AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Little Caesar
Director: Mervyn LeRoy (Dir)
Release Date:   25 Jan 1931
Premiere Information:   New York premiere: 9 Jan 1931
Duration (in mins):   77 or 80
Duration (in feet):   7,300
Duration (in reels):   8
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Cast:   Edward G. Robinson (Little Caesar "alias Rico" [Enrico Cesare Bandello])  
    Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (Joe Massaro)  
    Glenda Farrell (Olga Strassoff)  
    William Collier Jr. (Tony Passa)  
    Sidney Blackmer (Big Boy)  
    Ralph Ince ([Diamond] Pete Montana)  
    Thomas Jackson (Sergeant Flaherty)  
    Stanley Fields (Sam Vittori)  
    Maurice Black (Little Arnie Lorch)  
    George E. Stone (Otero)  
    Armand Kaliz (De Voss)  
    Nick Bela (Ritz Colonna)  
    Lucille La Verne (Ma Magdalena)  
    Landers Stevens (Gabby)  

Summary: After robbing a gas station, Enrico Cesare Bandello, known as Rico, leaves his small town for the city with his friend Joe Massaro. Joe wants to find work as a dancer, but Rico admires the front page notoriety that gangster Diamond Pete Montana receives. He joins Sam Vittori's gang, one of the two biggest gangs in town, working directly under Montana, chief lieutenant to Big Boy, the head of the city's underworld. The other gang is headed by Little Arnie Lorch, who owns a gambling salon. Joe has a job as a dancing partner to Olga Strassoff at Lorch's establishment. Rico plans a New Year's Eve raid on Lorch's club and convinces Joe to act as the front man. During the raid, Rico kills McClure, the crime commissioner, who is a guest that night. After that, Rico and Sam compete for leadership of the gang and Rico wins. Lorch tries to kill Rico, and after he fails, Rico hunts him down and drives him out of the city. Soon afterward, Big Boy offers Rico Montana's territory, and Rico begins to dream of heading the underworld in place of Big Boy. Joe, meanwhile, plans to leave the gang at Olga's urging. Rico cannot bear to let Joe go, however, and in turn, demands that he leave Olga, threatening to kill her when Joe refuses. To save them both, Joe decides to turn state's evidence. Rico intends to kill Joe to stop him from talking, but he cannot pull the trigger. After his failed assassination attempt, Rico flees, hiding out from the police. Hoping to goad Rico into revealing himself, Sergeant Flaherty tells the newspapers that Rico was a coward. Rico reacts by phoning the police, and the call is traced to his hiding place, where the police hunt him down and shoot him. Rico dies beneath a poster advertising the dancing team of Joe and Olga. 

Production Company: First National Pictures, Inc. (Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.)
Distribution Company: First National Pictures, Inc.  
  The Vitaphone Corp.  
Director: Mervyn LeRoy (Dir)
Writer: Francis Faragoh (Scr version and dial)
  Robert N. Lee (Cont)
Photography: Tony Gaudio (Photog)
Art Direction: Anton Grot (Art dir)
Film Editor: Ray Curtiss (Ed)
Music: Erno Rapee (Gen mus dir)
Country: United States
Language: English

Music:
Songs:
Source Text: Based on the novel Little Caesar by W. R. Burnett (New York, 1929)
Authors: W. R. Burnett

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
First National Pictures, Inc. 29/12/1930 dd/mm/yyyy LP1912

Physical Properties: Sd:
  b&w:

 
Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: Gangster
 
Subjects (Major): Ambition
  Crime
  Egotists
  Friendship
  Gangsters
  Italian Americans
  Murder
 
Subjects (Minor): Attempted murder
  Banquets
  Dancers
  Funerals
  Love affairs
  Loyalty
  Machine-guns
  Mothers and sons
  New Year's Eve
  Rivalry

Note: MPH notes that the opening weekend of this film's release broke the all-time attendance record for Warner Bros.' Strand Theater in New York, grossing $50,000 in eleven performances. Both Edward G. Robinson and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. made personal appearances at the New York premiere, for which the top ticket prices were two dollars. According to his biography, Jack Warner wanted Clark Gable for the role of Rico. According to modern sources, the character of Massara was based on actor George Raft, who was associated with Owney Madden, the man who organized the taxi racket in New York City. Although The Doorway to Hell , a gangster film released by Warner Bros. in 1930 (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30 ; F2.1414) was a big hit at the time, most sources consider Little Caesar to be the film which started a brief craze for the genre in the early 1930s. Little Caesar was Robinson's first starring role and won him wide public attention, typecasting him for a while in gangster roles.
       The MPAA/PCA collection at the AMPAS library include a letter from MPPDA official Maurice McKenzie to Colonel Jason S. Joy reporting New York Congressman F. H. LaGuardia's strenuous objections to the portrayal of Caesar as an Italian. McKenzie wrote, "...he is going to publicly denounce Mr. Hays as a hypocrite, and the picture business as a bad business...[he states that] Mr. Hays would not dare to produce such a picture with a Jew as that character--he would lose his job if he did...." According to modern sources, in some release prints, Rico's last words, "Mother of God, is this the end of Rico?" were changed to "Mother of mercy, is this the end of Rico?" to avoid objections from the United Council of Churches. The film was budgeted at $700,000 according to modern sources.
       Little Caesar received an Academy Award nomination in the Best Writing (Adaptation) category. Modern sources list additional credits as Al Hill ( Waiter ), Ernie Adams ( Cashier ), Larry Steers ( CafĂ© guest ) and George Daly ( Machine gunner ). 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Film Daily   16 Nov 30   p. 11.
Film Daily   25 Jan 31   p. 4.
Motion Picture Herald   17 Jan 31   p. 34, 60
New York Times   10 Jan 31   p. 19.
Variety   14 Jan 31   p. 12.

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