The film begins with gangster’s mistress Cleo (Angel Tompkins) getting ready to fly the coop with as much of her man’s money and valuables as she can. She makes her way to a small Ohio town and gets herself a job as a waitress. Meanwhile, a few of her former lover’s goons are on her trail.
One day, a group of five midgets rolls into town to do their traveling show. Cleo catches the show, which is pretty unspectacular. It basically consists of the midgets running around in circles for a while. In actuality, the “act” is just a distraction so that two of the boys can make their way out to the spectators vehicles looking for anything of value. Cleo spots them doing this and goes to confront them later in the night…in an effort to get back the gun they lifted from her car back.
Slick (Billy Curtis), the head of the team, sees potential for bringing a hot blonde into the “act,” and suggests Cleo join them. At first she refuses, but when the mob goons catch up with her she changes her mind and hits the road with the midgets.
The rest of the gang (Jerry Maren, Frank Delfino, Felix Silla, and Emery Souza) take a quick liking to Cleo as they go from town to town doing what is essentially a medicine show…trying to sell candy bars that boost your manhood. What they don’t make in selling re-packaged 3 Musketeers, they get from picking pockets among the crowd. But Cleo quickly gets frustrated with this small time stuff (pun intended). She leaves, but Slick tracks her down to a bar where he beats up the other patrons before bringing Cleo back and bedding down with her.
Now, Slick decides to convince the gang that they are ready for the big time. They begin a series of robberies all across the country. For their first job, the boys hide out in the trunk of a car which Cleo drops off at a garage for repairs. When the place closes for the night, they pop out, jump the lone mechanic, and make off with all the dough in the joint. As the crime spree continues, these guys sneak under turnstiles to rob a movie theater, hide in broccoli crates to get into a grocery store, and flash guns at lots of people…yet for a long while, nobody seems to be looking for a bunch of midgets running around with a centerfold (Tompkins did appear in Playboy the year before this was released).
Soon the cops start to get wise, just in time for the gang’s last big score…of course. They even round up a bunch of little people for a lineup…I even spotted Angelo Rossitto, Master from Beyond Thunderdome, in there (Two men enter, one man leaves). Things go bad for the gang when Slick and Cleo have to leave some of the gang behind during the robbery. But then, revenge is in order for the rest of the boys.
I honestly wonder how little people feel about this movie. Obviously, they are capable of playing much more than Munckins, Ewoks, and Oompa Loompas. They are the “heroes” of this story, but the characters are violent criminals…and that’s a bit jarring to see. These guys are regularly shootin’ up the place, beatin’ people up, and by the end of the film, when the gang has turned on each other, even threatening to rape Cleo. The movie definitely has a hard edge, but still squeaked by with a PG rating somehow.
The five actors who make up the gang do a fine job, even if they aren’t allowed much opportunity to develop their characters. Of the gang, only Billy Curtis is really given much in the way of character development. Giving the other guys a bit more personality would’ve gone a long way. Angel Tompkins, though, is great as Cleo! She’s got a sexy quality and hard face that really fits this role. Plus, she leaves the character somewhat ambiguous. We never know for sure if she’s really falling for Slick, or just playing another con…which works great!
There are some elements of the story that don’t seem to work. The whole traveling medicine show bit just seems pretty unbelievable. Granted, I was only 2 years old in 1973…but I’m just not convinced that that sort of thing was still common-place in the early seventies. Something in my gut tells me that this screenplay may have originally been set in the 1920’s or 30’s, but budget-conscious AIP deemed a period piece to be too expensive.
There are certainly some elements of “Little Cigars” that are rough around the edges. It was, after all, produced by AIP at a time where being PC did not enter many people’s minds. But the movie is fun, and I think could provide the elements of an interesting remake. A more believable feel could be given to the crime spree story, as well as the romance between Slick and Cleo…tell me Mini Me wouldn’t be all over that!