And twenty five years before he directed The Bad Seed, Mervyn LeRoy directed Little Caesar, a less ambitious but far superior film. Despite its simplistic view of organised crime, it's an effective story of the hazards of a life that obliges one to bury one's feelings.
At the centre of the story is Edward G. Robinson as Rico, "Little Caesar", already, in a time when cinematic acting was consciously artificial and stilted, giving a performance that would still seem effortlessly natural beside the prominent emergence of method acting in film twenty years later. Like the other gangsters in the film, Rico's portrayed as a simple creature who can't see much worth in life outside fortune and status, behaving in a broadly childlike manner, impressed by his picture in a card and driven to reckless fury by small prods at his pride from the police.
The film starts with Rico and his friend Joe, played adequately by Douglas Fairbanks Jr., just getting into the city where they dream of making it big. But Rico's already worried about Joe's aspiration to make it as a dancer instead and threatens him with violence to deter him from leaving the fold.
The Wikipedia entry says a lot of viewers have speculated Rico may have been meant to be taken as gay, which is possible--the fervour with which he tries to keep Joe in his organisation seems borne out of more than brotherly love, and there is a scene where Rico talks about how little he thinks of women.
But regardless of whether or not he's gay, his affection for Joe pays off the opening title card's promise of a story relevant to the bible quote;
Every time Rico usurps a mob boss, he remarks on how it's because the old boss was soft, how he could dish it out but no longer take it. It's his own unavoidable softness that precipitates his downfall, blows to his fragile pride coming with the unravelling of his status until he's a heavy drinking transient when before he often remarked on how he never touched liquor. One senses in Robinson's performance a man dealing with an irrevocably shattered self image.
I love this shot of his reaction to the moment when he might actually have to kill Joe. You can see in it how very strange he finds it that killing Joe is to him such an unfathomable possibility, something that trumps even his cold drive for control of the mob.