Customer Review

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 1931 Film History, 12 Jun. 2005
This review is from: Little Caesar [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)
There were many excellent 1930s movies including a number made by Bette Davis, such as Dark Victory, but most of the movies of that era have faded into memory and are part of early film history, and most are neither viewed or sold. The present 1931 film is the exception. It is a short but important film in the gangster era that we still can buy or rent, and view.
There are a few problems with the filming and the directing, and the movie cannot be compred with more modern movies. There are few close ups and only three times in the movie do we see close shots of Edward G Robinson that show him "acting" - including the famous last scene; most shots are full body shots taken from a distance in an office "stage style" as we hear his snarling voice barking out orders - but sometimes looking a bit wooden. Still it is still an entertaining movie and worth a watch.
I have seen Edward G Robinson in a number of old movies including Bogart's 1948 Key Largo - where he dominated the film with his Rocco character (still alive with a slight name change?) - and also in Double Indemnity from 1944 with Fred McMurray, one of the best movies of the early 1940s, where he plays an insurance adjuster. I thought his acting was exceptional in both movies, so I had expected a bit more from the present movie. Edward G Robinson was in about 70 films, and lived to be 80, dying in 1973, but only half a dozen of his films are still remembered. This is one of them.
The present movie seems like an old movie in terms of fit and finish and the audio was poor. I guess it should be since it is a 1931 movie, one of the oldest available on the market. There was lots of small jerks and white spots flashing on the movie film. The actors tend to yell their lines or project similar to stage actors, something that is distracting and had disappeared by the end of the 1930s. Also, the film quality is not great and there are few close ups of Edward G Robinson.
The plot is good but short and the movie is just 79 minutes long, barely over an hour. Edward G Robinson dominates the movie as a ruthless gangster, and one assumes that he was similar to Al Capone, as he rises to power in what seeems like weeks. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. is an acceptable Joe Massara, Rico's pal from the old days. The other supporting actors are fairly weak, and the film could have used a stronger cast. Sargeant Flaherty played by Thomas Jackson is the only supporting actor with a heartbeat.
This 1931 film is considered to be the movie that made Edward G Robinson a star, but I thought his Key Largo performance with Bogart and Bacall in 1948 was a lot better. That movie is a slick Warner's movie directed by John Huston, but still filmed in black and white. By that time both Bogart and Robinson were seasoned actors and the film technology had improved a lot. The actual craft fit and finish of Key Largo made 20 years later is excellent by comparison, and it captures Edward G's rivetting "Rocco" performance with many close up expressions and good lines. If you want to see a strong acting performance by Edward G, see that film. Also, do not miss Double Indemnity, that is also an exceptional movie with Robinson - thought by many critics and film makers themselves as one of the best ever. I bought these two other film noir movies here on line on DVD, but Double Indemnity was only available used.
Still, for its time Little Caesar remains a classic, and one of the few to survive as a commercial product 75 years later, where you can buy the DVD "new". I just rented and did not buy since I already had bought his other two surviving films on DVD that are better.
4 stars.
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