The Little Giant (1933)

Director:

Roy Del Ruth

When Prohibition ends, a beer baron sees the writing on the wall, quits the rackets, and tries to break into California society.

Movin’ On Up

27 May 2013 | by GManfred (Ramsey, NJ) – See all my reviews

Prohibition ends and gangster boss Bugsy Ahearn, like so many during the depression, finds himself unemployed. What to do? Fortunately, he has laid aside much of his ill-gotten gains and has no money worries. So he decides to improve himself, to acquire some culture and move in elite circles. And therein lies a very funny story.

Edward G. Robinson shows a flair for comedy and shows off some of his immense talent as a social climber who decides to shoot the moon. He moves from Chicago to the West Coast, buys a mansion and falls for a lady from a family of swindlers, and generally falls into a series of mishaps, each one funnier than the last. He gets excellent support from Mary Astor, who becomes his guide to the finer points of becoming ‘quality’.

You will gain great respect for Robinson if you’ve only seen him in tough-guy roles, as he carries the picture as a society naif in this written-for-the-screen comedy. There are no dead spots, either, as the story moves along briskly in an enjoyable 75 minutes. It was shown at Cinefest, Columbus, O., 6/13.

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Yet Another Pre-Code Gem From Warners

Author: fowler1 from nyc
25 August 2000

Although the early sound era presented some problems – such as stationary camera shots with the actors nailed to their marks, and minimal use of background music resulting in long stretches of torpor – by 1931 most of these bugs had been corrected; thus the pre-censorship period of ’31-’34 is chockfull of some of the most vigorous, creative and satisfying movies of Hollywood’s Golden Age, however little-known many of them may be. LITTLE GIANT is one such hidden gem. A lightning-paced gangster comedy from the Warner-First National studio (where speed and economy were stylistic hallmarks), it’s fast, funny and flippant in a manner that the decayed virgins of the Hays Office would render, if not impossible, at least awfully difficult after ’34. Edward G Robinson plays Bugs Ahearn, a Chicago bootlegger put out of business by Prohibition’s repeal, who decides to relocate to California and buy his way into society.

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Once there, he’s immediately preyed upon by the type of ‘respectable’ vipers & parasites his background has left him ill-equipped to recognize, let alone fend off. This ‘fish-out-of-water’ comedy benefits greatly from a cheerfully amoral tone and a slew of zesty performances, not least of them Mary Astor’s as a busted heiress who is the only non-hood here who’s on the level. The mix of slapstick and rat-a-tat verbal comedy, coming at you at fast as it does, works very well, and nobody was better at this kind of hectic farce than the woefully-underrated Roy del Ruth, who was one of a number of sure & steady craftsmen who hit their peaks only under the Warners’ aegis. In Del Ruth’s case, the coming of the Code (and his subsequent move to MGM) proved to be disastrous: though he continued to direct till the late 50s, his post-Warners work was so drained of zest and inspiration that he is hardly remembered at all today. Even the auteurist crowd dismisses him as a competent hack. But do yourself a favor and seek out everything he did prior to 1935, and you’ll be rewarded with a body of work that will surprise you with its cynical bite and confident staging. They play as well today as they did the day they opened. (Highly recommended, besides GIANT, are BLESSED EVENT, LADY KILLER, EMPLOYEES ENTRANCE & TAXI.)

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A fast-paced Edward G. Robinson classic

9/10
Author: audiemurph from United States
3 February 2012

Like every great First National picture, this one starts off quickly, with Edward G. Robinson in full, glorious gangster mode, speaking the classic language of the Prohibition movie gangsters, words like “mugs” and “rods” ornamenting his lines. But there is a twist here: Robinson (as “Bugs” Ahearn, the “Beer Baron”), is going to quit the illegal beer business (since Prohibition has ended), and go straight. In fact, Bugs has a dream: to become successful in high society.

The script is very fast paced and delightful, and in a couple of places, quite shocking, reminding us of how progressive pre-Code Hollywood could be; I almost fell out of my chair when Robinson’s flunky and companion Al, when asked by Robinson whether he ever saw a painting like the one in his living room, responds with, “not since I stopped using cocaine”!! Another shocker comes later when Robinson refers to some slimy society people as “fags”. Oh dear!

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Robinson was an amazing actor. He constantly shifts back and forth between the know-it-all wiseguy bully, and a would be high society snob, who is very unsure of himself. This uncertain, unconfident Robinson, a tough guy who swallows his pride and grovels before his betters, is pleasing to see, and he does it very well. Perhaps one of the great Robinson scenes of all time is when Mary Astor seduces an unsuspecting EGR on a couch. Robinson plays it beautifully, as he has no idea that he is being seduced; and in a delightful moment, when Mary Astor has shyly moved away, sudden realization hits EGR as to what might have just happened. He turns to the camera, and I swear he makes exactly the kind of faces, registering surprise and possible comprehension to the audience, exactly as Oliver Hardy famously did a thousand times in his career. A priceless and lovely moment.

There are many satisfying moments in this film, and I highly recommend this. The early EG Robinson movies are gifts to be treasured, and this is one of the best.

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The Little Giant Finds He is Out of His Depth in Society!!!

10/10
Author: kidboots from Australia
28 November 2010
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Part of Edward G. Robinson’s longevity in movies was his ability to choose the occasional film that showed he could laugh at the tough characters he created. In “The Whole Town’s Talking” (1935) and “A Slight Case of Murder” (1938) he successfully kidded his own genre but he did it first with “The Little Giant” (1933).

He plays Bugsy Ahearn, a Chicago beer baron and the film begins with the election of President Roosevelt. That spells the end of prohibition but O’Hearn has already started making plans – reading books on ancient Greece by Plato (Pluto!!!), buying modern art, taking up golf, in other words getting “cultured”!! – he is determined to “crash society”!!! His gang is like one big happy family but after he and Al (Russell Hopton) go out to California, he finds he is swimming with sharks when he becomes entangled with the fortune hunting Cass family. He falls instantly in love with Polly (Helen Vinson) but each of the family fleeces him in different ways until the father sells him a worthless company. Of course they don’t realise he has made his money bootlegging and when they do that is the only excuse they need to break Polly’s engagement, flee the country and leave him holding the bag – but not before he sends for his old cronies to dispense some Chicago rough justice of his own.

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This movie is just so much fun – Edward G. Robinson almost over- powers the whole cast and he really struts his stuff and gives the movie going public exactly what they expected from him in 1933 but with the added bonus of laughs!!! Mary Astor is as usual gorgeous and fully up to Robinson as Ruth. She plays a once wealthy girl, whose father has been financially ruined and she is now reduced to renting out the family mansion to Ahearn. She becomes his unofficial teacher, showing him how to act, how to give dinner parties and also that not everyone is as horrible as the Casses. Helen Vinson played the fortune hunting Polly to perfection but, strangely, I found her not as attractive as she usually is. Berton Churchill had also perfected roles like the conniving Father Cass and he was excellent. Shirley Grey was another example of a pretty, talented actress who just didn’t make it big – she played Ahearn’s cast off mistress, Edith. It was nice to see Russell Hopton with a decent part in a grade A film. He has one of the best lines in the movie. When O’Hearn asks him if he has ever seen a painting like that before, he replies “Not since I stopped using cocaine!!!!!

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