Pre Code Confidential #28: Edward G. Robinson in LITTLE CAESAR (Warner Brothers 1931)


cracked rear viewer

Gangster movies were nothing new in 1931. Josef von Sternberg’s UNDERWORLD (1927), Lewis Milestone’s THE RACKET (1928), and Bryan Foy’s LIGHTS OF NEW YORK (1929) had all dealt with urban organized crime onscreen (and Foy’s drama was the first “all-talking picture” to hit cinemas). But when Edward G. Robinson rat-a-tatted his way through Mervyn LeRoy’s LITTLE CAESAR, the gangster genre had finally arrived – with a vengeance! This highly influential flick opened the floodgates for a variety of films about mobsters, killers, and other assorted no-goodniks, and made an unlikely star out of the pugnacious Eddie G.

The film concerns the rise and fall of Rico “Little Caesar” Bandello, a small-time hood from the sticks who, along with partner in crime Joe Massara, moves to the big city and blasts his way up the ranks to become a gang boss. The diminutive Robinson exudes star power as the psychotic sociopath…

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Horror Film Review: Ghost Story (dir by John Irvin)


ghoststory

A Fred Astaire horror movie!?

Yes, indeed.  Ghost Story is a horror movie and it does indeed star Fred Astaire.  However, Fred doesn’t dance or anything like that in Ghost Story.  This movie was made in 1981 and Fred was 82 years old when he appeared in it.  Fred still gave an energetic and likable performance and, in fact, his performance is one of the few things that really does work in Ghost Story.

Fred Astaire isn’t the only veteran of Hollywood’s Golden Age to appear in Ghost Story.  Melvyn Douglas, John Houseman, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. all appear in the movie as well.  They play four lifelong friends, wealthy men who have formed an informal little club called The Chowder Society.  They gather one a week and tell ghost stories.  Myself, I’m wondering why these four intelligent and accomplished men (one is a lawyer, another a doctor, another a politician, and another is Fred Astaire) couldn’t come up with a better name than Chowder Society.

(But I guess that’s something that people do up north.  Harvard has something called the Hasty Pudding Club, which just sounds amazingly annoying.)

Unfortunately, the members of the Chowder Society have a deep, dark secret.  Way back in the 1930s, the boys listening to too much jazz and they all ended up lusting after the mysterious and beautiful Eva Galli (Alice Krige).  As Astaire explains it, “We killed her, the Chowder Society.”

(Of course, there’s more to the story.  It was more manslaughter than murder but either way, it was pretty much the fault of the Chowder Society.)

And now, decades later, a woman named Alma (Alica Krige, again) has mysteriously appeared.  When she sleeps with David (Craig Wasson), the son of a member of the Chowder Society, David falls out of a window and ends up splattered on the ground below.  David’s twin brother, Don (also played by Craig Wasson), returns to their childhood home and attempts to make peace with his estranged father.

However, now the member of the Chowder Society are starting to die.  One falls off a bridge.  Another has a heart attack in the middle of the night.  Fred Astaire thinks that Eva has come back for revenge.  John Houseman is a little more skeptical…

I pretty much went into Ghost Story with next to no knowledge concerning what the film was about.  I thought the plot desription sounded intriguing.  As a classic film lover, I appreciated that Ghost Story was not only Fred Astaire’s final film but the final film of Douglas and Fairbanks as well.  Before he deleted his account, I had some pleasant interactions with Craig Wasson on Facebook.   I was really hoping that Ghost Story would be a horror classic.

Bleh.

Considering all the talent involved, Ghost Story should have been great but instead, it just fell flat.  Alice Krige is properly enigmatic as both Alma and Galli and really, the entire cast does a pretty good job.  But, with the exception of exactly three scenes, the film itself is never that scary.  (Two of those scary scenes involve a decaying corpse and it’s not that hard to make decay scary.  The other is a fairly intense nightmare sequence.)  Largely due to John Irvin’s detached direction, you never really feel any type of connection with the characters.  I mean, obviously, you don’t want to see the star of Top Hat die a terrible death but that has more to do with the eternal charm of Fred Astaire than anything that happens in Ghost Story.

Add to that, Ghost Story‘s special effects have aged terribly.  There are two scenes in which we watch different characters fall to their death and both times, you can see that little green outline that always used to appear whenever one image was super imposed on another.  It makes it a little hard to take the movie seriously.

Sadly, Ghost Story did not live up to my expectations.  At least Fred Astaire was good…