asian but the film is SO off beat and fascinating!) and "Tiger Shark" directed by Hawks, where he plays a Portuguese fisherman. a very loose and flamboyant performance, it almost seems like hes ad-libbing the whole thing! and if you've already seen these i'd love to know what you thought about them :)

  2. Raquel,

    FINALLY I received an email alert that you published a post! Great stuff!


  3. Hi, I would like to provide free subscriptions to our classic film site at

    Please register and the first 5 will get a free subscription. Thanks...

  4. Hi Raquel! Was visiting your site tonight and when checking out comments to this post I realized that the comment I'd left never went through! I probably clicked something wrong, argh! So sorry about that. Anyway, I wrote a little about your post at my site, but I wanted you to know how much I enjoyed your post and that I'm glad you could watch me in joining LITTLE CAESAR last month! You focused on a number of interesting aspects including title cards used in early talkies and the New Year's Eve heist being something that turns up decades later. Fun!

    I also reread your post on MADAM SATAN tonight, which I'm considering getting in the latest Warner Archive sale. Love Reginald Denny and it looks fun!

    Best wishes,

  5. Great review!

    We're linking to your article for Early Film Noir(s) Tuesday at

    Keep up the good work!


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