J. Chalmers Maxwell (Edward G. Robinson) — known as “Pressure” by his buddies in the underworld — has big plans for his new life after being released from prison. Another prisoner, Leo Dexter (Anthony Quinn), has proposed that they work together on a bank heist.
Instead, Pressure wants to go straight and build an upstanding life with his adopted daughter, Denny (Jane Wyman).
Pressure’s plans are thrown for a loop when he realizes, upon release, that the business he hoped to start will require $25,000 to get going. He tries to get a loan, but is turned down.
So, along with pals Weepy Davis (Edward Brophy) and Jug Martin (Broderick Crawford), he concocts a slightly criminal plan to make the dough. They’ll buy the floundering luggage shop next to the bank, and tunnel their way to the vault through the basement.
Lloyd Bacon directs 1942’s Larceny, Inc. This criminal comedy is enjoyed by both critics and fans: 3.5 stars out of four from Leonard Maltin, a 77% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes, 7.4 out of 10 on IMDb. Even the ol’ grump Bosley Crowther gave love to Edward G. Robinson’s performance in his 1942 New York Times review.
Larceny, Inc. is worthy of the praise it gets, and perhaps more praise than it gets, though it isn’t a perfect film. The pace could be a bit snappier, the dialogue a bit snippier. But as it exists, the film is still a delight to watch, full of misguided schemes and amusing complications.
There are plenty of laughs to be had, thanks to the trio of Robinson, Brophy, and Crawford. They play off of each other very well and are all perfectly cast in their roles. The good casting extends throughout the rest of the ensemble — Anthony Quinn as the villain itching to get in on Pressure’s latest scheme, and Jane Wyman as the sweet and hopeful adopted daughter of Pressure.
Though I’ve long considered myself a fan of him, Edward G. Robinson isn’t the first name that comes to mind when I think of my favorite actors. Whenever I watch one of his films, however, I’m reminded of his brilliance and find him climbing up the ranks.
Roles like that of “Pressure” are some of my favorites to watch from Robinson’s filmography. As TCM’s article on this film notes: “Weary of being typed as a tough guy, Robinson relished his opportunities to turn the familiar characterization on its ear, like A Slight Case of Murder (1938) and Brother Orchid (1940).” Robinson excelled at playing menacing characters, but was equally talented in putting a comedic spin on his usual gangster fare, as captured perfectly by his dual role in 1935’s The Whole Town’s Talking. He had fun playing these parts, and we the viewers have just as much fun watching him play them.
Devotees of Edward G. are sure to get a kick out of Larceny, Inc., though I’d recommend this very funny film to any fan of the crime-comedy blend as well. The score: 4/5