Little Caesar (film)

Little Caesar

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Mervyn LeRoy
Produced by Hal B. Wallis
Darryl F. Zanuck
Written by Francis Edward Faragoh
Robert Lord
Darryl F. Zanuck
Based on Little Caesar
by W.R. Burnett
Starring Edward G. Robinson
Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
Glenda Farrell
Music by Erno Rapee
Cinematography Tony Gaudio
Edited by Ray Curtiss
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
Release dates
  • January 9, 1931 (1931-01-09)
Running time
79 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Little Caesar is a 1931 Warner Bros. crime film directed by Mervyn LeRoy, and starring Edward G. Robinson, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Glenda Farrell. The film tells the story of a hoodlum who ascends the ranks of organized crime until he reaches its upper echelons. The story was adapted from the novel of the same name by William R. Burnett. Little Caesar was Robinson's breakthrough role and immediately made him a major film star. The film is often listed as one of the first full-fledged gangster films, and continues to be well received by critics.


Small-time criminals Caesar Enrico "Rico" Bandello (Edward G. Robinson) and his friend Joe Massara (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) move to Chicago to seek their fortunes. Rico joins the gang of Sam Vettori (Stanley Fields), while Joe wants to be a dancer. Olga (Glenda Farrell) becomes his dance partner and girlfriend.

Joe tries to drift away from the gang and its activities, but Rico makes him participate in the robbery of the nightclub where he works. Despite orders from underworld overlord "Big Boy" (Sidney Blackmer) to all his men to avoid bloodshed, Rico guns down crusading crime commissioner Alvin McClure during the robbery, with Joe as an aghast witness.

Rico accuses Sam of becoming soft and seizes control of his organization. Rival boss "Little Arnie" Lorch (Maurice Black) tries to have Rico killed, but Rico is only grazed. He and his gunmen pay Little Arnie a visit, after which Arnie hastily departs for Detroit. The Big Boy eventually gives Rico control of all of Chicago's Northside.

Rico becomes concerned that Joe knows too much about him. He warns Joe that he must forget about Olga and join him in a life of crime. Rico threatens to kill both Joe and Olga unless he accedes, but Joe refuses to give in. Olga calls Police Sergeant Flaherty and tells him Joe is ready to talk, just before Rico and his henchman Otero (George E. Stone) come calling. Rico finds, to his surprise, that he is unable to take his friend's life. When Otero tries to do the job himself, Rico wrestles the gun away from him, though not before Joe is wounded. Hearing the shot, Flaherty and another cop give chase and kill Otero. With information provided by Olga, Flaherty proceeds to crush Rico's organization.

Desperate and alone, Rico "retreats to the gutter from which he sprang." While hiding in a flophouse, he becomes enraged when he learns that Flaherty has called him a coward in the newspaper. He foolishly telephones the cop to announce he is coming for him. The call is traced, and he is gunned down by Flaherty behind a billboard - an advertisement featuring dancers Joe and Olga - and, dying, utters his final words, "Mother of mercy, is this the end of Rico?"


Award and honors


The film made Robinson a star and was the beginning of a long line of his "gangster" portrayals that stretched up to 1968's Never a Dull Moment. Shortly following Little Caesar, Robinson would later parody his gangster persona in the 1933 film The Little Giant.

The box office triumph of Little Caesar also spawned the production of several successful gangster films, many of which were also made by Warner Brothers.[2]

Possible homosexual subtext

Rico confronts Joe.

One interpretation of the film's title character is that he is a repressed or closeted gay man,[3][4][5] with the evidence thereof cited as including Otero's fawning admiration of Rico, Rico's great affinity for Joe, and Rico's complete lack of interest in romantic relationships with women, as well as his utter contempt for Joe's interest in women.[4] When the film was released, Burnett apparently drew this same conclusion about the screen version of the character. Having written Rico as explicitly heterosexual in his novel, Burnett wrote a letter of complaint to the film's producers about the conversion of the character to gay in the screen adaptation.[4]

See also


  1. "AFI's 10 Top 10". American Film Institute. 2008-06-17. Retrieved 2008-06-18.
  2. Encyclopædia Britannica: Entry for "Little Caesar"
  3. Doherty, Thomas Patrick. Pre-code Hollywood: Sex, Immorality, and Insurrection in American Cinema 1930-1934. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-231-11094-4
  4. 1 2 3 LaSalle, Mick. Dangerous Men: Pre-code Hollywood and the Birth of the Modern Man. New York, New York: St. Martin's Press, 2002. ISBN 0-312-28311-3
  5. Peary, Gerald. "Little Caesar Takes over the Screen" (introduction to Little Caesar of the Wisconsin/Warner Brothers Screenplays series). Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1981. ISBN 0-299-08450-7
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