Shadowy and Satiny Picks: What to Watch on TCM in March 2023

March is Oscar month – and my film noir and pre-Code recommendations this month both star Edward G. Robinson, who not only never won an Oscar, but was never even nominated! I hope you’ll take the time to celebrate this unforgettable performer by checking out two features that showcase his versatile talent. You only owe it to yourself.

Satiny Pick: Little Caesar (1931)

Name a pre-Code gangster movie. What’s the first title that pops in your head? For me, it’s Little Caesar – the granddaddy of ‘em all. A nominee for Best Adapted Screenplay, it’s airing on TCM on March 2nd, and it’s my Satiny selection for the month.

Robinson plays the title role, a small-time hood named Cesar Enrico “Rico” Bandello, a self-described nobody who wants to “be somebody, doing things in a big way.” To make his dreams a reality, he travels to Chicago with his pal, Joe Massara (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.), but while Rico joins a local gang, determined to become the town’s top mob boss, Joe is more interested in making a living as a dancer and pursuing a relationship with his dance partner, Olga (Glenda Farrell).

For my money, Rico is one of Robinson’s most fascinating and multifaceted characters. He’s not driven by a desire for money but, rather, a longing for power and prestige. He’s an avowed teetotaler who’s quick to reach for his gat. He’s audacious and completely fearless, but displays a pleased, almost “aw shucks” demeanor when he’s honored by his fellow mobsters. And despite his hard-hearted, callous exterior, he’s loyal to those who are loyal to him.

Tune into TCM March 2nd to see if Rico reaches the heights he’s aiming for, whether Joe is able to leave his life of crime behind, and if the relentless Sgt. Flaherty (Thomas E. Jackson) is successful in his efforts to bring Rico to justice. Mother of mercy – you don’t want to miss this one!

Other stuff:

— Rico and his loyal right-hand man, Otero (George Stone).

The film was based on the 1929 novel of the same name by W.R. Burnett, who would go on to co-write the screenplays for such classics as Scarface (1932) and High Sierra (1941), and pen the 1949 novel The Asphalt Jungle.

Rico’s right-hand man in the gang, Otero, was played by George Stone, who you may recognize from such films as The Front Page (1931), where he played Earl Williams; 42nd Street (1933); Pickup on South Street (1953); and Guys and Dolls (1955).

Keep your eyes peeled for this editing goof in the first few minutes of the film. Rico and Joe are in a diner; Rico has been reading a newspaper and puts the paper on the counter when his food arrives. But a few moments later, in a long shot, he’s reading the paper again. And in the next second, a medium shot shows Rico eating and the paper back on the counter again. Whoops.

The character of Rico was based on a Chicago gangster named Salvatore “Sam” Cardinella, and not Al Capone, as many speculated.

Shadowy Pick: The Stranger (1946)

When I think of my favorite noirs, or noirs that I see over and over again, I’ll admit that The Stranger (1946) doesn’t immediately come to mind.

— Tense and atmospheric, The Stranger is a must-see.

But when I do think of The Stranger, I always remember that it’s a cracking good film. It’s got an original story that was nominated for an Academy Award. A distinctive use of shadows and light, and an appropriately atmospheric score. Edward G. Robinson in the leading role. Orson Welles at the helm. It’s good stuff. And it’s my Shadowy pick for the month of March.

Set after the end of World War II, the story centers on Mr. Wilson (Robinson), a government official who is the head of the Allied War Crimes Commission and is determined to locate a war criminal by the name of Franz Kindler. The problem is that there are no photographs of Kindler, and no clues to his whereabouts. In an effort to find him. Wilson frees a criminal in his custody, Konrad Meinike (Konstantin Shayne), who worked as Kindler’s executive officer; as he’d hoped, Meinike leads him to Kindler, who is living in a small town called Harper, Connecticut, under the name of Professor Charles Rankin (Orson Welles). And on the day that Wilson trails Meinike to Harper, Rankin is marrying Mary Longstreet (Loretta Young), the daughter of a Supreme Court judge.

Can Mr. Wilson be certain that Rankin is the elusive Franz Kindler? Is there any concrete proof that the two men are one and the same? And can Mary be persuaded that her loving husband isn’t the man she thinks she is? Tune into TCM March 27th to find out.

Other stuff:

— Billy House serves as the film’s sole source of levity.

Phillip Merivale, who played Loretta Young’s father, died of a heart ailment in March 1946, before the release of the film. He was 59 years old. Merivale had been married since 1937 to actress Gladys Cooper.

For reasons that have escaped me, Mary calls her father by his first name, Adam – and he calls her “sister.”

Mary’s younger brother was played by Richard Long. This was his second film.

There was originally a scene in the film where Mary went for a walk in the woods with Charles Rankin instead of going to church. However, Loretta Young, a devout Catholic, objected to being shown skipping church, so Orson Welles changed the meeting between Charles and Mary to a different day of the week, and showed Mary out walking her dog. Ultimately, the scene wasn’t used.

The owner of the small-town drugstore, Solomon Potter, was played by Billy House, who started his career during the pre-Code era. In his last big-screen appearance, he played the fat man on the beach who gets his picture taken by John Gavin in Imitation of Life (1959).

~ by shadowsandsatin on March 1, 2023.

7 Responses to “Shadowy and Satiny Picks: What to Watch on TCM in March 2023”

  1. I just watched The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1944), The Woman in the Window (1944) and Scarlet Street (1945).

    Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea co-starred with Robinson in the second and third film — directed by Fritz Lang who liked the trio’s chemistry.

    Scarlet Street was banned in a few cities including New York.

    The Academy honored him after his passing, and he is #24 on the American Film Institute’s list of the Top 25 male stars.

  2. […] Little Caesar (1930) […]

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