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Little Caesar (film)

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Little Caesar
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMervyn LeRoy
Written byFrancis Edward Faragoh
Robert N. Lee
Robert Lord (uncredited)
Darryl F. Zanuck (uncredited)
Based onLittle Caesar
by W. R. Burnett
Produced byHal B. Wallis
Darryl F. Zanuck
StarringEdward G. Robinson
Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
Glenda Farrell
CinematographyTony Gaudio
Edited byRay Curtiss
Music byErnö Rapée
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release date
  • January 9, 1931 (1931-01-09)
Running time
79 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$752,000[1]
The film's trailer

Little Caesar is a 1931 American pre-Code crime film distributed by Warner Brothers, directed by Mervyn LeRoy, and starring Edward G. Robinson, Glenda Farrell, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. The film tells the story of a hoodlum who ascends the ranks of organized crime until he reaches its upper echelons. [2]

The storyline, based on real life Mafia boss Salvatore Maranzano, 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 fully-fledged gangster films and continues to be well received by critics. The Library of Congress maintains a print.[3]


Small-time criminals Caesar Enrico "Rico" Bandello and his friend Joe Massara move to Chicago to seek their fortunes. Rico joins the gang of Sam Vettori, while Joe wants to be a dancer. Olga 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" to all his men to avoid bloodshed, Rico guns down crusading crime commissioner Alvin McClure during the robbery, with Joe as an aghast witness. Tony, the gang's driver who becomes distraught after the job, is later killed by the gang under Rico's orders when he goes to reveal the news to the local priest.

Rico accuses Sam of becoming soft and seizes control of his organization. Rival boss "Little Arnie" Lorch tries to have Rico killed, but Rico is only grazed. He and his gunmen pay Little Arnie a visit, giving him a choice of either leaving town or having him killed, 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 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 police officer give chase and shoot 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 police 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?"


Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Glenda Farrell as Joe and Olga
  • Edward G. Robinson as Caesar Enrico "Rico" Bandello / "Little Caesar": A hoodlum who ascends the ranks of organized crime later controlling Chicago's Northside.
  • Douglas Fairbanks Jr. as Joe Massara: Rico's friend and former partner in crime, He forgos the life in favour of becoming a dancer.
  • Glenda Farrell as Olga Stassoff: Joe's dancing partner who later becomes his girlfriend.
  • William Collier Jr. as Antonio "Tony" Passa: The driver in Sam's gang, who has anxiety.
  • Sidney Blackmer as Big Boy
  • Ralph Ince as Pete Montana
  • Thomas E. Jackson as Sergeant/Lieutenant Thomas Flaherty: A sergeant who keeps being wary of Rico and his activities.
  • Stanley Fields as Sam Vettori : Former boss of the film's central gang, after Rico's takeover as boss, he later works for the gang.
  • Maurice Black as Little Arnie Lorch
  • George E. Stone as Otero: Rico's goon and security guard.
  • Landers Stevens as Alvin McClure - Crime Commissioner


Clark Gable was sought out for a role in the film, albeit with conflicting perspectives in memoirs; Jack L. Warner said that LeRoy wanted Gable for the lead role, while LeRoy stated that he wanted Gable for the second lead role, but at any rate Warner turned Gable down.[4] Robinson had already played a gangster in plays such as The Racket and The Widow from Chicago (1930), a First National Pictures production.


A DVD version was released in 2005.[5]


Alternate theatrical release poster

The film received widespread acclaim from critics and audiences at the time and still is well received to this day. On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, Little Caesar holds an approval rating of 92%, based on 25 reviews, and an average rating of 7.4/10. The website's critics consensus reads: "Little Caesar achieves epic stature thanks to Edward G. Robinson's volcanic charisma, forging a template for the big-screen mobster archetype that's yet to be surpassed."[6]

Award and honors[edit]


Together with The Public Enemy (1931) and Scarface (1932), Little Caesar proved to be influential in developing the gangster film genre, establishing many themes and conventions that have been used since then.[8]

The film's box office success also spawned the production of several successful gangster films, many of which were also made by Warner Brothers.[9] It is listed in the film reference book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, which says "Mervyn LeRoy's Little Caesar helped to define the gangster movie while serving as an allegory of production circumstances because it was produced during the Great Depression— Leavening this theme alongside the demands of social conformity during the early 1930s means that LeRoy's screen classic is far more than the simple sum of its parts."[10]

In popular culture[edit]

The song "Tough Guys," by The Good Rats on their Ratcity in Blue album includes in the lyrics of the first verse, the final words of Rico in the film:

Eddie, I'll always remember
The way that you handled the good and the bad
Mother of mercy
Is this the end of Rico
Oh, no

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Warner Bros financial information in The William Shaefer Ledger. See Appendix 1, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, (1995) 15:sup1, 1-31 p 11 DOI: 10.1080/01439689508604551
  2. ^ Guillen, Matthew (2007). Reading America: Text as a Cultural Force. Academica Press. p. 312. ISBN 978-1-933146-29-4.
  3. ^ Catalog of Holdings The American Film Institute Collection and The United Artists Collection at The Library of Congress, (<-book title) p.104 c.1978 by The American Film Institute
  4. ^ "AFI|Catalog". catalog.afi.com. Retrieved December 18, 2023.
  5. ^ Kipp, Jeremiah (February 7, 2005). "DVD Review: Mervyn LeRoy's Little Caesar on Warner Home Video". Slant Magazine. Retrieved December 18, 2023.
  6. ^ "Little Caesar - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved November 5, 2022.
  7. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10". American Film Institute. June 17, 2008. Retrieved June 11, 2017.
  8. ^ Agostinelli, Alessandro (2004). Una filosofia del cinema americano. Individualismo e noir [A Philosophy of American cinema. Individualism and noir] (in Italian). Edizioni ETS. p. 124. ISBN 9788846708113.
  9. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica: Entry for "Little Caesar"
  10. ^ Steven Jay Schneider (2013). 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. Barron's. p. 77. ISBN 978-0-7641-6613-6.

External links[edit]