For Reel

The Last Gangster (1937)
December 16, 2013, 9:59 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Edward Ludwig
4.5 Stars
The Last GangsterIn 1937, Edward G. Robinson had just resigned with Warner Brothers and was at a point in his career where he was growing tired of playing the gangster. It came as some surprise to see him take on yet another picture where he played the Al Capone type, only this time not for his home studio but rather for MGM. The resulting minor masterpiece The Last Gangster gave him one of his very best roles–a hard-nosed crime lord with a sentimental side. Early in the film, he is convicted for tax evasion and sent to prison for ten years, coincidentally on the day that his boy is born. His wife Talya (Rose Stradner) leaves him when she reads of his misdeeds in the paper, and while he rots in Alcatraz she gets together with a moral news reporter (James Stewart) who raises the son as his own. Robinson’s release sees him anxious to reclaim the boy at any cost. This dynamic–between the transgressive hero and the child he is separated from–is akin to a fallen woman melodrama, giving Robinson even more to work with than the expected opportunity to humanize the gangster. While many of his characters are tragic and are rendered with a level of complexity, here his patriarchal anxiety adds a new layer. His desire to be a father stems from not only his own feelings of impotence (he proudly boasts of his son’s weight to the prison guards) but from what increasingly seems like genuine love. Director Edward Ludwig contributes a number of atmospheric sequences, including the frightening trip to Alcatraz wherein a group of prisoners speculate their ultimate destination. Stewart, in one of his first leading roles, isn’t given a whole lot to do, but it does provide some amusement to see him sport a mustache.

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