The Best Old Movies on a Big Screen This Week: NYC Repertory Cinema Picks, September 30-October 1

1931-little-caesar

Little Caesar (1931)
Directed by Mervyn LeRoy
Edward G. Robinson’s froglike mouth, perpetual cigar, permanent scowl, and nasal snarl, so susceptible to caricature, can obscure the fact that he was one of the most intense, subtle, and enterprising film actors of his generation. It all began in earnest with Little Caesar, which traces the ruthless rise of Robinson’s Rico Bandello from small-town street hoodlum to big-city crime boss, and his inevitable fall. The film shaped the Hollywood gangster film from Wellman’s The Public Enemy and Hawks’s Scarface to Coppola’s Godfather movies and Scorsese’s center cut. Notable for its edgy suggestions of homosexuality among tough guys, Little Caesar humanized criminals by conjuring sympathy with their impulses—the Great Depression was dawning—but also framing the existential peril of their choices. What is so striking about Robinson’s immortal final line—“Mother of mercy, is this the end of Rico?”—is that his bemusement and dismay evoke not a sense of comeuppance but one of rueful compassion. Jonathan Stevenson (September 30, 1:30pm at MoMA’s “Modern Matinees”)

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