tough guy image of Edward G. Robinson, lips curled,
posture challenging, and holding a cigar like a
weapon, doesn't synch with the erudite
art expert who was a big winner on The $64,000
Question, one of the fifties and sixties most popular
programs. Perhaps it is that contradiction that best
defines Robinson's power on the screen. Most of the
characters he played were hoodlums, low-life men of
the streets, but Robinson was a man of great
Robinson started out in Hollywood as an import from
the Broadway stage. After almost fifteen years of
pounding the New York boards, the actor made it big
with Little Caesar. His snarling, mad-dog
performance, chewing on a cigar and spitting venom,
eliminating everyone in his way, made Robinson a
household name as a gangster movie star. The actor
must have had some private laughs over his screen
persona. Many of his memorable roles are gangsters,
all blood kin to Rico Bandello, the Little Caesar
who didn't want to die. Johnny Rocco, the mean
gangster on the lamb, holed up in a isolated Florida
hotel with moll and mob, holding court and hostages,
in Key Largo, is another of Robinson's great, nasty,
gangster portrayals. In Brother Orchid, the actor
plays Little John Sarto, a mob boss returning from
an extended vacation to find his number two has
taken over the rackets. Perhaps the dichotomy of
Robinson on screen and Robinson in real life is best
supported by John Ford's The Whole Town's
Talking. Robinson plays dual roles: that of mild-mannered
clerk Arthur Ferguson Jones, and his virtual dead-ringer Killer Mannion, a murderer on the run from
Robinson might be the last
guy you think of when it comes to comedy, but he was great in
one of the best gangster
spoofs Hollywood has ever done. A Slight Case of
Murder features the actor as a gangster trying to
fit the mold of a suburban socialite. His
"coming out" party is a comic celebration.
Robinson films of mine include Double
Indemnity as the relentless insurance
investigator Barton Keyes. I remember A
Dispatch from Reuters with great fondness in
which Robinson plays the founder of the news agency.
Woman in the Window is a wonderful
role and maybe the closest Robinson ever came to
screen romance. Fritz Lang directed Robinson as a
college professor who's caught in a web of lies.
Another fine part for Robinson is as the agent on
the tale of a Nazi war criminal in the Orson Welles
directed The Stranger.
Robinson appeared in more than eighty Hollywood
films before dying of heart failure when making Soylent
Green. Robinson's death scene in the movie
is all the more moving for his then recent death.
Gangster, sea captain, professor, cop, clerk,
doctor, business man, fight manager, baseball
manager, card player, film director, rancher, slave
driver, Robinson made them all convincing.
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The Hunted/B+,A-: Christopher Lambert is perfectly cast as a American
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