Underworld U. S. A.


1h 39m 1961
Underworld U. S. A.

Brief Synopsis

A bitter young man sets out to get back at the gangsters who murdered his father.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Crime
Thriller
Film Noir
Release Date
Mar 1961
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Globe Enterprises, Inc.
Distribution Company
Columbia Pictures
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on articles by Joseph F. Dineen.

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 39m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White

Synopsis

At the age of 12, Tolly Devlin witnesses the brutal gangland murder of his father. As he matures Tolly becomes a petty criminal consumed by his vow to have revenge on the four murderers. He finds one of the four dying in a prison hospital ward and learns that the other three are now in the heirarchy of the local crime syndicate. Gradually Tolly insinuates himself into the underworld gang; at the same time he cooperates with a Federal crime commission. As he plots his revenge, he falls in love with an attractive young woman, Cuddles, whom he saves from being killed by a member of the syndicate. By playing both sides of the law, he eventually succeeds in bringing about the death of his archenemies. But he himself is mortally wounded when he kills the syndicate head rather than obey an order to kill Cuddles.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Crime
Thriller
Film Noir
Release Date
Mar 1961
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Globe Enterprises, Inc.
Distribution Company
Columbia Pictures
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on articles by Joseph F. Dineen.

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 39m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White

Articles

Underworld U.S.A.


Underworld U.S.A. (1961) was writer-director Sam Fuller's staccato spin on Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo by way of the ancient Greeks. The property had come to him through the executives at Columbia Pictures, who acquired the rights to a newspaper serial about organized crime during the years of Prohibition. Humphrey Bogart had optioned the serial originally and after the actor's death from cancer in 1957 the rights were picked up by Sam Briskin, helming the Columbia mothership in the years following the demise of his old boss Harry Cohn. Fuller updated the story, which he conceived as a crime-does-pay parable for Eisenhower America. The studio nixed Fuller's brash concept for a title sequence depicting the comely members of a prostitute's union forming a map of the United States with their bare backs and the post-credits assassination of the union leader, who has the barrel of a revolver thrust into her mouth and her brains blown out by a Mafia gunsel. Undaunted by the front office censorship, Fuller shifted the focus of the story to an underworld loner and his quest to bring about the fall of the gang bosses responsible for the murder of his father. Briskin and the suits at Columbia approved of this new tack, assuring Fuller that "the public loves revenge."

The first gangster movie Sam Fuller ever saw was Josef von Sternberg's Underworld (1927). With the title Underworld U.S.A., Fuller tips his hat to the von Sternberg film even as he sets out to explode the clichés of classic gangster pictures. Beginning on a comfortless New Year's Eve twenty-some years in the past, the story finds 14-year-old anti-hero Tolly Devlin (David Kent) rolling a drunk and running his ill-gotten gains home to a father he sees beaten to death in an alley (a primal scene recalling Batman hero Bruce Wayne's boyhood orphaning). Shrugging off the avuncular arm of a sympathetic lawman (Larry Gates), Tolly hops onto the back of the meat wagon bearing his dead dad to the morgue, declaring "I'll get those punks myself!" Graduating from orphanage to reform school to state prison (and growing up to be a scar-faced Cliff Robertson), Tolly encounters the first of his father's murderers while in stir and extracts from the dying man (Peter Brocco) the names of the other hitmen. Tolly's quest for vengeance will take him from the gutter to the penthouse suites of organized crime, a meteoric rise that comes with the hidden cost of a spectacular fall.

Even with the studio vetting, Underworld U.S.A. remains brutal stuff, with characters beaten, shot, drowned, burned alive and one 9 year-old innocent run down in the street as a warning against finking. Fuller's dialogue is frank in its acknowledgement of teenage prostitution and drug use. "We won't stay big if we lose our grip," cautions a syndicate kingpin who hides his cartels behind charitable acts while peddling dope to school kids. "Don't tell me the end of a needle has a conscience."

Fuller's amorality tale benefits immeasurably from vivid and persuasive performances by Beatrice Kay (as Tolly's surrogate mother, who has one hell of a doll fetish), Richard Rust (whose preternatural cool as a gum-chewing, shades-wearing mob enforcer gets the jump on Clu Gulager's The Killers [1964] act by a couple of years) and Dolores Dorn as "Cuddles," the "mixed-up broad" of a murder witness whom Tolly uses as leverage to get at the men responsible for his father's death. Tolly and Cuddles earn their place among crime cinema's great doomed lovers (Dorn goes to town with a drunk scene set in a city park where she sucks a hunk of ice like she owes it money) but equally interesting is the subtle homoeroticism that hangs in the air between Robertson's manipulative Tolly and Rust's gunsel Gus Cottahee like a lingering whiff of cordite. The two actors have a good time with their Mutt & Jeff pairing, which echoes the complicated gangster/undercover cop relationships at the heart of Raoul Walsh's White Heat (1949), both Ringo Lam's City on Fire (1987) and Quentin Tarantino's semi-remake Reservoir Dogs (1992), and David Cronenberg's recent Eastern Promises (2007).

Producer: Samuel Fuller
Director: Samuel Fuller
Screenplay: Samuel Fuller
Cinematography: Hal Mohr
Art Direction: Robert Peterson
Music: Harry Sukman
Film Editing: Jerome Thoms
Cast: Cliff Robertson (Tolly Devlin), Dolores Dorn (Cuddles), Beatrice Kay (Sandy), Paul Dubov (Gela), Robert Emhardt (Earl Connors), Larry Gates (Driscoll), Richard Rust (Gus Cottahee), Gerald Milton (Gunther), Allan Gruener (Smith).
BW-99m.

by Richard Harland Smith

Sources:
Sam Fuller: Film is a Battleground by Lee Server
A Third Face: My Tale of Writing, Fighting and Filmmaking by Samuel Fuller
Crime Movies: An Illustrated History by Carlos Clarens
The Overlook Film Encyclopedia: The Gangster Film edited by Phil Hardy
Underworld U.s.a.

