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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
EYES OF THE UNDERWORLD 1942
This low budget programmer from Universal Pictures is a remake of a 1929 film of the same title.
Richard Dix is the Police Chief of a mid sized burg with a problem. That problem is that there is a ring of car thieves operating in the city. With the war-time restrictions on rubber and new cars, both are in high demand. The thieves steal cars, take the tires for the black market and sell the car parts as scrap. The better vehicles are repainted etc and sold as used cars.
A local car dealer, Lloyd Corrigan is the front for the racket Gangster, Edward Pawley runs the show. The crooks stay one step ahead of arrest because Deputy Police Chief, Joseph Crehan, is on the take. He warns Pawley and his mob when the Police are close.
Police Chief Dix is popular with the city council types because he has cleaned up the town. The recent car stealing is the only blot on his 3 year tenure in charge. Dix is a widower devoted to his young son, Billy Lee. Also in the mix, are, Lon Chaney Jr as Dix's chauffeur, Wendy Barrie as Dix's secretary and Don Porter as a undercover cop.
Marc Lawrence, a big city town mob type is in town checking on the operation. He gets captured when the cops get a lucky break. Lawrence agrees to talk, but only to Chief Dix in private. Now we find out that Dix is himself an ex-con. He had done time in the same prison as Lawrence. Dix had straightened himself out and is now a good guy. The gangster threatens to spill the info if Dix does not help him escape. Dix has Lawrence returned to his cell while he ponders what to do.
That evening, he offers his resignation to the city council but it is refused. Now news comes that Lawrence has broken jail killing a cop while doing so. Now of course Dix's past rears its head and Dix is thrown in jail himself. The council thinks he helped the gangster in his escape.
His chauffeur, Chaney, offers to find and kill Lawrence. (Chaney is also an ex-con)Dix, with the help of Barrie, Chaney and a few cops who think he is being framed, escapes.
Needless to say this soon leads to a less than friendly meeting between the gangland bunch, and Dix. Guns are pulled, and plenty of lead is soon flying, with all the proper people being on the receiving end. Lawrence is captured and dragged in front of the city council. There, he admits Dix had nothing to do with his escape. He also fingers the Deputy Police Chief, Crehan and car dealer Corrigan as gang members. The two are soon slapped in bracelets.
This is an enjoyable time-waster that zips right along with a runtime of just over an hour.
Lon Chaney was at this time, just hitting his stride as Universal's "monster" of choice in the MUMMY and FRANKENSTEIN series of films. While never an "A" star, Chaney worked steady making 4 or 5 films a year for most of his career.
Big time silent star Dix, made a successful transfer to talkies, but ended up mostly in lower grade fare. He is best known for the string of THE WHISTLER films he made at the end of his career.
The director of this little ditty was Roy William Neill. Neill was best known for his very serviceable work on the last 11 Basil Rathbone, SHERLOCK HOLMES films. Film noir fans will recall his work from , BLACK ANGEL. Also familiar to noir fans is the man who supplied the story, Maxwell Shane. Writer, producer and director Shane was involved in, FEAR IN THE NIGHT, THE GLASS WALL, HELLS ISLAND, NIGHTMARE and THE NAKED STREET.
"Eyes of the Underworld" (1942), a good remake of the original 1929 crime melodrama of the same title, features Lon Chaney in between "The Ghost of Frankenstein" and "The Mummy's Tomb." Richard Dix stars as Police Chief Richard Bryan, investigating a ring of auto thieves stealing rubber and metal from the war effort during WW2. The thieves are aware that the Chief spent three years in jail for embezzlement long before his present position, and allow one of their gang, Gordon Finch (Marc Lawrence), to be captured, so as to try blackmailing him into releasing him. The Chief decides to resign his post, but is later arrested when Finch kills a guard and escapes, a clever frame-up by the villains. Just when all seems lost, The Chief is rescued by his faithful chauffeur Benny (Chaney), who had also spent time in the penitentiary, taking it upon himself to capture one of the gang and learn their whereabouts (they use musical cues from "The Wolf Man" and "The Ghost of Frankenstein," his previous two classics, in these scenes). In a serious role, Chaney displays a slight Lennie impression, but comes off fairly well, particularly in his climactic encounter with Finch (Marc Lawrence was careful during the fight, admitting of Chaney, "he hurts people"). Wendy Barrie appears as the Chief's loving secretary, and Don Porter gives a valiant effort before Chaney saves the day. A stellar B-film due to fast paced direction from the reliable Roy William Neill, who would go on to helm the last 11 Sherlock Holmes features with Basil Rathbone, and "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man," one of Chaney's best sequels (he had previously shot Columbia's "The Black Room" in 1935, which featured THREE of Boris Karloff's finest performances).
Richard Dix stars as Chief Bryan...an honest and hard-working cop who
is hiding a secret. What he doesn't know is that the next in line for
his job, Kirby, is a scum-bag and is working with a gang of car and
tire thieves*. When a special investigator comes to town, Kirby and his
cut-throat friends set up the Chief and make it look as if he's working
with the gang. Can the investigator, the Chief's loyal assistant (Lon
Chaney) or his loving secretary (Wendy Barrie) manage to put the pieces
together and learn the truth?
This is a reasonably enjoyable film with lots of twists. It also features Lon Chaney is a particularly good part as a friend who wouldn't mind using a bit of torture to get to the truth! And, since the film came out shortly after Chaney's breakout role in "The Wolf Man", he is prominently featured in the opening credits. Nothing genius about this film--just a solidly entertaining B-type picture that keeps you guessing.
This film I enjoyed quite a bit. It's refreshing to see Lon Chaney in a
role outside of the Horror genre. He plays Benny in "Eyes of the
Underworld" (aka "Criminals of the Underworld"). Benny will remind you
a little bit of Lenny (Of Mice and Men 1939) in a round about way -
mainly the voice at times but is completely different.
Don Porter also stars as Edward Jason. Porter is good - well known for his role as Professor Russell Lawrence.
If you like and are looking for a fairly good film-noir of the 40s then you should like "Eyes of the Underworld" - it's better than I guessed it would be. Loved the ending - very cute... leaves you laughing.
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