Friday, May 22, 2015

Little Caesar (1931)

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From: "2,500 Movies Challenge" <>
Date: May 22, 2015 4:46 PM
Subject: Dave's 2,500 Movies Challenge
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Dave's 2,500 Movies Challenge

#1,740. Little Caesar (1931)

Posted: 22 May 2015 09:53 AM PDT

Directed By: Mervyn LeRoy

Starring: Edward G. Robinson, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Glenda Farrell

Line from this film: "I don't want no dancin'... I figure in makin' other people dance"

Trivia: Warner Brothers' head of production, Darryl F. Zanuck, decided to make this film after one of his close friends was killed by a bootlegger

Though not the first American gangster movie ever made (most agree that honor belongs to D.W. Griffith's The Musketeers of Pig Alley), Little Caesar kicked off a series of films that focused on the anti-hero, a criminal whose fearlessness and fortitude carried him to the top, making him king of the underworld. Usually lumped together with The Public Enemy (released later that same year) and Scarface (1932), Little Caesar made a lot of people sit up and take notice, and not everyone liked what they were seeing.

Two petty hoods, Cesare Enrico Bandello (Edward G. Robinson) and Joe Massara (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.), tired of working in the sticks for chump change, head to the city, where they hope to make a name for themselves. For Massara, that means leaving the criminal life behind and becoming a professional dancer. Paired with the lovely Olga (Glenda Farrell), Joe headlines at a posh nightclub, and before long is a big star. As for his pal, Cesare Enrico (who likes to be called "Rico" for short), he wants one thing and one thing only: power! Starting out as the muscle in a gang headed by Sam Vettori (Stanley Fields), Rico's blinding ambition and tough-as-nails mentality (as well as his knack for knocking off the competition) helps him rise through the ranks. But along with the power comes notoriety, and before long police Sergeant Flaherty (Thomas Jackson), who's sworn to take down the city's criminal element, comes gunning for Rico. Will the pugnacious hood remain on top, or is this the end of Cesare Enrico Bandello?

Aside from initiating the Hollywood gangster craze, Little Caesar is the film that made Edward G. Robinson a star. A diminutive actor hailing from Bucharest, Romania, Robinson brought a calculated determination, as well as the feistiness of a rabid dog, to the role of Rico, and in so doing made him the most charismatic character in the entire film (even an actor as experienced as Douglas Fairbanks Jr. seems boring when compared to Robinson's portrayal of Rico). From the get-go, we know exactly what Rico is after, and never once does he veer from that path. It isn't even the money he wants; he tells Joe early on that it's the power he's after, the knowledge that he's on top, and people will obey his every command. This is what drives Rico to kill and steal, and watching his meteoric rise is what makes Little Caesar such a fascinating motion picture.

As it was with Cagney in The Public Enemy and Paul Muni in Scarface, Robinson's performance ensured that the lawless Rico was the focal point of Little Caesar, a fact that didn't sit well with either the censors or the moral majority (at one point, the American Legion, fearing their influence, threatened to boycott all gangster films). But try as they might to change the tide of public opinion, American audiences connected with these anti-heroes, who used tenacity alone to climb the ladder of success. It didn't even matter if Johnny Law won out in the end; for a while, Little Caesar's Rico, The Public Enemy's Tom Powers, and Scarface's Tony Camonte were on top of the world looking down on the rest of us, and for audience members still dealing with Great Depression, this taste of victory, however brief, was surely better than what the world was offering them.

#1,739. Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990)

Posted: 21 May 2015 09:36 PM PDT

Directed By: John Harrison

Starring: Deborah Harry, Matthew Lawrence, Christian Slater

Tag line: "Four Ghoulish Fables in One Modern Nightmare"

Trivia: Laurel Productions initially announced a sequel to this film in October 1990, but it never came to fruition

I was a fan of the Tales from the Darkside television series, though admittedly I came to it a bit late (it launched in 1984, but I didn't start watching until '87, at which point it was on its last legs). But even if I'd never seen the show, I'd have wanted to check out 1990's Tales from the Darkside: The Movie. A horror anthology featuring segments written by Michael McDowell (who penned Beetlejuice and The Nightmare Before Christmas) and George A. Romero (the Living Dead series), one of which was based on a short story by Stephen King (Creepshow, Pet Sematary), Tales from the Darkside: The Movie already had enough going for it, but throw in makeup effects by Robert Kurtzman (Predator, From Dusk Till Dawn), Howard Berger (Drag Me to Hell, This is the End), and Greg Nicotero (Day of the Dead, Wishmaster), and you have a film sure to pique the interest of most red-blooded genre fans.

Betty (Debbie Harry), a witch living in a posh suburban neighborhood, is preparing a dinner party for eight, and the main course is going to be her paperboy, Timmy (Matthew Lawrence), who she has chained up in a small dungeon that's adjacent to the kitchen. Hoping to stall his imminent demise, Timmy relates his three favorite stories from the horror-themed book that Betty gave him to pass the time. The first, titled Lot 249, is about a nerdy college student named Bellingham (Steve Buscemi) who's been cheated out of a fellowship award by classmates Lee (Robert Sedgwick) and Susan (Julianne Moore). An antiquity major, Bellingham takes his revenge by bringing an ancient Egyptian mummy (Michael Deak) to life, then ordering it to kill his two adversaries. But will Bellingham's neighbor Andy (Christian Slater), who also happens to be Susan's brother, thwart his plans before they come to fruition? Story #2, aka Cat from Hell, tells the tale of an elderly rich man (William Hickey) who offers a professional assassin (David Johansen) $100,000 to kill the black cat that's been hanging around his mansion. Yet what at first appears to be an easy hit takes a terrifying turn when the cat starts fighting back. Finally, there's Lover's Vow, in which Preston (James Remar), a struggling New York artist, witnesses a murder committed by a gargoyle. Instead of finishing Preston off as well, the gargoyle makes him promise never to tell anyone about what he's just seen. Preston agrees, and over the course of the next 10 years, his career takes off. What's more, he marries a beautiful woman named Carola (Rae Dawn Chong), the love of his life and the eventual mother of his two children. For Preston, it's the realization of all his wildest dreams, but some dreams have a way of turning into nightmares.

With decent performances from both Debbie Harry and Matthew Lawrence, the framing story gets the job done, but it's the three segments that truly stand out. Aside from featuring a sexy Julianne Moore (in what would be her big-screen debut), Lot 249 (which McDowell adapted from a short story written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) is also a nod to the classic monsters of Universal's heyday, a reminder that even a mummy can give you the shivers . Written by Romero and based on a work by Stephen King, Cat from Hell is the film's funniest sequence (thanks in large part to William Hickey, whose over-the-top portrayal of a drug-addicted millionaire had me laughing out loud), but it also has one of the movie's best special effects, a moment that will have you laughing and cringing all at the same time. And even though the final twist in Lover's Vow is a tad predictable, it's still an effectively romantic tale (and the gargoyle is awesome as hell).

With the crisp storytelling of the TV series combined with plenty of R-rated gore, Tales from the Darkside: The Movie is the best of both worlds, and that alone is something to celebrate. Whether you're a fan of the show or not, Tales from the Darkside: The Movie is definitely worth a watch.

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