Wednesday 12 March 2008

Underworld USA (1961)

Harry Sukman is an unfortunate name to be lumbered with but his music is immediately striking and sets the scene nicely for a Sam Fuller crime drama. It's New Year and 14 year old Tolly Devlin soon forgets about hustling drunks when his father is brutally beaten to death by mobsters in impressive silhouette outside Sandy's Elite Bar. He sees enough to recognise one of the perpetrators but doesn't tell the cops because he wants to take care of things his own way, outside the law.

Of course when he gets to Vic Farrar's house, he finds that he's been locked up for life and circumstances prevent him from being able to pursue his goal for years. He has a heck of a one track mind though, reminding of Mandy Patinkin's character in The Princess Bride. By the time he gets to him, he's dying in prison and I half expected him to come out with, 'My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!' He manages to get the names of his compatriots though, so his quest for vengeance continues.

The film is impressive from moment one, but that's hardly surprising to me now that I have a few Sam Fuller movies behind me. There's some awesome cinematography and camerawork for what of course was no budget. Fuller never had much budget to play with but he certainly made the most of it. The only name I recognise here is Cliff Robertson, who plays the adult Tolly Devlin, but I recognise faces. Paul Dubov, for instance, was a regular for both Fuller and Roger Corman and I've seen him in a few films. I wouldn't be surprised if Alan Moore didn't base a lot of the character and look of the Comedian in Watchmen on his part here. Robert Emhardt plays the head bad guy like a cross between Boss Hogg and Sidney Greenstreet.

Both are fine but most notable here may be Beatrice Kay who does a great job as Sandy, his mother in all but fact. She isn't quite Thelma Ritter just as the film isn't quite Pickup on South Street, but both are still well worth watching. The former Mrs Franchot Tone, Dolores Dorn, is very pleasing on the eye and hers are very expressive too. The real star is the story though, which is detailed and well thought out. It's a little slow in places but it carries a lot of weight and a whole slew of double crosses as Devlin wreaks his vengeance. There's also some awesome use of posters and signs.

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