Review: Lloyd Bacon’s “Larceny, Inc.,” Starring Edward G. Robinson

Edward G. Robinson and Jane Wyman in
Edward G. Robinson and Jane Wyman in "Larceny, Inc."

Starring Edward G. Robinson, Larceny, Inc. follows former racketeer J. Chalmers “Pressure” Maxwell’s hilarious antics as he tries to start a clean business following his stint in prison. With the help of his cronies Jug Martin (Broderick Crawford) and Weepy Davis (Edward Brophy), he buys a luggage store next to a bank—in order to tunnel into its vault. In its first half, director Lloyd Bacon pulls off the film’s light, farcical tone, but it drags after a while thanks to a number of unnecessary subplots.

Fresh out of jail, Pressure plans on going legit but finds the task more difficult than he imagined. Quickly, he turns back to his criminal ways in order to fund his new endeavor. As he, Jug, and Weepy attempt to dig their way into the bank, burst pipes and constant interruptions from neighboring store owners slow their efforts. Pressure’s adopted daughter, Denny (Jane Wyman), uses oblivious luggage salesman Jeff (Jack Carson) to promote the store, keeping it busy so that Pressure has no time to drill into the bank and so stays straight. Pressure tries to shoo off customers, irritated by the constant business, while Weepy is encouraged and ventures into salesmanship. Jug stays down in the cellar, digging, drilling, and following Pressure’s instructions far too literally. These side stories keep the film afloat when Pressure’s story starts to lag.

Unfortunately, those subplots are not the only ones in Larceny, Inc.. A different group of criminals try to take the heist over from Pressure, while separately, a construction project on the street holds up the tunneling and brings the other nearby store owners into the mix. When the film finally seems to end—Pressure collapsing, seemingly dead, as is typical of Robinson’s gangsters—viewers sit through several more scenes before learning Pressure is still alive and has decided to open a completely legit luggage store. The film lacks the snappy dialogue and fast pace that would drive the film’s many plots forward, and its multiple endings feel like completely unnecessary tags at the end of a television episode. Writers Everett Freeman and Edwin Gilbert adapted the play “The Night Before Christmas” into Larceny, Inc., and most likely some of these elements come from that source material. Though the writing is confusing at some parts, Robinson is great throughout.

Robinson broke out in 1931 playing the gangster Rico in Little Caesar, which led to a long career of playing similar criminals. He was not against mocking his tough-guy persona; he starred in many gangster comedies, including A Slight Case of Murder in 1938, also directed by Bacon. Robinson’s performance as the conniving Pressure is not one of his most memorable, but nonetheless funny and ironic. While he and the rest of the cast are a great comedic ensemble, the plot becomes confusing thanks to the sheer number of characters.

Today, Larceny, Inc. is often forgotten or ignored. While the plot could be more focused on Pressure’s antics, the film is overall a fun gangster farce with a great cast, and an ultimately endearing and entertaining group of main characters.

Where to Watch

Buy it on DVD

For More on Larceny, Inc.

Read the review in The New York Times

Watch the Trailer