Edward G. Robinson(1893-1973)

    The 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 refinement.
    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 police. 
     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.
      Other favorite 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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