LITTLE CAESAR (1930) B/W 80m. dir: Mervyn LeRoy
w/ Edward G. Robinson, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Glenda Farrell, William Collier Jr., Ralph Ince, George E. Stone, Thomas Jackson, Stanley Fields, Armand Kaliz, Sidney Blackmer
From The Movie Guide: "LITTLE CAESAR now seems a bit dated and inelegant, but it is an indisputable landmark. Though not the first gangster film, it spawned the immensely popular gangster cycle of the 1930s and launched the career of one of the greatest icons of the genre --- Edward G. Robinson. This tough film still packs a considerable wallop largely due to the mesmerizing performance of Robinson as the thoroughly vicious Rico Bandello.
"Rico Bandello is a dedicated killer and thief right from the opening scene. He disappears into a gas station and, after a flash of gunfire, emerges with the money from the till. His driver, Joe Massara (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.), nervously wheels the coupe into the darkness. Later, Rico and Joe are in a diner, ordering 'spaghetti and coffee for two,' telegraphing their ethnicity to the audience. After reading in the newspaper about underworld big shots, Rico informs Joe of his ambition to become a rackets czar. He declares that he's not 'just another mug.' Rico is a man with a mission. He quickly goes about making his criminal dreams come true.
"LITTLE CAESAR was one of the first sound films to portray the American gangster outside of prison walls, coming after such early prison stories as THE LAST MILE, THE BIG HOUSE, and NUMBERED MEN. Robinson's character is as ruthless as Al Capone, the real-life gangster upon whom Chicago author W.R. Burnett based the novel from which the film is adapted. Made for a then-hefty $700,000, the film was a box-office smash and typecast Robinson in the role of the gangster. Given free rein by [production executive Darryl F.] Zanuck, director Mervyn LeRoy produced a fast-paced film that kept up with its lightning-fast star. Oddly, LITTLE CAESAR contains a minimum of explicit violence, although murderous intent is always lurking in Robinson's menacing face. The 37-year-old Robinson was not new to films; he had been acting in movies since 1923, though he was largely unnoticed. [Producer Hal B.] Wallis assigned Robinson the lead, but the sensitive actor found it difficult to adjust to the role of the killer, blinking wildly every time he had to fire a gun. LeRoy solved the problem by affixing little transparent bands of tape to Robinson's upper eyelids, so that when he did blast away, his eyes remained wide open; this trick had the added benefit of giving Robinson an even more menacing, heartless appearance."
LITTLE CAESAR was nominated for an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay (Francis Edwards Faragoh, Robert N. Lee; based on the novel by Burnett).