Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Little Caesar

1931 - Dir: Mervyn LeRoy
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on January 31st, 2009
The following is taken from Variety Magazine’s 1931 review of “Little Caesar”: “There are enough killings herein to fill the quota for an old time cowboy-Indian thriller. And one tough mugg, in the title part, who is tough all the way from the start, when he's a bum with ambition, to the finish, when he's a bum again, but a dead one. For a performance as Little Caesar no director could ask for more than Edward G. Robinson's contribution. Here, no matter what he has to say, he's entirely convincing. No new twists to the gunman stuff [from the novel by W.R. Burnett] same formula and all the standard tricks, but Mervyn LeRoy, directing, had a good yarn to start with and gives it plenty of pace besides astute handling.”
This probably says it all - but fails to predict the impact this short film had on the style of crime pictures made over the following decade - this is very much a trend setter. The acting is over stated to say the least but actors had only just learned to cope with the new fangled sound - the style is very much a combination of silent movie exaggeration and theatrical projection (“Can’t hear you at the back, luvvie!”). The gangsters upon whom the film was based were still active - Warner Brothers must have been hoping they didn’t recognise themselves!
· The character of Cesare Enrico Bandello is not, as widely believed, based on 'Al Capone'. Instead, he is based on Salvatore "Sam" Cardinella, a violent Chicago gangster who operated in the early years of Prohibition. The character Diamond Pete Montana was modelled on Big Jim Colisimo, who was murdered by Al Capone; and "The Big Boy" was based on corrupt politician Big Bill Thompson, Mayor of Chicago.
· The underworld banquet sequence was also based on a real event - a notorious party in honour of two gangsters, Dion "Deanie" O'Bannion and Samuel J. "Nails” Morton.

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