Thursday, September 30, 2010

Capsule Review: Little Caesar (1931)

littc2One of the first (and best) of the gritty gangster movies that set the pattern for the hundreds that would follow, Little Caesar follows the rise (and – of course – fall) of Edward G. Robinson’s Rico, a man obsessed with power and willing to do almost anything to get it. At this point much of the action – and Robinson himself – have been parodied and imitated so often that it can be a little hard to take some of the dialogue seriously, but it’s impossible to not be enraptured by Rico’s meteoric rise. It says a lot about the cynical atmosphere at the time the film was made – prohibition and the depression – that it’s actually Rico’s loyalty to an old friend that ends up being his undoing. Robinson is terrific in a firecracker performance, though Douglas Fairbanks Jr. has little to do as the dance-loving Joe. This is the deepest that filmgoers had gone into the criminal lifestyle at the time, and they obviously liked what they saw, laying the groundwork for future classics from The Public Enemy to The Godfather.

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