Follow TV Tropes


Film / Little Caesar

Go To
Note: This film is not about pizza pizza.

"Mother of Mercy. Is this the end of Rico?"

This classic crime film, directed by Mervyn LeRoy and released by Warner Bros. in 1931, chronicles the rise and fall of a hardened criminal in Prohibition Era Chicago. The legendary Edward G. Robinson plays Caesar Enrico "Rico" Bandello, a small time crook that rises to the top of the big city underworld. He quickly comes to realize that nothing lasts forever.

Star-Making Role for Robinson, which also led to him being typecast in gangster roles for years after this. A Trope Maker for the gangster genre.


  • Adaptational Sexuality: In the book, Rico was explicitly heterosexual. The film adds homosexual subtext.
  • Anti-Hero: Rico is a brutal, murderous gangster, and the film makes no attempt to hide that fact.
  • Arch-Enemy: Rico to Sergeant Flaherty
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: Rico is a snappy dresser.
  • Big Bad: Rico is basically both the protagonist and the main villain of the film.
  • Character Title: "Little Caesar" is Rico's nickname.
  • Cool Guns: This movie featured the first usage of the Thompson machine gun, the famous "Tommy gun" that became iconically associated with gangsters (in the movies, anyway).
  • Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangster!: Rico certainly seems to be having fun.
  • Drowning His Sorrows: Rico, who doesn't drink at all for most of the film, drinks straight from the bottle at the flophouse, leading to his fatal Revenge Before Reason moment.
  • Establishing Character Moment: In the first scene, Rico robs a gas station, killing the attendant.
  • Gangland Drive-By: Tony gets shot like this after it seems like he's going to squeal on Rico.
  • Gayngster: Rico never shows a hint of interest at any woman over the course of the film, but he's sure fond of and friendly with Joe. He gets angry and jealous when Joe starts a relationship with Olga. And when Joe finally chooses Olga over a life of crime, Rico decides to kill him—but Rico, who has been brutal and coldly evil throughout the whole film, suddenly starts getting upset and emotional at the prospect of murdering Joe. The Homoerotic Subtext is very thick. Then there's Otero, who practically worships Rico as a god and always looks at him in a fawning, admiring way that strongly suggests homoeroticism as well.
  • Get It Over With: Said when Rico tries to force Joe to join him.
    Joe: "Shoot, Rico, get it over with."
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck!: Rico's last words were originally meant to start "Mother of God," but the line was vetoed by the censors.
  • Homoerotic Subtext: It is not hard at all to interpret the film this way. Rico's lack of interest in women. Rico's obvious fondness for Joe and jealousy of Joe's relationship with Olga. Rico, who is usually very hard-boiled, being emotionally upset when faced with the necessity of killing Joe. Apparently the author of the source novel, who had no such intention, wrote a letter of protest to Warner Brothers. Otero's fawning admiration for Rico can also be seen this way.
  • Minion with an F in Evil: Tony, one of Rico's goons, has an attack of conscience and tries to confess to a priest. Rico shoots him for it.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: "Little Caesar" is a good name for a brutal, murderous crime lord.
  • Narcissist: Rico. He's an egomaniac who is ruthlessly devoted to his own advancement.
  • New Year Has Come: The robbery of the nightclub takes place during the New Year's celebration.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    • Contrary to popular belief, Rico wasn't based on Al Capone. He was based on Salvatore "Sam" Cardinella, a violent Chicago gangster who operated in the early years of Prohibition.
    • Joe Massara was based on actor George Raft, who was associated with Owney Madden, the man who organized the taxi racket in New York City.
    • Diamond Pete Montana was modeled on Jim Colosimo, who was murdered under the orders of Johnny Torrio, Capone's mentor and predecessor; and "The Big Boy" was based on corrupt politician William 'Big Bill' Thompson, Mayor of Chicago.
  • Resignations Not Accepted: Rico refuses to let Joe leave the gangster life, deciding instead to kill him.
    Joe: You don't run out on a gang.
  • Revenge Before Reason: Rico so prideful and arrogant that after escaping from the police, he comes out of hiding when Sergeant Flaherty keeps calling him a coward in the newspaper. This was Flaherty plan all along and this leads to Rico's death.
  • "Rise and Fall" Gangster Arc: Rico joins Sam Vettori's gang, quickly seizes control of the organization, and bests rival mob boss Little Arnie in a mob war, seizing control of Chicago's northside. However, Rico's impulsiveness, paranoia, and pride ultimately lead to the police crushing his organization, before Rico himself gets shot dead by a police officer.
  • The Starscream: Rico is this throughout the film, continually plotting to overthrow whoever he's working for. He supersedes Vettori through sheer alpha-male agression. He's plotting to overthrow the city crime boss (the "Big Boy") but his empire collapses before he gets the chance.
  • Sycophantic Servant: Otero worships Rico. See Homoerotic Subtext above.
  • Third-Person Person: Rico has a habit of doing this, even when he's dying, as shown by his last words.
  • Title Drop: Rico's nickname.
  • Trigger-Happy: Before the nightclub robbery, Rico is specifically ordered not to shoot anyone, in order to avoid extra attention being focused on the mob. What does Rico do? Shoot someone. Whom does he shoot? The police commissioner.
  • Verbal Tic, see? Edward G. Robinson practically invented the stereotypical gangster voice.
    • Became iconic enough that 80 years later, Walter from The Muppets (2011) imitated criminals by talking like that.
  • Villain Protagonist: Rico, again, who is indisputably the protagonist and indisputably the villain, being a homicidal gangster.