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Mervyn LeRoy
Edward G. Robinson, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Glenda Farrell, William Collier Jr., Sidney Blackmer, Ralph Ince, Thomas E. Jackson, Stanley Fields
Writing Credits:
W.R. Burnett (novel), Robert N. Lee (continuity), Francis Edward Faragoh, Francis Edward Faragoh (dialogue)

This classic crime story that made Edward G. Robinson a star deals with the rise and fall of a penny-ante crook who becomes the head of the mob, only to fall from grace as quickly as he rose.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
German Dolby Digital Monaural
Castillian Dolby Digital Spanish Monaural
Castillian Spanish
Latin Spanish
Supplements Subtitles:
Castillian Spanish
Latin Spanish

Runtime: 78 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 5/21/2013

• Audio Commentary with Film Historian Richard Jewell
• “Warner Night at the Movies”
• “Little Caesar: End of Rico, Beginning of the Antihero” Featurette
• 1954 Re-Release Forward
• Trailer


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Little Caesar [Blu-Ray] (1931)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 13, 2013)

We take a look back at the classic era of gangster flicks with 1930’s Little Caesar. The film concentrates on Caesar Enrico Bandello (Edward G. Robinson), AKA “Little Caesar” or “Rico”. A common criminal who aspires to bigger things, he hooks on with the gang run by Sam Vettori (Stanley Fields).

In the meantime, his former partner Joe Massara (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) becomes a dancer and tries to go straight. This leads to a steady gig and a romance with partner Olga Stassoff (Glenda Farrell).

However, Joe’s success as an entertainer doesn’t allow Joe to totally escape his prior life. Rico works his way up in Vettori’s gang and eventually stages a coup that allows him to become the head man. Along this path, he requires Joe to act in their schemes. The film follows Rico’s rise to power as well as Joe’s life and related elements.

During the movie’s first act, I feared that the Joe side of things would occupy much of the film’s brief running time. I got the impression that Caesar would throw in lots of Joe and Olga to give the flick a more traditional romantic side. After all, Robinson was no matinee idol, so it looked like the movie would use Fairbanks in a prominent role to satisfy the female audience.

To my pleasant surprise, Caesar usually stays where we want to be: with Rico. After the first act, we barely see Olga other than as a subject of conflict between Rico and Joe. Indeed, Joe goes missing for substantial portions of the movie before he regains a fairly prominent part during the final act. That’s fine with me. Joe offers a pretty dull character, and the film is much more interesting when it sticks with Rico.

Robinson’s fine lead performance aids in that regard. As written, Rico doesn’t provide a complex character of any sort; he’s a basic thug who aspires to grandeur. I can’t say that Robinson adds depth to the role, but he makes him fascinating nonetheless. Robinson creates a powerful, swaggering portrait in cold, grasping ambition. The movie’s enduring fame clearly rests upon Robinson’s strong performance.

In other ways, Caesar proves less compelling. The only interesting supporting character comes from Sgt. Thomas Flaherty (Thomas Jackson), the cop who persistently pursues Rico. There’s a good chemistry between Robinson and Jackson; I like the back and forth as they spar with each other, and I wish the movie featured more of their interactions.

Unfortunately, we get too much of milquetoast Joe and dippy Olga. Caesar veers off onto too many dull subplots at times, though this tendency decreases as it progresses. The story digs into Rico’s tale in a more satisfying way as it progresses, so at least it manages to build to an interesting conclusion.

Still, Little Caesar would be pretty forgettable gangster drama without its lead actor. Edward G. Robinson almost single-handedly takes a fairly wooden movie and makes it compelling. He keeps us involved and entertained.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture C+/ Audio C/ Bonus B-

Little Caesar appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This was a watchable image given the film’s age but not a great one.

Sharpness tended to be up and down. At times, the movie showed good delineation, and most of the film delivered adequate clarity. However, more than a few soft shots materialized, usually due to degraded source materials, I suspect. I noticed no issues with moiré effects or jagged edges, and I also failed to detect any edge haloes.

Black levels also looked fairly solid. Dark tones were usually deep and rich, although occasionally the picture seemed a bit too bright. Shadow detail was fairly nice, though vaguely murky at times. Still, blacks and contrast were a reasonably good part of the transfer.

Print flaws seemed relatively modest given the movie’s age. Occasional instances of thin vertical lines popped up, and I saw some splotches, but these weren’t bad. I also witnessed some strobing and jitter. I expected more prominent source defects so I felt pleased with the general lack of these. This wasn’t a killer presentation, but I felt it was more than acceptable when I considered the film’s vintage.

