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Mike Reese, yellow journalist and antihero, prints a story that leads to a gang killing, and is blacklisted from the city papers under suspicion of ties with racketeer Carl Durham. So, with a shrug, he makes the suspicion come true, then elbows his way into the editorship of the local paper in a small town where, opportunely, a sensational murder case threatens to destroy the family of newspaper magnate E.J. Stanton. When a black servant is made the patsy for this killing, Reese helps himself by helping her...but proves a dangerous ally. Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
Adroitly crafted newspaper story an oblique commentary on Hollywood witch hunt
Deceptively titled, The Underworld Story boasts only tenuous connections to organized crime. It's a newspaper story that centers around a high-profile murder with racial overtones. But its crusading tone and topical allusions never grow strident and don't overwhelm some adroit plotting and incisive character study.
Big-city reporter Dan Duryea finds himself in a jam that makes him persona non grata to his newspaper, the district attorney's office and underworld boss Howard Da Silva. Broke and blacklisted, he buys himself a partial stake in a struggling community paper, The Lakewood Gazette, owned by Gale Storm, who's put off by his brash ways and temporizing ethics. But a headline story breaks right there in the idyllic New England town: The daughter-in-law of press baron Herbert Marshall has been murdered, and Duryea seizes the chance to run with the scoop.
It's not a whodunit, though; the killer, it's clear from the outset, is Marshall's snivelling son (Gar Moore, who sounds like HAL the computer). But when the murdered woman's black maid (Mary Anderson) goes missing, Marshall sees opportunity to whip up public sentiment against her. Storm, who knew the maid, trusts in her innocence; Duryea, on the other hand, waits to see which outcome might profit him most. When The Gazette starts a defense fund for Anderson, Marshall and his son start running scared and seek a favor from Da Silva to put a stop to the tenacious Duryea, who's been won over by Storm....
The Underworld Story's a modest movie that's well put together (it looks great, too, photographed by Stanley Cortez, who also shot The Magnificent Ambersons and Night of the Hunter). But it belongs to Duryea, who could play affable but slithery better than anybody, and his twists and turns keep us guessing.
Reminiscent of 30s socially-conscious cinema more than film noir, The Underworld Story also shows that decade's story-telling verve. It's been purged of preaching, so when one character remarks `Looks like they're burning witches again,' we suddenly recall that its release came in the midst of the Hollywood anti-Communist witch hunt, and that at least two of its principals director Cy Endfield and Da Silva were among its victims.
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