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In the waning years of his tenure as a contract player for Warner Brothers, Edward G. Robinson found himself frequently spoofing the gangster persona that the studio had successfully exploited for a decade since his star-making bow in Little Caesar (1931). 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). Both of those comic classics were directed by Lloyd Bacon, and it was appropriate that Robinson should wind up his Warners contract working with the same director on Larceny, Inc. (1942).
Adapted from the Laura and S.J Perelman Broadway farce The Night Before Christmas, the story casts Robinson as "Pressure" Maxwell, a convict days away from his release from Sing Sing, who has vowed to go straight. His fairly dense fellow parolee Jug Martin (Broderick Crawford) is ready to go straight as well, and the two make plans to open a dog track. Determined to make a go of it, they pass on the invitation of fellow inmate Leo Dexter (Anthony Quinn) to lay the groundwork for a bank job that he's anxious to pull upon release.
Once back in the real world, however, the two ex-cons receive a shock, as their partner Weepy (Edward Brophy) has sold off the slot machines necessary for their new enterprise. Desperate for cash, they decide to co-opt Dexter's plan without his involvement. First, they purchase the small luggage store adjacent to the targeted bank, maintaining the business's facade while covertly attempting to tunnel into the adjoining basement.
However, the unanticipated amount of traffic and success that the bogus storefront generates prompts Pressure to ask his unsuspecting niece Denny (Jane Wyman) to manage the store. Delighted that her uncle seems genuinely determined to go legit, she accepts, and before long she's being charmed by fast-talking valise vendor Jeff Randolph (Jack Carson). Matters come to a head when news of the scheme gets back to Dexter, and he breaks jail in pursuit of his cut.
Larceny, Inc. is bolstered by Warner's usual array of distinguished character players, including Harry Davenport, John Qualen and Grant Mitchell; Jackie Gleason can also be seen in an early role. In terms of critical reception at the time of its release, Larceny, Inc. did not enjoy as favorable a reception as the other Robinson/Bacon crime comedies, but it has its admirers. Woody Allen paid it affectionate homage, lifting the film's basic premise for Small Time Crooks (2000).
Producer: Jack Saper, Jerry Wald, Hal B. Wallis
Director: Lloyd Bacon
Screenplay: Everett Freeman, Edwin Gilbert, Laura Perelman (play), S.J. Perelman (play)
Cinematography: Tony Gaudio
Film Editing: Ralph Dawson
Art Direction: John Hughes
Music: Adolph Duetsch, Howard Jackson, William Lava, Heinz Roemheld, Max Steiner
Cast: Edward G. Robinson (J. Chalmers Maxwell), Jane Wyman (Denny Costello), Broderick Crawford (Jug Martin), Jack Carson (Jeff Randolph), Anthony Quinn (Leo Dexter), Edward Brophy (Weepy Davis).
BW-96m. Closed captioning.
by Jay S. Steinberg