Directed by: Roy Del Ruth
Starring: Edward G. Robinson, Mary Astor, Helen Vinson, Russell Hopton, Berton Churchill
Only a few years after Edward G. Robinson’s iconic gangster in Little Caesar (1930), he was parodying his tough guy image in the very, very pre-code, cheerfully amoral comedy The Little Giant — about a Chicago bootlegger retiring from the racket upon the election of FDR and the repeal of Prohibition that the election portends. Turns out that J. Francis “Bugs” Ahearn (Robinson) has been preparing for this eventuality for some time by acquiring “culture,” which he now claims he’s “just crawlin’ with.” So he sells his trucks, warehouses, breweries and arsenal to various concerns and sets off — with his inseparable sidekick (Russell Hopton) — to get a taste of society out in Santa Barbara. None too surprisingly (we’ve already seen him display his “culture”), he’s too rough around the edges for the snooty society girl (Helen Vinson) he falls for. But when he rents a mansion, the agent (Mary Astor) — who is actually the owner of the place, not an agent — offers her services to act as his social secretary and help guide him through the portals of the Santa Barbara haut monde. But things are not as they seem and Ahearn finds himself taken for a ride by crooked society folks — something he intends to settle on “the Chicago plan.” It’s fast, funny and a little shocking in its pre-code drug references and gay jokes. (As near as I can determine this is the first film — and would remain so for decades — to use a certain derogatory term.)
In Brief: Wildly pre-code gangster comedy that spoofs star Edward G. Robinson’s tough guy image. Robinson plays the notorious “Bugs” Ahearn who gets out of the rackets when Prohibition is repealed and heads to California to learn to be a gentleman. Snappy, funny and frequently startling in what they got away with before the production code kicked in.