Edward G. Robinson: Turner Classic Movies Greatest Gangster Films Collection
If you've ever let out a sneering, nasally, "yeeeeahhh seeeee" in casual conversation trying to emulate a classic Hollywood tough guy, then you owe a bit of a debt to Edward G. Robinson, the original hard-nosed archetype. Less than five-and-a-half-feet tall, and built like a barrel with the head of a bulldog, Robinson was one of the most unlikely stars of Hollywood's golden era. But a star he was, playing all manner of hardscrabble types on both sides of the law, beginning with his indelible performance as the ruthless Rico in Little Caesar (1931), one of the films that set the template for the gangster genre. Equally adept at comedy and drama, this collection of four Edward G. films spanning 1933 to 1942 shows both sides of the legendary star. In 1933, Robinson was already sending up his persona in The Little Giant. Directed by Roy Del Ruth, the film begins with the end of prohibition and Robinson's beer baron Bugs Ahearn out of work. Collecting his ill gotten gains, he heads from Chicago to California, attempting to infiltrate high society. The Little Giant works great as a fish-out-of-water comedy, full of proto-Beverley Hillbillies-style jokes, but its ancillary genius is the way it manages to address a very real contemporary problem in the United States at the time: the glut of thousands of out-of-work gangsters. While Robinson's Bugs Ahearn is wealthy and clever enough to land on his feet, and the film is largely a comic fairy-tale, the infusion of social commentary, coupled with the sharp dialogue and Robinson's sympathetic lead, propel it well beyond mere shtick. 1942's tightly plotted Larceny, Inc., with Robinson and two pals fresh out of prison setting up shop in a luggage boutique next-door to a bank, is the best film in the package, mixing classic farce with slick one-liners. On the serious side are 1936's Bullets or Ballots and 1937's Kid Galahad. Ballots finds our guy infiltrating the mob to help crack down on racketeering and Galahad, directed by Michael Curtiz, features Ed as a ruthless fight promoter managing an unknown country bumpkin towards pugilistic infamy. While a tad earnest, both films are briskly entertaining and, as a bonus, feature Humphrey Bogart in stone-cold supporting roles. While the discs have all been previously released, their appearance in this discounted set is nice, especially with a unifying theme. All the discs come with animated shorts, newsreels and trailers as part of Warner's "Night at the Movies," intended to simulate what a night out at the picture show would have felt like at the time these films were made.
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