Little Caesar (1931)

77 or 80 mins | Drama | 25 January 1931

Director:

Mervyn LeRoy

Cinematographer:

Tony Gaudio

Editor:

Ray Curtiss

Production Designer:

Anton Grot

Production Company:

First National Pictures, Inc.
Full page view
HISTORY

MPH notes that the opening weekend of this film's release broke the all-time attendance record for Warner Bros.' Strand Theater in New York, grossing $50,000 in eleven performances. Both Edward G. Robinson and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. made personal appearances at the New York premiere, for which the top ticket prices were two dollars. According to his biography, Jack Warner wanted Clark Gable for the role of Rico. According to modern sources, the character of Massara was based on actor George Raft, who was associated with Owney Madden, the man who organized the taxi racket in New York City. Although The Doorway to Hell , a gangster film released by Warner Bros. in 1930 (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30 ; F2.1414) was a big hit at the time, most sources consider Little Caesar to be the film which started a brief craze for the genre in the early 1930s. Little Caesar was Robinson's first starring role and won him wide public attention, typecasting him for a while in gangster roles.
       The MPAA/PCA collection at the AMPAS library include a letter from MPPDA official Maurice McKenzie to Colonel Jason S. Joy reporting New York Congressman F. H. LaGuardia's strenuous objections to the portrayal of Caesar as an Italian. McKenzie wrote, "...he is going to publicly denounce Mr. Hays as a hypocrite, and the picture business as a bad business...[he states that] Mr. Hays would not dare to produce such a picture with a Jew as that character--he would lose his job if he did...." According to modern sources, in some release prints, Rico's last words, ... More Less

MPH notes that the opening weekend of this film's release broke the all-time attendance record for Warner Bros.' Strand Theater in New York, grossing $50,000 in eleven performances. Both Edward G. Robinson and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. made personal appearances at the New York premiere, for which the top ticket prices were two dollars. According to his biography, Jack Warner wanted Clark Gable for the role of Rico. According to modern sources, the character of Massara was based on actor George Raft, who was associated with Owney Madden, the man who organized the taxi racket in New York City. Although The Doorway to Hell , a gangster film released by Warner Bros. in 1930 (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30 ; F2.1414) was a big hit at the time, most sources consider Little Caesar to be the film which started a brief craze for the genre in the early 1930s. Little Caesar was Robinson's first starring role and won him wide public attention, typecasting him for a while in gangster roles.
       The MPAA/PCA collection at the AMPAS library include a letter from MPPDA official Maurice McKenzie to Colonel Jason S. Joy reporting New York Congressman F. H. LaGuardia's strenuous objections to the portrayal of Caesar as an Italian. McKenzie wrote, "...he is going to publicly denounce Mr. Hays as a hypocrite, and the picture business as a bad business...[he states that] Mr. Hays would not dare to produce such a picture with a Jew as that character--he would lose his job if he did...." According to modern sources, in some release prints, Rico's last words, "Mother of God, is this the end of Rico?" were changed to "Mother of mercy, is this the end of Rico?" to avoid objections from the United Council of Churches. The film was budgeted at $700,000 according to modern sources.
       Little Caesar received an Academy Award nomination in the Best Writing (Adaptation) category. Modern sources list additional credits as Al Hill ( Waiter ), Ernie Adams ( Cashier ), Larry Steers ( Café guest ) and George Daly ( Machine gunner ). More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Film Daily
16 Nov 30
p. 11.
Film Daily
25 Jan 31
p. 4.
Motion Picture Herald
17 Jan 31
p. 34, 60
New York Times
10 Jan 31
p. 19.
Variety
14 Jan 31
p. 12.
DETAILS
Release Date:
25 January 1931
Premiere Information:
New York premiere: 9 January 1931
Copyright Claimant:
First National Pictures, Inc.
Copyright Date:
29 December 1930
Copyright Number:
LP1912
Physical Properties:
Sound
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
77 or 80
Length(in feet):
7,300
Length(in reels):
8
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

