Little Caesar (1931) Review

Little Caesar (1931) Director: Marvin LeRoy

“Mother of mercy, is this the end of Rico?”

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★★★☆☆

Directed by Marvin LeRoy for Warner Bros., Little Caesar (1931) is the first great crime film in Hollywood history, spawning legions more to come. The forthcoming mob-crime film wave in the 1930s was a direct result of the success of Little Caesar, with each film copying Little Caesar‘s sleazy, low-budget sets that reflect a shadowy 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. Little Caesar vaulted Edward G. 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 building upon the shadowy effects of German Expressionist cinematic language coupled with Old Hollywood extravagance.

The film opens with a partial quote from the Biblical 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 northside.

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Rico pays a visit to Joe after he threatened to defect from the group, and Rico tries to kill him but finds he doesn’t have the strength to kill his old friend. Joe goes to the cops who then chase Rico and destroy his powerful organization. Rico escapes and hides in a shelter before he overhears that the papers have labeled him a coward. He foolishly calls the police to threaten them, but his call is traced. He flees to a spot below a billboard featuring Joe and Olga dancing where he is shot by the police. Dying, he utters his last words, “Mother of mercy, is this the end of Rico?”

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