Edward G. Robinson (born Emmanuel Goldenberg) is riveting as the ruthless Italian American mobster Caesar Enrico Bandello in this classic gangster film set in Prohibition era Chicago. One of the great iconic Jewish actors of the last century, Robinson seethes as Caesar (known as Rico), a maniacal, ambitious crook whose archetypal journey inspired Martin Scorsese to call the film "a morality play." LITTLE CAESAR, based on the book by W.B. Burnett, shows not only the "evils" associated with prohibition but the opportunities that the Volstead Act afforded to every two-bit thug with ambition. Some say director Mervyn LeRoy wanted Clark Cable to play Rico, but gave the role to Edward G. Robinson when Gable wasn't available. Robinson, who bore a slight resemblance to Al Capone, nailed the role, much to the benefit of cinematic posterity.
Robinson was born in Bucharest, Romania and came to the U.S. when he was ten years old. He worked as an actor on Broadway before turning to film, where he graced the screen in House of Strangers, The Cincinnati Kid, The Last Gangster and Key Largo. Although Robinson frequently played gangsters, in reality he was an erudite man who spoke seven languages. This is not a Jewish subject film, but I suspect that when it was released in 1931, Jewish audiences across America knew that the little guy with the big voice was one of their own.