Maybe I think about movies too much… A few nights ago I dreamed I was watching a movie in which Edward G. Robinson could levitate, fly, and travel between dimensions. This wasn’t the Edward G. Robinson who played mob boss Rico Bandello in Little Caesar (1931) or the raging Pete Morgan from The Red House (1947) or even the relentless insurance investigator Barton Keyes of Double Indemnity (1944). This was simply Robinson as an average Joe, neither dangerous nor a dandelion, a guy mostly content with his lot in life. If I had to pick a role like the Robinson in my dream, it would be Chris Cross from Scarlet Street (1945), only without the nagging wife (Rosalind Ivan) or the femme fatale (Joan Bennett). And with the ability to levitate, fly, and travel interdimensionally.
In this dream, I’m seated in a packed movie theater watching a black-and-white movie (maybe even an Edward G. Robinson movie). I’m on the right side of the theater when I look to the large middle section and see a guy standing up, staring at the screen like he’s in a trance. I glance over and see that this guy is unmistakably Edward G. Robinson. It’s almost as if he’s been summoned to stand up by a voice only he can hear, but he won’t take his eyes off the screen for all the money in Rico Bandello’s personal safe. Then he floats up above the rest of the audience, levitates for a moment, and then tilts himself into a horizontal position, staring at the ceiling. He hovers there for a moment like he’s trying to figure out how to move himself, then begins flying around the room. First he’s on his back, then face-down, spread-eagled like a short, stubby Superman exploring the confines of the movie theater’s upper atmosphere.
Everyone in the theater is in awe, silently watching Edward G. Robinson as he floats around the theater. Is this a beatific vision? Did the guy at the concession stand slip us all a shot of tequila in our sodas? What the hell is going on? The movie’s still running, but nobody is watching it.
Except Robinson. He’s a quick study and apparently has grown bored with levitating and floating around the theater. He’s got his mind set on bigger sights, things more spectacular. In a matter of moments, he’s stretching his arms out like he’s set to take off for Heathrow and flies into the movie screen.
Yet whatever was on the movie screen has drastically changed. It’s not of this world, but rather a misty, nebulous area, like the otherworldly place from that Twilight Zone episode “Little Girl Lost.” Robinson is like a criminal standing before an entire city filled with unlocked bank vaults, stuffed to the gills with unmarked bills. There’s so much to explore and he’s going to fly around every inch, exploring it forever. And I’m on the sidelines watching it all. I think I’m actually cheering for him. No, I’m certain; I am cheering for him.
That’s all I remember from the dream. I actually have a pretty good idea of where it came from. I was listening to Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast on my drive home the other day when one Gilbert’s guests said that Edward G. Robinson was briefly considered for the part of Vito Corleone in The Godfather (1972). Of course, Marlon Brando won the role and the rest is history.
One year later, Robinson appeared in his final film, Soylent Green (1973), playing Sol Roth, a well-educated elderly man in the overcrowded New York City of 2022 (which sure looked a long way off in 1973). Roth keeps reminding his friend police detective Frank Thorn (Charlton Heston) of the good old days and how badly life sucks in 2022.
(Minor spoiler here) I’ve never forgotten Roth’s death scene in the film. Roth is placed on a bed in a gigantic room with an enormous screen, which plays nothing but beautiful images, serving as the last things Roth will ever see in this world. It’s an incredibly moving scene, made even more so due to the fact that Robinson himself was terminally ill during the filming. Although he kept it a secret from everyone working on the film, he knew he didn’t have long to live. Who knows what Robinson was thinking while shooting that scene? Was he reflecting back on his life and career? It’s astounding that Robinson never won an Oscar for acting. It’s absolutely criminal that he was never even nominated. Yes, he won an honorary Oscar, albeit two months after his death. The man deserved better. (His off-screen life is interesting and controversial, which you can read about elsewhere.)
Maybe in my dream I was subconsciously trying to elevate Robinson to something beyond what he received during his time on earth. Maybe it was simply my brain’s neurons firing in weird directions. It was a funny, surreal dream, but I think it might also be my oddball way of paying tribute to an amazing talent whom I fear may one day be forgotten. When I think of all the classic movie stars I’d most like to meet, Edward G. Robinson is clearly in my Top 5. Then again, maybe I’ll see him floating around up there someday.
Photos: The AV Club, Classic Movie Chat, Alt Film Guide, IMDb 2.0, Jack Tummers