A Romanian Jew in Hollywood: Edward G. Robinson

Open access

Abstract

The present study aims to investigate the contribution that actor Edward G. Robinson brought to the American film industry, beginning with his iconic role as gangster Little Caesar in Mervyn Le Roy’s 1931 production, and continuing with widely-acclaimed parts in classic film noirs such as Double Indemnity, The Woman in the Window and Scarlet Street. Edward G. Robinson was actually a Romanian Jew, born Emmanuel Goldenberg in Bucharest, in 1893, a relatively little known fact nowadays. By examining his biography, filmography and his best-known, most successful films (mentioned above), I show that Edward G. Robinson was one of classical Hollywood’s most influential actors; for instance, traits of his portrayal of Little Caesar (one of the very first American gangster films) can be found in almost all subsequent cinematic gangster figures, from Scarface to Vito Corleone. In the same vein, the doomed noir characters he played in Fritz Lang’s The Woman in the Window and Scarlet Street are still considered by film critics today to be some of the finest, most nuanced examples of noir heroes. Therefore, the main body of my article will be dedicated to a more detailed analysis of these films, while the introductory section will trace his biography and discuss some of his better-known films, such as Confessions of a Nazi Spy and Key Largo. The present study highlights Edward G. Robinson’s merits and impact on the cinema industry, proving that this diminutive Romanian Jew of humble origins was indeed something of a giant during Hollywood’s classical era.

Abbott, Megan E. The Street Was Mine. White Masculinity in Hardboiled Fiction and Film Noir. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002. Print.

Brook, Vincent. Driven to Darkness. Jewish Émigré Directors and the Rise of Film Noir. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2009. Print.

Chopra-Gant, Mike. Hollywood Genres and Postwar America. Masculinity, Family and Nation in Popular Movies and Film Noir. London: I. B. Tauris Publishers, 2006. Print.

Dickos, Andrew. Street with No Name. A History of Classic American Film Noir. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2002. Print.

Duncan, Paul. Film Noir. Harpenden: Pocket Essentials, 2006. Print.

Gansberg, Alan L. Little Caesar: A Biography of Edward G. Robinson. Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2004. Print.

Gates, Philippa. Detecting Men. Masculinity and the Hollywood Detective Film. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2006. Print.

Grant, Barry Keith, ed. Film Genre Reader III. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003. Print.

—. Film Genre from Iconography to Ideology. London: Wallflower, 2007. Print. 1941–1991. Madison: Farleigh Dickinson University Press, 1996. Print.

Gustafsson, Henrik. “A Wet Emptiness: The Phenomenology of Film Noir.” A Companion to Film Noir. Eds. Andrew Spicer, Helen Hanson. Malden: Wiley Blackwell, 2013. 50-66. Print.

Hark, Ina Rae, ed. American Cinema of the 1930s. Themes and Variations. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2007. Print.

Irwin, John T. Unless the Threat of Death Is behind Them. Hard-Boiled Fiction and Film Noir. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006. Print.

Leich, Thomas. Crime Films. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Print.

Maland, Charles. “Movies and the American Culture in the Annus Mirabilis”. American Cinema of the 1930s. Themes and Variations. Ed. Ina Rae Hark. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2007. 227-52. Print.

Maxfield, James. The Fatal Woman: Sources of Male Anxiety in American Film Noir. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1996. Print.

Mayer, Geoff, and Brian McDonnell. Encyclopedia of Film Noir. Westport: Greenwood Press, 2007. Print.

McGilligan, Pat. Backstory: Interviews with Screenwriters of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986. Print.

Milberg, Doris. World War II on the Big Screen. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, 2010. Print.

Munby, Jonathan. Public Enemies, Public Heroes. Screening the Gangster Film from Little Caesar to Touch of Evil. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1999. Print.

Naremore, James. More than Night. Film Noir in Its Contexts. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008. Print.

Neale, Steve. Genre and Hollywood. London and New York: Routledge, 2000. Print.

Park, William. What Is Film Noir? Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2011. Print.

Phillips, Gene D. Out of the Shadows: Expanding the Canon of Classic Film Noir. Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2012. Print.

Rabinowitz, Paula. “Gang Wars: Warner Brothers’ The Roaring Twenties Stars, News, and the New Deal.” A Companion to the Historical Film. Eds. Robert Rosenstone and Constantin Parvulescu. Malden: Wiley Blackwell, 2013. 257-82. Print.

Robinson, Edward G., with Leonard Spiegelgass. All My Yesterdays: An Autobiography. New York: Hawthorn Books, 1973. Print.

Rubin, Martin. Thrillers. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Print.

Ryall, Tom. “Film Noir, American Painting and Photography: Questions of Influence.” A Companion to Film Noir. Eds. Andrew Spicer, Helen Hanson. Malden: Wiley Blackwell, 2013. 158-74. Print.

Spicer, Andrew. Historical Dictionary of Film Noir. Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2010. Print.

Studlar, Gaylyn. “A Gunsel Is Being Beaten: Gangster Masculinity and the Homoerotics of the Crime Film, 1941–1942.” Mob Culture: Hidden Histories of the American Gangster Film. Eds. Lee Grieveson, Esther Sonnet, and Peter Stanfield. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2005. 120-45. Print.

American, British and Canadian Studies

The Journal of Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu

Journal Information

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2018: 0.101

Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 340 251 19
PDF Downloads 139 108 9