Birth Name: Emmanuel Goldenberg
Date of Birth: December 12, 1893
Date of Death: January 26, 1973
Number of films Edward G. Robinson made with Humphrey Bogart: 5
To be completely honest – I didn’t really like Edward G. Robinson before I started this blog. I knew very little about him. I’d only seen one of his five Bogart collaborations with Key Largo. I’d seen so many bad impressions, parodies, and caricatures of the man that I really only knew him as the poster boy for a 1930’s gangster joke!
Now, though? I’ve seen all of his Bogart collaborations and many of his non-Bogart films and he blows my mind with the way that he can play subtlety despite the fact that he was so gifted at being over-the-top. If anyone can give Bogart a run for his money in the ‘Not-Necessarily-Handsome Actor Who Still Made it to Icon Level Status,’ it’s Robinson.
A Romanian immigrant to New York at the age of 10, Robinson jumped into Yiddish Theater at the tender age of 19 before eventually making it to Broadway less than two years later. After that? Hollywood stardom and a permanent legacy as one of Tinsel Town’s toughest bad guys.
One of the best opportunities that I’ve had from writing this blog is that I’ve gotten to know a great guy by the name of “Gonzalo” who runs a site in the same vein to the Bogie Film Blog that’s solely about Edward G. Robinson. Exploring Robinson’s roles film by film, Gonzalo’s site is a fantastic stop for anyone looking for some conversation on classic films and Robinson as an actor. (Fair warning – the site’s in Spanish, so I use Google Translate when I’m there, but very little is lost in the translation! Forgive any translation mishaps!)
Gonzalo was kind enough to chat with me a bit about Robinson, his site, and Robinson’s collaborations with Bogart. (Even though English isn’t Gonzalo’s first language, he was gracious enough to bear with me and my Bogart-obsessed questioning!)
Bogie Film Blog: Gonzalo, what was it that really drove you to create a website devoted to the films of Edward G. Robinson?
Gonzalo: I like to watch his films and [talk] about him, I can’t get enough of his movies and [it doesn’t] matter how many times I watch them, I always have a good time, even if some of them are so-so.
His autobiography is a great book and his life story is very interesting, full of greatness and dificulties. He is a proof that [for] people with talent and conviction, the sky is the limit. We’re talking about somebody who wasn’t handsome – a little guy – but he was one of the most popular, respected, and better paid actors of his time. Most people tend to think about him like “the guy that always played gangsters in movies,” but he was an actor who could play anything and [always be] convincing – in good or evil characters, happy or bitter, intelligent or sucker. I [was already] posting about him and his movies in another blog, but after [I found] your site, I had the idea to devote an entire site to Robinson. Why not?
BFB: Exactly! I love it and feel greatly honored that you decided to go down the same path with the Robinson blog. Maybe we can convince a few other diehard fans to do the same with a few other actors. . .
What’s your favorite Robinson film?
G: It’s very hard to pick a movie, and I may change some options tomorrow, next week, or the next year, but Scarlet Street [has] my favorite Robinson performance. Scarlet Street was the film that made me realize how great his performances [were], [he was]somebody who [went] beyond the screen and reached your soul. I already knew who he was before that, but I wasn’t very into him until I watched that movie on TV. It’s curious, but I know now that one of my grandfathers was also a big Edward G. Robinson fan, so I suppose it’s a family thing.
BFB: If someone isn’t very familiar with Robinson, what would you suggest for a good “gateway” film into his work?
G: That’s a hard one because of the wide variety of his acting skills. Probably I’d change my choice depending [on who was] asking me. [Do they] like gangsters films, thrillers, comedy, or drama? But if I a had to pick just one for everybody [it] would be Dr. Erhlich’s Magic Bullet, a great performance in a very touching movie.
BFB: Out of the five films that Robinson shared with Bogart (Bullets or Ballots, Kid Galahad, The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse, Brother Orchid, and Key Largo) which one would you say is your favorite?
G: Key Largo. I have to say that [for] a time, I didn’t have as much appreciation for it as [I do] now, but a few months ago I watched it one more time and I loved it. Robinson is great in that film, [as] is Bogart, [and] Bacall is beautiful in a very spirited performance. And Lionel Barrymore, Claire Trevor, and the rest of the cast are terrific. The tension is very strong and Huston is in my top 5 film directors of all time. I usually don’t try to analyze a movie technically, but when you don’t care about how much time remains until the end of the movie that’s the sign of a great movie to me, and Key Largo makes you forget about anything else.
