By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Two Beers) -
Johnny Rico (Edward G. Robinson), and Joe Massara (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) are small time crooks looking for a path to bigger things. Rico joins up with a Chicago gang, and his ruthlessness and crazy daring rapidly puts him on the fast-track to the big-time; Joe on the other hand just wants to be a dancer, but Rico drags him into his schemes. Rico sees Joe’s girlfriend as the obstacle to their friendship and criminal enterprise, and pressures him to get rid of her. As Rico’s behavior becomes more violent, Joe is faced with choosing his girlfriend, or his best friend.
Credited as the film that made the pug-faced Edward G. Robinson a star of gritty early cinema, it was also notable for being one of the earliest American films to utilize elements of what would later become known as Film Noir. Unusual camera angles, creepy shadows, and heavily stylized dialogue abound. Together with The Public Enemy (1931), and Scarface (1932) Mervyn LeRoy’s early talkie masterpiece also laid the foundation for generations of gangster films to come. Little Caesar is probably the strangest though.
While all three films are essentially versions of the basic “rise to/fall from power” storyline, in more recent years Caesar has become known for its poorly-hidden homosexual innuendo. In the 1930s, there is a good chance it went over the heads of most audiences, but Rico despises women, and works so hard to separate his friend Joe (a dancer, remember?) from his girlfriend, that one gets a sense that this was no accident. In fact, according to this source, novelist W.R. Burnett took issue with Rico’s character in the film, as he’d written Rico with a decided case of the not-gays.
They can’t all be Man’s-Men like James Cagney, right?
The subtext contained within ultimately ends up adding to the film’s impact, leaving it feeling just a bit edgier and daring than most other films of its time.
Also, the movie is notable for one of the most notable death scenes of its time, a quote that I hereafter vow to use in a series of completely ironic hipster style references that are sure to elicit strange looks in my direction…
Just to be clear: This is awesome
There are some issues which make Little Caesar lose some of its impact. The relatively sparse production values are forgivable to some extent, given that in 1931 filmmakers were still feeling out how “sound” movies should be made. Compared to even many of it’s contemporaries though, Caesar seems a bit ragged. Many of the performers with secondary roles seem lost by the dialogue, and perhaps they were, as actors were going through similar tension during the “Talkie” transition.
A bit rough around the edges, but history owes much to this classic. Give it a look.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for Gangster lingo, like “Big-shot”, “Tough Guy”, and ending a sentence with “See”
Take a Drink: for thinly veiled gayness
Drink a Shot: for gratuitous Cigar Smoking