Little Caesar (1931)

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Released 9-Aug-2005

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Audio Commentary-Richard Jewell (Film Historian)
Notes-Re-Release Forward
Featurette-Warner Night At The Movies, With Intro By Leonard Maltin
Featurette-Little Caesar: End Of Rico, Beginning Of The Antihero
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1931
Running Time 75:16
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (39:08) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By Mervyn Leroy
Studio
Distributor
First National Picts
Warner Home Video
Starring Edward G. Robinson
Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
Glenda Farrell
William Collier Jr.
Sidney Blackmer
Ralph Ince
Thomas E. Jackson
Stanley Fields
Maurice Black
George E. Stone
Armand Kaliz
Nicholas Bela
Case ?
RPI $19.95 Music David Mendoza


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
German
Spanish
Portuguese
Danish
Finnish
Swedish
Czech
Croatian
Slovenian
Greek
Hungarian
Turkish
Icelandic
French
Dutch
Arabic
Bulgarian
Romanian
English for the Hearing Impaired
German for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Made in 1930 and released in 1931, Little Caesar was one of the first gangster films in the sound era to capture the public’s imagination. Edward G Robinson is absolutely compelling as Rico and he unquestionably carries the rest of the film. This was the role that launched his career and also forever typecast it as well.

    The film opens with Caesar Enrico “Rico” Bandello (Edward G Robinson) and his buddy Joe (Douglas Fairbanks Jr) robbing a gas station. Later, at a dinner while reading the newspaper, they learn of Diamond Pete Montana (Ralph Ince), who is a gangster so well known that he is written about and his photo appears in the newspaper. Rico is attracted to the power of the gangsters. Joe on the other hand wants to follow his dreams of becoming a professional dancer. Rico and Joe head to Chicago where Rico talks his way into the local mob run by Sam Vettori (Stanley Fields). As Rico’s connections grow so does his ambition to not only take over this local chapter but ultimately control the whole Chicago mob. Joe on the other hand, although Rico’s loyal right hand man as he rises through the ranks of the mob, still holds onto his aspirations of becoming a dancer. Ultimately, Joe will want to turn his back on Rico and the mob and will be involved in Rico’s ultimate and inevitable downfall.

    As mentioned before Edward G Robinson is superb as Rico. So convincing is he that it's hard to image Edward G Robinson as he really was, a well educated, cultured, soft-spoken man who enjoyed collecting paintings and antiques.

    My problem with Little Caesar is that outside of Robinson’s performance there really is not a great deal more to like about this film. For me, one good performance does not make a film and I really found sitting through this film's admittedly short 75 minute running time a real chore. The supporting cast are rather wooden for the most part and I certainly didn’t find them very convincing. The plot is very much standard fare for a gangster film (and would have been in its day as many gangster films had been made in the silent era). Mervyn LeRoy, who is probably best remembered as the producer of The Wizard of Oz in 1939, was a competent yet uninspiring director. This was a film made quickly purely for entertainment value. In the same year that Mervyn LeRoy directed Little Caesar he also directed 4 other films for Warner Bros. and made 6 the next year.

    I feel that Little Caesar is probably only of real interest to film historians and very keen film buffs. Edward G Robinson undeniably gives an outstanding performance as Rico and while some may say this in itself is reason to watch to film I would have to disagree. I went in with high expectations. This is without question a classic of the genre and a landmark film but unfortunately outside of this context it is not a great film and I was ultimately quite disappointed by it.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Some reviewers may say that some allowance needs to be given to this transfer to take into account its age but I am going to be a little less forgiving. Warner have shown they can do incredible things with films of a similar age. Look no further than Citizen Kane which was made just a few years later to see what they can do. Anybody who has seen the previously available versions of that film (I had the R2 DVD from Universal and have seen the Criterion Laserdisc) will tell you the digital restoration they did was nothing short of extraordinary. In the case of Little Caesar they seem to have done little more than give it a physical clean to remove dust and grime and done the transfer from that. The print used is absolutely laden with scratches and hardly a frame exists without several scratches running the whole height of the frame being visible.

    The transfer is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.33 which is close to the original aspect ratio of 1.37:1. Naturally this is not 16x9 enhanced.

    Image sharpness is notably varied throughout the movie ranging from appearing reasonably sharp with quite substantial image detail (34:02) to appearing downright soft and completely lacking any real image detail (31:54). Shadow detail is also extremely variable throughout the film ranging from exhibiting reasonable black levels and average shadow detail right down to extremely murky greys with almost no shadow detail. This can often happen within the one scene. See for example the scene around 35 minutes between Rico and Joe. The shot of Joe exhibits reasonable black levels and fairly good shadow detail. The next shot of Rico has very greyish blacks and almost no shadow detail.

    Being a black and white movie discussion of colour is irrelevant but the grey scale was generally quite reasonable but again quite variable. The transfer is probably a good representation of the film print used.

    While the film print used has obviously been cleaned for dirt and grime (they are almost completely absent from this transfer) the image is full of scratches and other physical blemishes. While some scenes are fairly clean with only fine scratches visible (and they are visible throughout) at times many large scratches are visible at once and often worst towards the end of a reel such as at 23:38 where the screen is full of hundreds of scratches going in every direction. There are also instances of missing frames such as at 33:10. Grain was variable throughout the film ranging from being very fine and unobtrusive to the other end of the spectrum where in one scene the grain is so bad it’s like looking through snow at 32:31.

