Movie Critique – Underworld U.S.A.

Stars: 5 / 5

Recommendation: A very hard-core drama that punches in your face revealing the underworld and it’s many hands taking over the society while focusing on one individual bent on revenge.

Underworld U.S.A. is 1961 American neo-noir crime film starring Cliff Robertson, Dolores Dorn and Beatrice Kay in the lead roles. The plot centers on the revenge of a fourteen year old boy on the people who took his father's life.

Tolly Devlin (portrayed by Cliff Robertson) is on the road to take revenge on the killers of his father, 20 years after the incident. Unfortunately the killers have now risen up in the mob world. Tolly uses everything in his arsenal including the Government of United States, to finish the killers. 

This is a very hard-core crime drama, that I was surprised that Noir Alley on TCM presented it for Father's Day. However, this was the film world's effort to do another expose of crime boss kind of movie after they had exhausted all kinds of plots. 

The film also doesn’t show the usual war or battles that Fuller has in his movies. But, it depicts the battle that one man who goes against a crime syndicate in the process of taking his revenge. Although Fuller adds elements to the film such as vice rackets, government law enforcement methods, etc., his focus doesn’t waver from Tolly. 

Tolly is motivated by the revenge in his mind that has been festering for 20 long years. He uses the US Government as well as his wit and brains to achieve his goal. However, in the process, he becomes the very people he set out to avenge - ruthless, no moral compass, calculating and cunning. Even the women in his life fail to soften him up or swing him to redemption.

Samuel Fuller produced, written and directed the film. He was inspired by the book, Here Is To Crime, by newspaperman Riley Cooper; as well as expose articles in The Saturday Evening Post by Joseph Dinneen, who used the same title as the film name.

Cliff Robertson, the anti-hero in the film, made his debut in the 1951 film, Picnic. He continued to appear in challenging and well-made roles for Columbia before he was tapped in as anti-hero for this film. Being handsome yet not showing a whole lot of emotions, the cinematographer Hal Mohr, used it to the maximum advantage of the film, especially the close-up shots. This definitely was a different role for Robertson which he played the part very well.

Fuller had an opening scene of scantily clad women arranged in the form of map of United States on the floor, one of whom speaks to the audience that they are prostitutes and about forming an union for prostitutes; then a shadowy figure appears on the side with a gun in her mouth. However this scene was deleted from the film. Although he does a variation of such scene for his 1964 film The Naked Kiss. 

Although after watching the film, I say Fuller didn’t need this scene at all. He attacked the subject of exposing the crime syndicates with equal fervor and ruthlessness as his anti-hero. He gives the bare bones to viewers on what happens to a witness taking risks; the dependency of the FBI on informants and witnesses; and the infiltration of the mobsters in every business legitimate and illegitimate.

Fuller also has an equivalently bland handsome antagonist that would match with Robertson's character, Tolly, in everyway except that he is 100 times more ruthless and cold than Robertson. Tolly has two things on his side - Sandy & Cuddles - yet they weren't enough for him in the end. Fuller ends the movie with a close-up shot of Tolly's fist signifying his punch to the face style of story telling.

A very hard-core drama that punches in your face revealing the underworld and it’s many hands taking over the society while focusing on one individual bent on revenge.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Plot Reveals

a. Robert Emhardt who plays the role of Syndicate crime boss, Earl Connors, has close resemblance to Sidney Greenstreet because he was Sydney's understudy. 

2) Sub-Plots:

a. In the 1961 film, Sail a Crooked Ship, a wanted poster of Tolly Devlin, the main character of this film, is shown.

b. In the opening scene, someone is reciting the song Cockles and Mussels a.k.a. Molly Malone in the background. It is a popular Irish song, and unofficial anthem of Dublin, Ireland. Here is a rendition by Ruby Murray, an Irish singer and actress. More about the song here.

3) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. Tolly is 14 years in the opening scene that occurs in 1939. Then story shifts to 1960, 21 years later. So that should put Tolly at 35. However, Sandy, the mother figure in Tolly's life, comments Tolly to be 32 years now.

b. When Cuddles first appears, she has an altercation with Gus Cottahee, one of the minions of the crime bosses, and gets a distinct scar on her face. However, it does not appear in any of the subsequent scenes. 


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