Little Caesar (film)

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. The storyline 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.

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

The Library of Congress maintains a print.[2]


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?"



Possible LGBT subtext

One interpretation of the film's title character is that he is a repressed or closeted gay man.[3][4][5] The evidence cited includes 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, author Burnett apparently drew the 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]


On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, Little Caesar holds an approval rating of 91%, based on 22 reviews, and an average rating of 7.51/10.[6]

Award and honors


Little Caesar proved to be influential in developing the gangster film genre, establishing many themes and conventions that have been used since then. The film's box office success also spawned the production of several successful gangster films, many of which were also made by Warner Brothers.[8] 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."[9]

See also


  1. 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. 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
  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. 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
  6. "Little Caesar (1931) - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Fandango Media. Retrieved 12 November 2019.
  7. "AFI's 10 Top 10". American Film Institute. 2008-06-17. Retrieved 2017-06-11.
  8. Encyclopædia Britannica: Entry for "Little Caesar"
  9. Steven Jay Schneider (2013). 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. Barron's. p. 77. ISBN 978-0-7641-6613-6.

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