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There are arguably three great films that shaped the gangster genre in the early 1930s: Little Caesar (1931), The Public Enemy (1931) and this one. Howard Hawks and Richard Rosson co-direct this picture with a fluidity lacking in most films of the era and with surprising restraint, given the picture’s censorship problems. Paul Muni’s performance in the title role was clearly modeled on Al Capone and has an animalistic naiveté that makes the character oddly appealing. The source material came from a novel by Armitage Trail and was inspired by Capone’s rise to power. Screenwriter Ben Hecht drew on his experience as a Chicago journalist to add real-life details to the film. Producer Howard Hughes battled with censors from the start, both fighting with them and in some cases using their suggestions to improve the film. When censors insisted that Muni’s devotion to his family be less sympathetic, Hawks inserted hints of an incestuous desire with the character’s sister (Ann Dvorak) that gave the film echoes of the noble House of Borgias. Hughes shot a new ending (without Hawks or Muni) with the main character tried, convicted and executed. When that still didn’t appease the New York censors, he scrapped that version, released it without their approval and made a fortune. (d. Howard Hawks and Richard Rosson, 93m, Digital)

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