Monday, October 3, 2016

The Underworld Story (1950)

The Underworld Story is a 1950 crime thriller directed by Cy Endfield. Some people regard this as a film noir although I have no idea why. It’s more of an overheated melodrama.

Mike Reese (Dan Duryea) is a newspaper reporter with a bad reputation (and to get a bad reputation in that line of business you really have to work hard at it). His links with gangster  Carl Durham (Howard Da Silva) eventually get him fired. He finds he can’t get a job as a reporter anywhere in the city. In desperation he buys a half interest in a small town newspaper. His new partner is Cathy Harris (Gale Storm).

Cathy quickly finds out just what a louse Mike Reese is. She’s just about to give him his marching orders when the biggest story in the Lakeville Sentinel’s history breaks. The daughter-in-law of fabulously wealthy press mogul E.J. Stanton (Herbert Marshall) has just been murdered, in Lakeville! Mike manages to persuade Cathy that this is a story that she has to let him run with.

We know from the start that Diane Stanton was murdered by her disturbed and neurotic husband Clark Stanton (Gar Moore). Clark however has no trouble persuading his father to cover up the crime for him. As luck would have it Diane’s black maid Molly (Mary Anderson) vanished at the time of the murder so it’s easy to pin the murder on her.

Mike now sees his chance. He decides to use the Sentinel to crusade on Molly’s behalf, having discovered that the nice warm friendly people of Lakeville all like her and believe she is probably innocent. Mike launches a fund to raise money to pay a hot-shot trial lawyer to defend her.

In fact Mike is simply using the case for his own purposes, to boost the Sentinel’s circulation and to line his own pockets. He and the shady lawyer intend to split the money fifty-fifty.

Then E.J. Stanton goes into action, turning the townspeople against Mike’s campaign and threatening the Sentinel’s survival. It now turns out that the nice warm friendly people of Lakeville were actually hate-filled bigots all along and they turn against Molly completely.

By this time it has been established that Mike Reese is a lying conniving crooked journalist who would sell his own mother for a story. And now, suddenly and for no reason whatsoever, he magically turns into a genuine crusading journalist who cares only for truth and justice.

This is an all-too-typical feature of the ham-fisted screenplay by Henry Blankfort. Nothing seems to matter except using the film as an excuse for some very heavy-handed preaching. The characters are threadbare caricatures whose personalities can be entirely reversed in a heartbeat. The plot is melodramatic and emotionally manipulative.

The acting is mostly poor. Gar Moore is quite embarrassing as Clark Stanton. He didn’t have much of a career and it’s easy to see why. Gale Storm is harmless enough.Herbert Marshall tries hard but it’s obvious he doesn’t believe in the character he’s playing.

Dan Duryea tries to save the movie with a typically energetic performance combining sleaziness and breeziness and he is at least entertaining to watch. The fact that his character isn’t convincing is the fault of the screenwriter, not Duryea.

This is a great movie to watch if you enjoy movies about evil cigar-chomping rich people persecuting  the poor oppressed masses. The evil rich people are of course all degenerate as well as evil. You get some half-baked Freudianism as well.

On the plus side there’s some great noirish cinematography in the early sections. The opening sequence is superbly done.

I caught The Underworld Story on cable. It’s available on made-on-demand DVD in the Warner Archive series but I wouldn’t recommend buying this one unless you’re a very keen Dan Duryea completist.

1 comment:

  1. I'm a big Dan Duryea fan. I'm also a big fan of Stanley Cortez. The heavy-handed preaching gives me pause though.