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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

UNDERWORLD, U.S.A. (1961)

Typically tough B-pic from writer/director Sam Fuller isn’t the crime syndicate exposé its title suggests, but a nasty revenge yarn that takes 20 years to come off. Cliff Robertson (masticating on a Philly Cheese Shtick accent) was the street kid who watched as his dad got beaten to death by four mob guys. The one he knows, dying in a prison hospital, gives up the other three names to Robertson in a bid for absolution. (Absolution? In a Sam Fuller pic?) Soon, Robertson robs his way to a mid-level job with one of the murderers, using his new position to play one goon off the other, helped by the big city D.A. who’s going after their boss, head of the syndicate. Like many Fuller projects of the period, this is cut to the bone, a matter of budget & artistic preference. But what looks blunt & powerful to Fuller acolytes can easily seem obvious & corny to doubters; a difference stemming less from the quality in the material than from the quality of the acting. And on Fuller’s budgets, that can be variable. Even Robertson, fine in his way, can’t keep you from wondering how much better this might be with, say, Charles Bronson in the lead. (And Don Siegel directing.) As it is, the film is stolen by Richard Rust’s cool henchman. Great hair/great shades.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Cliff Robertson waited not 20, but 40 years to play something like this film’s ‘Dad’ in SPIDER-MAN/’02. Dying early as Ben Parker (‘Uncle Ben’ to Peter Parker) to set up the film’s revenge motif.

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