Saturday, April 11, 2015

Tonight's Movie: The Underworld Story (1950) at the Noir City Film Festival

Friday evening I attended a terrific Cornell Woolrich double bill at the 17th Annual Noir City Film Festival, pairing THE CHASE (1946) with THE LEOPARD MAN (1943).

I previously reviewed those titles in 2013 and 2012, and I responded now just as I did on my first viewings. THE CHASE, in particular, had lost none of its potency the second time around, a fascinating and unique dream of a movie.

Tonight was a Gale Storm double bill, with a brand-new 35mm print of THE UNDERWORLD STORY (1950) paired with a beautiful 35mm print of ABANDONED (1949). I've attended each evening of the festival to date, and tonight's movies were my favorites seen thus far; both were terrific.

THE UNDERWORLD STORY stars Dan Duryea in the kind of role he does so well; he plays newsman Mike Reese, who thinks nothing of capitalizing on the misery of others in order to make a buck. He also has the nerve to hit up a local mob kingpin (Howard Da Silva) for needed dough after his story inadvertently helps the mobster but causes Mike to lose his job.

Fresh bankroll in hand, Mike heads for a small town, ready to invest in a struggling community paper run by Cathy Harris (Storm). Cathy is initially appalled at some of Mike's tactics to raise revenue, though she warms to him a bit when he has the idea for the paper to make a name for itself defending her friend Molly (Mary Anderson), who's been framed for murdering the daughter-in-law of a local publisher (Herbert Marshall).

Eventually Mike crosses both the mobster and the publisher, who's hiding the fact his son (Gar Moore) was the real killer; both men want to silence him, but Mike's finally at a place in life where he can't be bought.

Watching Duryea and Da Silva's strangely genial crime boss trade wisecracks is worth the price of admission in and of itself. Duryea smoothly captures his character's transition from a master manipulator with eyes on dollar signs to a scared but honest newsman who's finally found his integrity, encouraged along a bit by the spunky Cathy.

THE UNDERWORLD STORY was one of a couple good crime films Gale Storm made in 1950, the other being BETWEEN MIDNIGHT AND DAWN (1950). She's charming here as Cathy, having some of the same feisty love-hate chemistry with Duryea that she did with George Montgomery in the following year's THE TEXAS RANGERS (1951). That said, it should be noted that the studio publicity stills way overplay the Duryea-Storm relationship as seen in the film; it develops very subtly, climaxed by Storm climbing into an ambulance with Duryea. No torrid embraces in the movie!

Marshall convincingly makes the shift from upstanding businessman to creepy murder accomplice, who seems to be just one last straw away from doing himself in. Also good is Michael O'Shea (SMART WOMAN) as the cranky district attorney whose skepticism of Mike almost has tragic results.

A note of interest, the character of Molly was a black woman, yet the role was played by Mary Anderson (LIFEBOAT). Anderson, who passed away last year, would costar as Duryea's wife in the tragedy CHICAGO CALLING (1951) the following year. For those who might be able to attend, CHICAGO CALLING is showing next month at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in Palm Springs.

The supporting cast of THE UNDERWORLD STORY includes Melville Cooper, Frieda Inescort, Art Baker, Harry Shannon, and Ned Glass. A young Alan Hale Jr. is one of Da Silva's goons; he may look very young but he'd already been in over 30 films by this point in his career!

The movie was shot in rich, inky black and white by the great Stanley Cortez. The movie's look, as shot by the man who also famously filmed THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955), is reason to see the film in and of itself.

Some of the movie was shot on location in Downtown Los Angeles, including the opening sequence on the steps of City Hall. The same location also figured prominently in the night's second film, ABANDONED.

THE UNDERWORLD STORY was directed by Cyril (Cy) Endfield. I've previously reviewed Noir City screenings of Endfield's films TRY AND GET ME (1950) and HELL DRIVERS (1957).

THE UNDERWORLD STORY was based on a story by crime novelist Craig Rice (the pseudonym for Georgiana Craig), which was adapted by director Endfield; Henry Blankfort wrote the screenplay. The movie runs 91 minutes.

THE UNDERWORLD STORY is available on DVD from the Warner Archive. For more on the DVD, please visit a review by Glenn Erickson at DVD Savant.


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