BFB: All right, Gonzalo, if you were stranded on a desert island and could only take two Robinson films and one other Classic Hollywood film that doesn’t star Robinson with you, which films would you take?
G: Scarlet Street and probably The Whole Town’s Talking for Robinson. In that John Ford movie [The Whole Town’s Talking], we have Robinson as a tough gangster and as a shy and simple guy in a very funny roll. And I’d carry also The Treasure Of Sierra Madre, perhaps the film I have watched [the most] times in my life and I still love it. But [for] some time, [I’ve been] very fond [of] W.C. Fields [and] I’d have to honor him [by] trying to ignore the “three movies only” rule and I’d try to sneak some more [along], like Witness For The Prosecution, To Be Or Not To Be, and It’s A Gift.
BFB: Gonzalo, thanks so much for your time and for the work that you’re doing on the Robinson site! If you want to visit Gonzalo’s blog, head over to his site here!
Bullets or Ballots – 1936
Robinson plays Johnny Blake, an undercover cop who’s trying hard to keep his cool in the middle of a dangerous job. Apparently, the ‘Legion of Decency’ and the ‘Production Code Administration’ were starting to give the studios a hard time for glorifying gangsters. The studios’ response was to turn some of their best bad guys (James Cagney, Robinson, etc.) into good guys. The neat little work-around though, was that the good guys didn’t have to necessarily be good. Here, Robinson plays a cop who’s undercover as a bad guy, meaning we still get all the roughhousing and tough guy bravado that we would have had in a gangster role, but occasionally we get to see Robinson whisper into a phone, “Pssst! Yeah, I got’em fooled!” and we know that he’s still on the right side of the law. We also get a close quarters pistol duel between Robinson and Bogart at the end of the film! You can read my original write-up on the film here.
Kid Galahad – 1937
Robinson plays boxing a promoter, Nick Donati, who stumbles across an unknown fighting phenomenon (Wayne Morris) at a hotel party and sees a chance to make a run for the heavyweight title and a whole lot of money. The only problem? The current champion works for mobster “Turkey” Morgan (Humphrey Bogart), and Morgan is willing to do whatever it takes to win. The film has your standard cookie-cutter Cinderella story, but the cast of Robinson, Bette Davis, Wayne Morris, and Bogart rise above the material to create a very entertaining dramedy. You can read my original write-up on the film here.
The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse – 1938
Robinson plays the unfortunately named Dr. Clitterhouse, a doctor so intrigued by the criminal mind that he decides to become a criminal in order to get some firsthand insight on their mindset and behaviors. The overall film suffers from tonal shifts – I wish they’d played it for a few less laughs – but it still has its moments. Robinson gets great scenes with both Claire Trevor and Bogart, especially their final confrontation together in his office. You can read my original write-up on the film here.
Brother Orchid – 1940
Robinson plays mob boss Johnny Sarto, a gangster who’s had enough crime and violence in his life and is looking for a way out. After dallying with the civilian life however, Sarto decides that he wants his old gang back. The catch? The old gang doesn’t want him back. Seated at the table is Jack Buck, played by Humphrey Bogart, who’s next in line for the boss’ seat – leading to Robinson going on the run and eventually hiding out in a monastery. Robinson’s got some really nice scenes with fellow monk Donald Crisp, but I wish that they’d gone a bit edgier with his character so that the eventual character arc would have been slightly more dramatic. Overall, Ann Southern, Crisp, Bogart, and Robinson are all great and it’s still worth a watch. You can read my original write-up on the film here.
Key Largo – 1948
Robinson plays mobster on the run, Johnny Rocco – a gangster who’s on the verge of losing his confidence. We get to watch Robinson strut, punch, slap, yell, threaten, sweat, quiver, and cower all in just an hour and forty minutes as he begrudgingly deals with his hostages (Bogart, Bacall, and Lionel Barrymore) and his drunk ex-girlfriend (Claire Trevor). On the receding side of his career, this was supposedly a “thank you” role for Robinson after having given Bogart so much time to shine in their earlier collaborations together. Robinson nails it. No matter what’s going right or wrong for Rocco in any given scene, there is an underlying sense of fear present that pervades every word and action on display. You can read my original write-up on the film here.