Classic Film Guide

Last Gangster, The (1937) - full review!

Directed by Edward Ludwig, with a story by Robert Carson and William Wellman that was adapted by John Lee Mahin (Captains Courageous (1937)) - Carson and Wellman had collaborated on A Star is Born (1937) that same year, this slightly above average crime drama provides a bookend of sorts (what if Rico had gone to jail) to Little Caesar (1931), which also stars Edward G. Robinson. In this one, Robinson (whose makeup is all wrong in several scenes) plays gang leader Joe Krozac who, along with his right hand man Curly (Lionel Stander), bullies everyone and gets everything he wants. When Krozac wants a son, he goes to his native European country and comes back with wife Talya (Rose Stradner), who understands just enough English "but not too much". However, just like Al Capone, the government uses bookkeeping to get their man, convicting Krozac of tax evasion and sentencing him to 10 years in prison at Alcatraz, aka "the Rock". Once there, Joe learns he's not such an important man, the warden (Grant Mitchell) treats him like everyone else, he gets no privileges or special treatment. Hence, he's heckled by others like Caspar (John Carradine); Fats Garvey (Edward Brophy), however, realizes who Krozac is and reveres, even protects him when he can.

Meanwhile, Talya gives birth to Krozac’s son. When, with infant, she goes to San Francisco to visit her husband, a local reporter named Paul North (James Stewart!) plays a trick on her to get a picture of her baby with a pistol in his blanket. She's infuriated and, despite Curly, his lawyer (Frank Conroy as Sid Gorman), and her maid Gloria's (Louise Beavers) attempts to keep her ignorant of Krozac’s crimes, Talya goes to the newspaper's editor (Sidney Blackmer) to protest. Billy Benedict appears briefly and uncredited as an office boy. He educates her about her husband's past crimes. Obviously she's distressed and hurt, something North recognizes; Paul quits on the spot and later becomes Talya's second husband. They raise Krozac’s child as their own, Paul Jr. (Douglas Scott), while Krozac does his time.

Ten years later, when Krozac finally gets out, he's a changed man, one that's fully unprepared to deal with the ‘new’ Curly, who'd been bidding his time waiting for his former boss to get out so that he and his new gang can get their hands on Krozac’s hidden loot. All Krozac wants is to find Talya and their kid, which Curly and his cronies (Ben Welden is among those who appear uncredited) find to ‘force’ the gangster to reveal the location of his stash. When they get what they want, they release Krozac and Paul Jr. and the story becomes similar, if reversed, to Freddie Bartholomew's coming of age in Mahin’s first Oscar nominated story (Captains Courageous) that same year. In other words, Krozac experiences a maturation of sorts (the boy as his "mentor") such that he ultimately sacrifices himself for the youth (or at least, his anonymity) in the end. Alan Baxter's Acey Kile, whose three brothers had been murdered by Krozac 10 years earlier, provides the gangster with his opportunity for redemption.

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