A criminal known as Thunderbolt is imprisoned and facing execution. Into the next cell is placed Bob Moran, an innocent man who has been framed and who is in love with Thunderbolt's girl. ... See full summary »
'Nobody helps me -- I help them!' boasts open-handed gangster Bull Weed, handing over what will prove to be the best investment in his high-spending career: a thousand dollars that will put the literate 'Rolls Royce' of vagrants back on his feet. Living it up in the Twenties with the aid of cool but smouldering moll Feathers, the Bull lords it over the law and his rivals alike -- specifically big Buck Mulligan, whose floral-tributes business echoes that of a certain real-life Chicago gangster... Yet Feathers, prize possession and object of envy, proves his weak point; and in the end, Bull Weed will indeed come to need help from others, and more than he has ever needed it before. But can Rolls Royce and Feathers still give it to him? And will the Bull accept? Written by
The film was predicted to be a flop, was shelved by Paramount and eventually released in only one theater in New York. Screenwriter Ben Hecht demanded that his name was taken off the credits. As a result of strong word-of-mouth the movie became an enormous hit and won Hecht the first of his two Academy Awards. See more »
[Referring to Rolls Royce]
Look at him - Cost me a thousand - Looks like a million.
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One of the great joys of prohibition-era gangster films is the colorful dialogue spat out by the likes of James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson. As that element would, obviously, be missing from a silent film, I wasn't sure how I would react to Underworld.
Not to worry. This is a great film, one of the best prohibition-era gangster films I've seen, ranking slightly ahead of Little Caesar and the Public Enemy, and maybe only slightly below Scarface (1932). Tough, tense, tightly written--interestingly, Howard Hawks is credited for the scenario--and with gorgeous DARK cinematography and Josef von Sternberg's usual excellence in direction. I barely missed the lack of gangster-speak.
I suppose this film was a template upon which a lot of gangster films were based. It struck me while watching it how much it had in common with the Coen brothers' Miller's Crossing (1990)--a love triangle between a mob boss, his moll, and his right hand man. And it's all about the gangsters' peculiar code of ethics.
I'd rate it a perfect 10, but for a muddled and badly-handled prison break sequence, which I watched three times and still couldn't figure out. Maybe I'm just dense; maybe it was actually a genius bit of filmmaking and it just flew over my head, but for now, 9/10.
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