Quick recap: Rico Bandello is in the mob but dreams of becoming the top guy. He and his best friend Joe Massara head to Chicago to stir things up. Rico gets in with a gang and works his way up while his friend Joe decides he would rather just dance. Seriously. Just think of Rico as the Little Engine that Could, only with more guns and wisecracks.
Fun (?) fact: Little Caesar was made in the Pre-Code era, which meant that audiences were subjected to lots of violence but still not much sex. When the Hayes code went into effect, movies become ok with the moral crowd but more bland for the rest of us. This is why we can’t have nice things.
My thoughts: Although I had never seen Little Caesar before last night, I already knew who Rico was. When I think of the mob (which I do often), I either think of A) Tony Soprano or B) some 30’s mobster who wears flashy clothing, talks out of the corner of his mouth because of a fat cigar and adds the word ‘see?’ at the end of every sentence. Turns out, that caricature comes from this movie! Yet another pop culture hole filled.
Typically, the mobster stories I have seen ( just The Sopranos) have been extremely complicated and at times morally ambiguous. Little Caesar is none of that. Rico is a small time gangster who quickly rises to the top with his quick anger and ability to plan successful hold ups. I always thought joining a gang would be more difficult than just, ‘hey, I’m new in town and now I’m going to join up with you guys, see?’ But that’s seemingly what happens. And, unlike The Sopranos, there was never a point in the movie where I felt any emotion or sympathy towards Rico. To an audience member in the 30’s, I can see why that would be a preferable thing. The 20’s were about long, drawn out, epic silent films and once ‘talkies’ were introduced, it must have been nice to sit back for an hour and just watch people shoot each other. There isn’t much analyzing to do here and there are no real surprises.
Mob stories have a reputation for romanticizing crime, but I’m not sure that applies to this movie. Little Caesar was made at the start of the Depression, a time when the rich weren’t seen in the most favorable light. In a way, Rico’s story is more of a moral lesson than anything else: greed will get you nowhere. The mob may be seen as cool now, but I bet that for the average American in 1931, there was something deeply satisfying watching Rico get caught and subsequently gunned down by the police.
Final review: 2/5. I’m sad to say that although there were several newspapers shown, none of them were spinning.
Up next: The Tin Drum