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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Underworld U.S.A. (Blu-ray)
Underworld U.S.A. (Blu-ray)
Twilight Time // Unrated // March 20, 2018 // Region Free
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at ]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted May 3, 2018 | E-mail the Author
C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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P R I N T
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Writer-director-producer Samuel Fuller (1912-1997) worked in myriad genres - Westerns, film noir, war movies, etc. - and yet his movies never looked like anyone else's. Underworld U.S.A. (1961) is typically labeled as neo-noir, the classical period of the genre having petered out in the late 1950s, but it's more a throwback to Warner Bros.' gangster movies of the 1930s, with star Cliff Robertson playing a two-bit criminal single-mindedly out for vengeance, a role that, a quarter-century before, would have fit James Cagney like a glove. It even opens with an extended prologue set during that period, though most of the story takes place in the present-day. Stylistically, the film looks more like other Fuller movies of this time in any genre more than it does a classical gangster movie, told as it is in Fuller's emblematic exposé style. To good effect, several characters look or act like Fuller, chomping on big cigars in smoke-filled rooms with the Big Red One, symbol of the 1st Infantry Division, Fuller's old unit, as set decoration in the background, and which turns up in several of his movies before he finally got to make a movie about that part of his life, in The Big Red One (1980).

Also typical of this period, Underworld U.S.A. was made for peanuts, probably less than $400,000, and while it certainly doesn't look expensive, Fuller more than makes up for its cheapness with visceral action and richly textured characters. Robertson, to his credit, fully immerses himself in the character.


As a fourteen-year-old Dead End kid, Tolly Devlin (David Kent) is rolling drunks for their wallets when he sees four gangsters beat a man to death, a man who turns out to be his father. Protective Skid Row dive owner Sandy (Beatrice Kay), barren and a collector of dolls and images of babies, looks after Tolly as much as she's able, and recognizes one of the gangsters as Vic Farrar (Peter Brocco, unbilled). Reform school has little effect on Tolly, and as an adult (now played by Robertson) he's glimpsed as a two-bit safecracker before landing in the Joint.

There, he volunteers for work in the infirmary after learning Farrar is on his deathbed. Remorseful and terrified, Farrar names the men who helped kill Tolly's father: Smith (Allan Gruener), Gunther (Gerald Milton), and Gela (Paul Dobov), now bigwigs in the mob under Earl Connors (Robert Emhardt, heir apparent to Sydney Greenstreet).

The story has Tolly cleverly infiltrating the mob via prostitute Cuddles (Dolores Dorn) and Gus (Richard Rust), a young enforcer clean-cut in appearance but so loathsome he unhesitatingly murders an innocent little girl, running her down with his car. Tolly plays both sides up the middle, working with District Attorney John Driscoll (Larry Gates) but really using both him and Cuddles to facilitate his revenge.

Robertson, very highly regarded at this point in his career, subtly plays Tolly as a shrewd wiseguy when it comes to plotting vengeance, but not-so-bright about everything else. He uses Cuddles so callously and recklessly a more image-conscious actor probably would have turned the role down flat. He impresses the viewer (and, according to Fuller, some real-life gangsters) with his single-mindedness and devotion to his father's memory, but it comes at the expense of literally everything else: falling in love, having children don't interest him at all. Unusual for this kind of film, money doesn't factor into his motives in the slightest, not even as an instrument of his revenge.

Fuller's screaming headlines approach is both more honest and stylized at the same time. Underworld U.S.A. pushes the envelope for a 1961 studio picture: in one scene Cuddles tries seducing Tolly by sucking ice and licking an overtly phallic-like whiskey bottle, and the child-killing scene, while not at all graphic, is pretty strong stuff, considering.

While lacking subtlety in most respects, Fuller's screenplay is fairly realistic in exploring the mob's corruption of the very government agencies tasked with shutting such criminal organizations down, notably in a fine scene where Gates's character confronts a Chief of Police who realizes suicide is the only option left open to him. Tolly's machinations may not be entirely believable, but the clumsiness of Driscoll's task force and the untenable position of those caught in the middle is.

Video & Audio

Twilight Time's region-free Blu-ray of Underworld U.S.A. is pretty much perfect. The 1.85:1 transfer is flawless, with a pleasing level of film grain combined with a nicely detailed, textured image. Particularly outstanding is the DTS-HD 1.0 Master Audio. Though monophonic, the music track is unusually robust, almost startlingly so. Optional English subtitles are provided on this 3,000-unit limited edition release.

Extra Features

Supplements consist of an isolated music track, the apparently repurposed (but filmed in HD) extras "Sam Fuller, Storyteller" and "Martin Scorsese on Underworld U.S.A., along with a trailer and the usual booklet with liner notes by Julie Kirgo.

Parting Thoughts

An excellent companion piece to Fuller's The Crimson Kimono, Underworld U.S.A. is Highly Recommended.





Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian largely absent from reviewing these days while he restores a 200-year-old Japanese farmhouse.

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