Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Little Caesar (1931)

Another case of "influential, not good": The father of all crime dramas today appears a stodgy and creaky thing, an early talkie undone by its overarching staginess and its cardboard performances. The exception, naturally, is Edward G. Robinson in his starmaking lead performance as the title character -- his nasty, ambitious schemer feels alive and kicking in a way that transcends the tired framework around it. Faced with this lighting-in-a-bottle performance, all the other actors gave up and went through the motions, from the look of it. The worst offender is Stanley Fields as Sam Vettori; his hollow performance is a study in recitation. He couldn't be worse if there was a TelePrompter in front of him. Mervyn LeRoy's direction is unimpressive as well. There's a nice use of cross-fading in an early heist scene, but mostly LeRoy is content to plop the camera down and record the action as though he were filming a play. I'm glad this film was made, I'm glad other people improved on its formula, and now I'm glad I never have to see it again.

Grade: C


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