Little Caesar (1931) Director: Marvin LeRoy
Directed by Marvin LeRoy for Warner Bros., Little Caesar (1931) is the first great crime film in cinematic history. The film launched a series of mob-crime films in the 1930s, all mimicking its sleazy, low-budget sets that reflected the criminal underworld of the 1920s and 1930s. The film’s title character and story-line all mirror the life and times of Al Capone. Little Caesar stars Edward G. Robinson as Little Caesar and Douglas Fairbanks as Joe Massara.
The film opens with a partial quote from the book of Matthew:
“…for all they take the sword shall perish with the sword”
The big city mob world has been dominated by Diamond Pete Montana. Caesar Enrico Bandello, or “Rico”, complains that he wants the chance to ‘be somebody’, like a fugitive or an outlaw who commands respect and authority. He and his friend Joe join the Sam Vettori gang, and their first job is to rob the night club where Joe works. Despite strict orders, Rico guns down commissioner Alvin McClure during the heist.
Upon returning, Rico seizes control of Sam’s gang and after nearly getting shot by ‘the Big Bosses’ henchmen, he edges out other rival mob bosses and gains control of the city’s entire north side.
Rico goes to Joe after Joe threatens to defect, and Rico tries to kill him but finds he doesn’t have the strength to kill his good friend. Joe goes to the cops who give chase to Rico and destroy his powerful organization. Rico escapes and hides in a shelter before he overhears how the papers label him a coward. He foolishly calls the police to threaten them, but his call is traced. He flees to a spot below a billboard of Joe and Olga dancing where he is shot by the police. Dying, he utters, “Mother of mercy, is this the end of Rico?”
Little Caesar vaulted Edward Robinson into Hollywood stardom, and brought crime films into the mainstream. It is a classic that should be in every film lover’s repertoire, particularly for its noir themes in further connecting German Expressionism with Hollywood extravagance.