After robbing a gas station, Enrico Cesare Bandello, known as Rico, leaves his small town for the city with his friend Joe Massaro. Joe wants to find work as a dancer, but Rico admires the front page notoriety that gangster Diamond Pete Montana receives. He joins Sam Vittori's gang, one of the two biggest gangs in town, working directly under Montana, chief lieutenant to Big Boy, the head of the city's underworld. The other gang is headed by Little Arnie Lorch, who owns a gambling salon. Joe has a job as a dancing partner to Olga Strassoff at Lorch's establishment. Rico plans a New Year's Eve raid on Lorch's club and convinces Joe to act as the front man. During the raid, Rico kills McClure, the crime commissioner, who is a guest that night. After that, Rico and Sam compete for leadership of the gang and Rico wins. Lorch tries to kill Rico, and after he fails, Rico hunts him down and drives him out of the city. Soon afterward, Big Boy offers Rico Montana's territory, and Rico begins to dream of heading the underworld in place of Big Boy. Joe, meanwhile, plans to leave the gang at Olga's urging. Rico cannot bear to let Joe go, however, and in turn, demands that he leave Olga, threatening to kill her when Joe refuses. To save them both, Joe decides to turn state's evidence. Rico intends to kill Joe to stop him from talking, but he cannot pull the trigger. After his failed assassination attempt, Rico flees, hiding out from the police. Hoping to goad Rico into revealing himself, Sergeant Flaherty ... +


After robbing a gas station, Enrico Cesare Bandello, known as Rico, leaves his small town for the city with his friend Joe Massaro. Joe wants to find work as a dancer, but Rico admires the front page notoriety that gangster Diamond Pete Montana receives. He joins Sam Vittori's gang, one of the two biggest gangs in town, working directly under Montana, chief lieutenant to Big Boy, the head of the city's underworld. The other gang is headed by Little Arnie Lorch, who owns a gambling salon. Joe has a job as a dancing partner to Olga Strassoff at Lorch's establishment. Rico plans a New Year's Eve raid on Lorch's club and convinces Joe to act as the front man. During the raid, Rico kills McClure, the crime commissioner, who is a guest that night. After that, Rico and Sam compete for leadership of the gang and Rico wins. Lorch tries to kill Rico, and after he fails, Rico hunts him down and drives him out of the city. Soon afterward, Big Boy offers Rico Montana's territory, and Rico begins to dream of heading the underworld in place of Big Boy. Joe, meanwhile, plans to leave the gang at Olga's urging. Rico cannot bear to let Joe go, however, and in turn, demands that he leave Olga, threatening to kill her when Joe refuses. To save them both, Joe decides to turn state's evidence. Rico intends to kill Joe to stop him from talking, but he cannot pull the trigger. After his failed assassination attempt, Rico flees, hiding out from the police. Hoping to goad Rico into revealing himself, Sergeant Flaherty tells the newspapers that Rico was a coward. Rico reacts by phoning the police, and the call is traced to his hiding place, where the police hunt him down and shoot him. Rico dies beneath a poster advertising the dancing team of Joe and Olga. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

TOP SEARCHES

CASABLANCA

During World War II, Casablanca, Morocco is a waiting point for throngs of desperate refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Exit visas, which are necessary to leave the country, are at ... >>

CITIZEN KANE

Seventy-year-old newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies in his palatial Florida home, Xanadu, after uttering the single word “Rosebud.” While watching a newsreel summarizing the years during which Kane ... >>

REAR WINDOW

Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and ... >>

RAGING BULL

In 1941, at a boxing match in Cleveland, Ohio, pandemonium breaks out when Jake La Motta, an up-and-coming young boxer, loses a decision to Jimmy Reeves, suffering his first ... >>

CITY LIGHTS

At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into ... >>

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.