    While the film print may be less than perfect, the actual transfer is fine and the image is free of any obvious MPEG artefacts and no edge enhancement was observed. The transfer is also free of any low level noise

    I sampled the English subtitles which are appropriately white and are easy to read. They seem to match word for word the onscreen dialogue.

    The DVD is dual layered and surprisingly, given the short running length of the film, the DVD is RSDL encoded with the film spanning the two layers. The layer change occurs at 39:08 which occurs during a scene but between cuts. If your player doesn’t handle layer changes well it may be quite noticeable.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    Being from the early sound period of film, the soundtrack was never going to set anybody's world on fire and indeed it doesn’t. It’s mono, thin and tinny. Exactly what you’d expect from a film made in 1930.

    The English soundtrack is Dolby Digital 1.0 encoded at 192 Kb/s. Its fidelity is decidedly lo-fi with a fair amount of hiss and clicks present throughout.

    Dialogue was always easy to understand and I didn’t notice any audio sync issues. I suspect that all the dialogue was recorded live and given that many of the performances tended towards the theatrical, dialogue was very clear if somewhat wooden.

    The original music for the movie was provided uncredited by David Mendoza. It is used in only a few sentimental scenes and adds to the emotion of those scenes.

    Being Mono there is no Surround or Subwoofer activity from this soundtrack.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    This is the first of the Warners Classic Gangster films I have reviewed and Warner have gone all out with these releases. Each of the films has a terrific collection of extras including a section titled ‘Warner Night at the Movies’ which aims to replicate the filmgoing experience of someone seeing these films during their original release and I must say it was a bit of treat.

Menu

    Despite the fact that all the material on this DVD is 4x3 the menus are 16x9 enhanced. If anybody can explain to me the logic behind this please let me know because I don’t get it!

Audio Commentary (film historian Richard Jewell)

    I was rather hoping that the audio commentary by film historian Richard Jewell would explain what it was I had been missing about this film but instead it simply reinforced it. Richard Jewell describes this film as “less than dynamic film making” saying “it’s not great” and admitting that it is Edward G Robinson who carries this film. He covers much of the same ground covered in the featurette and often simply describes what is on screen. During the second half he does however go into the censorship issues faced by the film in its day and he also discusses the ambiguous sexuality of Rico.

Little Caesar: End of Rico, Beginning of the Antihero (17:07)

    This interesting featurette shows various film critics, film historians and filmmaker Martin Scorsese discussing various aspects of the film. The featurette discusses the whole film and therefore should not be watched until after you have watched the film. Interestingly Clark Gable was considered for the part of Joe but studio bosses felt his ears were too big.

Re-release forward (0:41)

    While not explained, this was added to the beginning of the movie on its re-release to let audiences know that gangsters are not nice people and that we should not view their lifestyle as glamorous which the film pretty much does.

Theatrical Trailer (2:03)

    This is the original theatrical trailer for Little Caesar. There is a constant audio sync issue with this trailer and the audio slightly precedes the vision.

Warner Night At the Movies

    This aims to replicate the experience of seeing the movie upon its release and features shorts and trailers just as it would have been presented back in 1931. Full details below.

Introduction by Leonard Maltin (4:05)

    Leonard Maltin provides the introductions to all of these Warner gangster films and he provides a foreword to the film and to the shorts presented. Maltin is amiable, engaging and his love of cinema is pretty apparent.

Play All

    You can play all, just like you were watching it at the movie palace in 1931. Nice!

Five Star Final Theatrical Trailer (1:55)

    Made the year after Little Caesar this film was again directed by Mervyn Le Roy and features Edward G Robinson as a tabloid newspaper editor. Look quickly and you’ll notice a cameo by Boris Karloff who would come to prominence that very same year as Frankenstein.

News Reel (1:44)

    This news reel from 1930 features an interview with “Kiki” Robert who is described as “Legs” Diamond's “Girl”. She discusses how she felt when she found out he’d been killed.

The Hard Guy (6:26)

    This short from 1930 features an early performance from Spencer Tracy as Guy, an unemployed man living in “Hells Kitchen” and struggling to support his wife Ellen and young daughter Doris. When Guy goes out one night Ellen hears shots fired by Police in the street and thinks that maybe they have shot Guy.

Lady Play Your Mandolin (7:16)

    A Merrie Melodies cartoon from 1930.

Little Caesar

    This is the movie. This allows you to play the movie once you’ve watched all the shorts (assuming you didn’t select play all).

Censorship

    There is censorship information available for this title. Click here to read it (a new window will open). WARNING: Often these entries contain MAJOR plot spoilers.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Apart from the usual NTSC and PAL formatting differences it would seem the two are practically identical and I see no reason to favour one over the other.

Summary

    Little Caesar is definitely a landmark early gangster film that launched the career of Edward G Robinson. Outside of Robinson's performance however it is not a great film and will not be to all tastes.

    While some concessions must be made for the film's age, the video transfer is only average and Warner have definitely done better.

    As is to be expected for a film from 1930 the sound quality is not great. It's thin and tinny.

    Warner have gone all out on the extras package and fans of this genre will not be disappointed by what's on offer here.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Michael Gauntlett (read my bio if you're bored.)
Sunday, October 30, 2005
Review Equipment
DVDSony DVPNS575-S Progressive Scan, using Component output
DisplaySony KVDR29M31 68cm PROGRESSIVE SCANNING. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderLogitech 5500 THX. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials.
AmplificationLogitech 5500 THX
SpeakersLogitech 5500 THX

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