Little Caesar (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Mervyn LeRoy|
|Produced by||Hal B. Wallis|
Darryl F. Zanuck
|Written by||Francis Edward Faragoh|
Darryl F. Zanuck
|Based on||Little Caesar|
by W. R. Burnett
|Starring||Edward G. Robinson|
Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
|Music by||Ernö Rapée|
|Edited by||Ray Curtiss|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. Pictures|
Little Caesar is a 1931 American pre-Code crime film distributed by Warner Brothers, directed by Mervyn LeRoy, and starring Edward G. Robinson, Glenda Farrell, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. The film tells the story of a hoodlum who ascends the ranks of organized crime until he reaches its upper echelons. The storyline was adapted from the novel of the same name by William R. Burnett. Little Caesar was Robinson's breakthrough role and immediately made him a major film star. The film is often listed as one of the first full-fledged gangster films and continues to be well received by critics.
The Library of Congress maintains a print.
Small-time criminals Caesar Enrico "Rico" Bandello (Edward G. Robinson) and his friend Joe Massara (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) move to Chicago to seek their fortunes. Rico joins the gang of Sam Vettori (Stanley Fields), while Joe wants to be a dancer. Olga (Glenda Farrell) becomes his dance partner and girlfriend.
Joe tries to drift away from the gang and its activities, but Rico makes him participate in the robbery of the nightclub where he works. Despite orders from underworld overlord "Big Boy" (Sidney Blackmer) to all his men to avoid bloodshed, Rico guns down crusading crime commissioner Alvin McClure during the robbery, with Joe as an aghast witness.
Rico accuses Sam of becoming soft and seizes control of his organization. Rival boss "Little Arnie" Lorch (Maurice Black) tries to have Rico killed, but Rico is only grazed. He and his gunmen pay Little Arnie a visit, after which Arnie hastily departs for Detroit. The Big Boy eventually gives Rico control of all of Chicago's Northside.
Rico becomes concerned that Joe knows too much about him. He warns Joe that he must forget about Olga and join him in a life of crime. Rico threatens to kill both Joe and Olga unless he accedes, but Joe refuses to give in. Olga calls Police Sergeant Flaherty and tells him Joe is ready to talk, just before Rico and his henchman Otero (George E. Stone) come calling. Rico finds, to his surprise, that he is unable to take his friend's life. When Otero tries to do the job himself, Rico wrestles the gun away from him, though not before Joe is wounded. Hearing the shot, Flaherty and another cop give chase and kill Otero. With information provided by Olga, Flaherty proceeds to crush Rico's organization.
Desperate and alone, Rico "retreats to the gutter from which he sprang." While hiding in a flophouse, he becomes enraged when he learns that Flaherty has called him a coward in the newspaper. He foolishly telephones the cop to announce he is coming for him. The call is traced, and he is gunned down by Flaherty behind a billboard - an advertisement featuring dancers Joe and Olga - and, dying, utters his final words, "Mother of mercy, is this the end of Rico?"
- Edward G. Robinson as Caesar Enrico "Rico" Bandello / "Little Caesar"
- Douglas Fairbanks Jr. as Joe Massara
- Glenda Farrell as Olga Stassoff
- William Collier Jr. as Tony Passa
- Sidney Blackmer as Big Boy
- Ralph Ince as Pete Montana
- Thomas E. Jackson as Sergeant Flaherty
- Stanley Fields as Sam Vettori
- Maurice Black as Little Arnie Lorch
- George E. Stone as Otero
Award and honors
- 4th Academy Awards: Adapted Screenplay ‒ Nominated
- National Film Registry: Selected by the Library of Congress in 2000
- American Film Institute:
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies: Nominated in both 1998 and 2007
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills: Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains: Rico listed as the #38 best villain
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes: Rico's final words, "Mother of mercy, is this the end of Rico?", listed as the #73 best quote
- AFI's 10 Top 10: Listed #9 in the gangster film genre
The film made Robinson a star and was the beginning of a long line of his gangster portrayals that stretched up to 1968's Never a Dull Moment. Robinson occasionally parodied his Little Caesar gangster persona, as in the 1933 film The Little Giant.
The box office triumph of Little Caesar also spawned the production of several successful gangster films, many of which were also made by Warner Brothers.
- "Mother of mercy, is this the end of Rico?"– Rico's final words.
This is an example of Hollywood self-censorship during the pre-Code era: in the novel the line reads "Mother of God, is this the end of Rico?", and a take was filmed with Robinson saying it verbatim. However, the studio worried that some state and local censors would insist that this profane invocation of the Virgin Mary and God's name must be cut—a major operation when Vitaphone sound-on-disc editing was involved—and would ban the film in their jurisdictions if they were refused, so an alternate take with the toned-down version was used instead. In the reshot scene, Rico's line was: "Mother of Mercy, is this the end of Rico?"
Possible LGBT subtext
One interpretation of the film's title character is that he is a repressed or closeted gay man. The evidence cited includes Otero's fawning admiration of Rico, Rico's great affinity for Joe, and Rico's complete lack of interest in romantic relationships with women, as well as his utter contempt for Joe's interest in women. When the film was released, author Burnett apparently drew the same conclusion about the screen version of the character. Having written Rico as explicitly heterosexual in his novel, Burnett wrote a letter of complaint to the film's producers about the conversion of the character to gay in the screen adaptation.
According to Warner Bros records the film earned $647,000 domestically and $105,000 foreign.
- Warner Bros financial information in The William Shaefer Ledger. See Appendix 1, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, (1995) 15:sup1, 1-31 p 11 DOI: 10.1080/01439689508604551
- Catalog of Holdings The American Film Institute Collection and The United Artists Collection at The Library of Congress, (<-book title) p.104 c.1978 by The American Film Institute
- "AFI's 10 Top 10". American Film Institute. 2008-06-17. Retrieved 2017-06-11.
- Encyclopædia Britannica: Entry for "Little Caesar"
- Doherty, Thomas Patrick. Pre-code Hollywood: Sex, Immorality, and Insurrection in American Cinema 1930-1934. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-231-11094-4
- LaSalle, Mick. Dangerous Men: Pre-code Hollywood and the Birth of the Modern Man. New York, New York: St. Martin's Press, 2002. ISBN 0-312-28311-3
- Peary, Gerald. "Little Caesar Takes over the Screen" (introduction to Little Caesar of the Wisconsin/Warner Brothers Screenplays series). Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1981. ISBN 0-299-08450-7
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