Also flawed but acceptable was Little Caesar's DTS-HD MA monaural sound. As one would expect, it's a modest affair, with an emphasis on dialogue. Though the film featured a minor score, speech dominated the soundtrack, and dialogue was adequate for its age. The lines could be a bit muffled, but they were acceptably clear and remained intelligible.

Effects sounded thin but decent, and the occasional examples of music also appeared adequate for their age. A frequent layer of light background noise marred the audio to a minor degree but remained acceptable given the flick’s vintage. This was an average track for its era.

How did the Blu-ray compare to the original 2005 DVD? Audio was a wash; the lossless version here might’ve had a little more pep, but there’s not much room for improvement given the low quality of the source material.

Visuals seemed improved but I wouldn’t expect wonders. As with the audio, the original material created the concerns. I suspect that prints of Caesar haven’t survived well over the years and have become compromised.

That left us with the erratic presentation found here. The DVD was up and down as well, and the Blu-ray continued to reflect the limitations of the 83-year-old footage. The Blu-ray did work better, mainly due to fewer source flaws; it also boasted better definition at its best, though ironically, the superior resolution of Blu-ray could accentuate the soft spots to a greater degree than we saw on the DVD. I do think this Blu-ray offers a stronger representation of the film, but one shouldn’t anticipate something that looks as tremendous as era mates like The Jazz Singer or the Universal Monster movies.

All of the DVD’s extras repeat here. We get an audio commentary from film historian Richard Jewell. He offers a running, screen-specific discussion of the film’s influence on the genre and its use of sound, elements of the dialogue, characters and themes, how real-life characters and situations impacted the flick, visual design, cast and crew, censorship issues, and a few other production topics.

On the negative side, Jewell sometimes tends to simply narrate the movie, and a little dead air occurs. Nonetheless, he manages to fill his commentary with a reasonable amount of worthwhile material. Despite the track’s flaws, Jewell manages to produce some good facts about the flick, so this becomes a fairly informative piece.

Next comes the 45-second 1954 Re-release Forward. This text also mentions The Public Enemy and warns us of our public duty to “clean up” gangsters. It’s odd and would create a jarring take on the film.

A creative and fun addition to the set, Warner Night at the Movies attempts to replicate the cinematic experience circa 1931. As explained via a four-minute and seven-second introduction from Leonard Maltin, this feature includes a trailer for Five Star Final - a flick from the same era as Caesar - plus a period newsreel, a cartoon called Lady Play Your Mandolin and a live-action short entitled The Hard Guy.

These are the kinds of pieces that might have preceded a theatrical showing of Caesar, so if you activate this feature, you get an attempt to duplicate a night at the cinema. I like this program and think it’s quite clever. Use the “Play All” option to run each of these features and then automatically launch into Caesar.

In addition to the trailer for Caesar, the disc includes a modern featurette called Little Caesar: End of Rico, Beginning of the Antihero. This 17-minute and nine-second program presents movie clips, archival materials, and interviews. We hear from author/film critic Gerald Peary, author/film professor Robert Sklar, filmmaker Martin Scorsese, author Mark A. Vieira, USC film professor Drew Casper, filmmaker/film historian Alain Silver, actor Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and author/film critic Andrew Sarris. The participants cover the roots of the project and aspects of the era that influenced, story elements and the situation at Warner Bros., casting and facets of the performances, sound design, and the movie’s impact.

Expect a decent overview from “Antihero”. With only 17 minutes at its disposal, the program doesn’t get much time to dig into details. That said, it covers the basics in a competent manner and lets us get a good glimpse of the film and its era.

While influential and important as an early gangster flick, Little Caesar can look dated to modern eyes. That doesn’t mean the movie doesn’t entertain, though, as a stellar lead performance from Edward G. Robinson ensures that we remain interested in the movie despite its weaknesses. The Blu-ray offers erratic but acceptable picture and audio along with a smattering of enjoyable supplements. This becomes a generally positive presentation of a classic.

Note that Little Caesar can be purchased on its own or as part of a four-film “Ultimate Gangsters Collection”. That package also includes The Public Enemy, The Petrified Forest and White Heat. With a list price of $50, the “Collection” costs $30 less than the roughly $80 MSRP of the four individual Blu-rays and comes with additional bonuses.

To rate this film visit the original review of LITTLE CAESAR

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