Underworld U.S.A.

Underworld U.S.A. (1961) was writer-director Sam Fuller's staccato spin on Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo by way of the ancient Greeks. The property had come to him through the executives at Columbia Pictures, who acquired the rights to a newspaper serial about organized crime during the years of Prohibition. Humphrey Bogart had optioned the serial originally and after the actor's death from cancer in 1957 the rights were picked up by Sam Briskin, helming the Columbia mothership in the years following the demise of his old boss Harry Cohn. Fuller updated the story, which he conceived as a crime-does-pay parable for Eisenhower America. The studio nixed Fuller's brash concept for a title sequence depicting the comely members of a prostitute's union forming a map of the United States with their bare backs and the post-credits assassination of the union leader, who has the barrel of a revolver thrust into her mouth and her brains blown out by a Mafia gunsel. Undaunted by the front office censorship, Fuller shifted the focus of the story to an underworld loner and his quest to bring about the fall of the gang bosses responsible for the murder of his father. Briskin and the suits at Columbia approved of this new tack, assuring Fuller that "the public loves revenge." The first gangster movie Sam Fuller ever saw was Josef von Sternberg's Underworld (1927). With the title Underworld U.S.A., Fuller tips his hat to the von Sternberg film even as he sets out to explode the clichés of classic gangster pictures. Beginning on a comfortless New Year's Eve twenty-some years in the past, the story finds 14-year-old anti-hero Tolly Devlin (David Kent) rolling a drunk and running his ill-gotten gains home to a father he sees beaten to death in an alley (a primal scene recalling Batman hero Bruce Wayne's boyhood orphaning). Shrugging off the avuncular arm of a sympathetic lawman (Larry Gates), Tolly hops onto the back of the meat wagon bearing his dead dad to the morgue, declaring "I'll get those punks myself!" Graduating from orphanage to reform school to state prison (and growing up to be a scar-faced Cliff Robertson), Tolly encounters the first of his father's murderers while in stir and extracts from the dying man (Peter Brocco) the names of the other hitmen. Tolly's quest for vengeance will take him from the gutter to the penthouse suites of organized crime, a meteoric rise that comes with the hidden cost of a spectacular fall. Even with the studio vetting, Underworld U.S.A. remains brutal stuff, with characters beaten, shot, drowned, burned alive and one 9 year-old innocent run down in the street as a warning against finking. Fuller's dialogue is frank in its acknowledgement of teenage prostitution and drug use. "We won't stay big if we lose our grip," cautions a syndicate kingpin who hides his cartels behind charitable acts while peddling dope to school kids. "Don't tell me the end of a needle has a conscience." Fuller's amorality tale benefits immeasurably from vivid and persuasive performances by Beatrice Kay (as Tolly's surrogate mother, who has one hell of a doll fetish), Richard Rust (whose preternatural cool as a gum-chewing, shades-wearing mob enforcer gets the jump on Clu Gulager's The Killers [1964] act by a couple of years) and Dolores Dorn as "Cuddles," the "mixed-up broad" of a murder witness whom Tolly uses as leverage to get at the men responsible for his father's death. Tolly and Cuddles earn their place among crime cinema's great doomed lovers (Dorn goes to town with a drunk scene set in a city park where she sucks a hunk of ice like she owes it money) but equally interesting is the subtle homoeroticism that hangs in the air between Robertson's manipulative Tolly and Rust's gunsel Gus Cottahee like a lingering whiff of cordite. The two actors have a good time with their Mutt & Jeff pairing, which echoes the complicated gangster/undercover cop relationships at the heart of Raoul Walsh's White Heat (1949), both Ringo Lam's City on Fire (1987) and Quentin Tarantino's semi-remake Reservoir Dogs (1992), and David Cronenberg's recent Eastern Promises (2007). Producer: Samuel Fuller Director: Samuel Fuller Screenplay: Samuel Fuller Cinematography: Hal Mohr Art Direction: Robert Peterson Music: Harry Sukman Film Editing: Jerome Thoms Cast: Cliff Robertson (Tolly Devlin), Dolores Dorn (Cuddles), Beatrice Kay (Sandy), Paul Dubov (Gela), Robert Emhardt (Earl Connors), Larry Gates (Driscoll), Richard Rust (Gus Cottahee), Gerald Milton (Gunther), Allan Gruener (Smith). BW-99m. by Richard Harland Smith Sources: Sam Fuller: Film is a Battleground by Lee Server A Third Face: My Tale of Writing, Fighting and Filmmaking by Samuel Fuller Crime Movies: An Illustrated History by Carlos Clarens The Overlook Film Encyclopedia: The Gangster Film edited by Phil Hardy

Quotes

Trivia

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1998

Released in United States July 1991

Released in United States on Video June 16, 1988

Released in United States Spring May 13, 1961

Shown at Avignon/New York Film Festival (Fuller Tribute) in New York City (French Institute) April 24 - May 3, 1998.

Completed shooting August 8, 1960.

Released in United States 1998 (Shown at Avignon/New York Film Festival (Fuller Tribute) in New York City (French Institute) April 24 - May 3, 1998.)

Released in United States Spring May 13, 1961

Released in United States on Video June 16, 1988

Released in United States July 1991 (Shown in New York City (Film Forum: Sam Fuller Retrospective) July 21 & 22, 1991.)