Little Caesar (1931)

Genres - Crime  |   Sub-Genres - Gangster Film, Crime Drama  |   Release Date - Jan 9, 1931 (USA - Limited), Jan 25, 1931 (USA)  |   Run Time - 80 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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The rise of Al Capone to the head of America's criminal class inspired this Edward G. Robinson vehicle. Appearing just as talking pictures were finding their feet, Robinson's gravelly snarl and sociopathic disdain for human conventions became the template for countless future gangster anti-heroes. In fact, virtually every aspect of Little Caesar, from the seedy settings and rough-hewn slang to the pinstriped suits and ever-present Tommy Gun, became part of the language of the genre. Little Caesar sprints by in a brisk 77 minutes, powering through the rapid rise and inevitable descent of its flawed and ambitious protagonist as if a getaway car were waiting outside. The film insightfully plays on the Horatio Alger ideal of the all-American self-made man to examine this impulse's darker, anti-social implications, while offering a tragic arc of Greek proportions. The story's violence is discernibly in your face, and the performances are about as subtle as the gangster's suits. Ironically, the film, which purportedly aimed to expose the dark underbelly of the gangster life, was so riveting that it wound up glamorizing its targets, a fact not lost on movie censors of the time. Little Caesar was followed quickly by Public Enemy (1931) and Scarface (1932); the three films ushered in a legion of imitators to follow, but they were also, at least for a time, the last "true" gangster movies, as their ambiguous representation of glamorous criminals brought down the much stricter 1934 content restrictions of Joe Breen's Production Code Administration.