Robinson's Roaring Back!
Eddie Doing What He Does Best in Illegal (1955)
A rare-by-1955 animal for Warners --- a totally in-house production just as in yore, with star alumnus Edward G. Robinson doing dynamo duty as if Little Caesar had just happened. Do I recommend Illegal? Crawl if you must to see it. Or more conveniently, watch the HD stream at Warner Instant or a DVD (combo-available with RKO's The Big Steal). Having checked out WB's '55 output, I find much was independent-produced and merely distributed by the Brothers:
Illegal was like a testimonial for Eddie before his backlog avalanched to television, that to come within a year. Far be it to imagine anyone at Warners trafficking in sentiment, but could Robinson have been handed this for freeze-out he'd known since apply of HUAC screws? He'd been maligned as a Red, kept out of class pics, a hardship then, but palatable in hindsight for fun and unpretentious work he'd do instead: A Bullet For Joey, Vice Squad, Black Tuesday, etc. Chances are Warner's largesse was more profit motivated: their previous year reissue of Little Caesar (with Public Enemy) had been a hit, so why not Eddie in something new? Illegal EGR is forceful after fashion of toughies bearing Warner shield when he was one of their top hands. After this and Hell On Frisco Bay, the actor would slow to character work more age-appropriate. Illegal is valedictory for days when the little giant would slug guys to make a point (his attorney for the offense delivers as many knuckle sandwiches as speeches in Illegal's courtroom). Here is one that makes lawyering almost look like fun (I said almost). What Eddie does with rules of evidence and procedure is sheer joy to watch.
Everyone knew he was an art collector, so an inside joke has mouthpiece Robinson dropping in on crime boss Albert Dekker's H.Q. where he observes masterpieces hung on walls. Eddie I.D.'s each admiringly, gag being they were all loaned from the actor's personal collection, value of six canvasses totaling $213,500 (now it would be millions). Also ensconced in Dekker's pad is Jayne Mansfield --- a (calendar) art object in her own right. This was touted at the time as Jayne's screen debut, done concurrently Pete Kelly's Blues actually US-released first. Anyway, she was a big noise around the
Illegal had its Broadway premiere in old-time vaudeville company at the Palace Theatre (one-time temple of variety), where a whopping eight acts preceded the feature. There was the Gaudsmith Brothers in "comedy antics with their uncooperative dogs," a harmonica virtuoso, "the Negro terp (dance) team" Billy and Ann, plus hoop juggling "which by now can be regarded as a classic exhibition of the art" (Variety). A first three days clocked $19K for the Palace, so who said vaudeville was dead? Edward G. Robinson would memoir-declare that his self-esteem fell by the hour during this "B picture phase of my career," trouble with his wife (she wanted a divorce) and son (he was getting one) an ongoing stress. But Illegal wasn't necessarily a "B," negative cost being $634K, about the same as being spent on the Randolph Scott westerns at WB. Illegal drew $535K in domestic rentals, $642K foreign. There was nice profit, $248K, a clear sign that Robinson in the right vehicle was still bankable. His fans would soon get the dollop when everything Eddie earlier did cascaded onto late shows via sale of the pre-49 Warner library to AAP.