30 March 2011 | kevinolzak
Tod Browning before "Dracula"
1930's "Outside the Law" was the first of director Tod Browning's three Universal pictures, to be followed by the immortal "Dracula" and "Iron Man" (both 1931). Leaving MGM after his first talkie, 1929's "The Thirteenth Chair," Browning debuted at Universal with this remake of his own 1921 silent crime drama, also titled "Outside the Law," one of his first collaborations with the late Lon Chaney. Second billed Edward G. Robinson easily dominates as gang leader Cobra Collins, who demands a piece of the cut when the local bank is robbed by a small time crook (Owen Moore) and his moll (Mary Nolan). What truly sinks it are the endless scenes depicting the two crooks alone in their apartment, coddling a nauseating little boy who just happens to have a police captain for a father. It's rather dispiriting to think that a director like Tod Browning, with a real feel for the macabre, would display such a heavy hand with such maudlin sentimentality, yet the glacial pace is a reminder of how he botched "Dracula." The unsympathetic bickering of the two insufferable leads clearly has the opposite effect of what was intended (their unspectacular careers quickly petered out, with Moore dead by 1939, and Nolan by 1948). Browning's next feature would leave this old fashioned claptrap in the dust: the 1931 "Dracula" (his triumphant return to MGM produced the shocking "Freaks" in 1932). Already typecast as underworld kingpins, Edward G. Robinson would follow this forgettable fluff with "The Widow from Chicago," leading to the vastly superior and uncompromising gangster classic "Little Caesar," released early in 1931, and then a pair of intriguing titles opposite Boris Karloff, "Smart Money" (co-starring James Cagney) and "Five Star Final."