31 user 51 critic

Underworld (1927)

Not Rated | | Crime, Drama, Film-Noir | 29 October 1927 (USA)
Boisterous gangster kingpin Bull Weed rehabilitates his former lawyer from his alcoholic haze, but complications arise when he falls for Weed's girlfriend.


Josef von Sternberg, Arthur Rosson (uncredited)


Charles Furthman (adaptation) (as Charles Furthmann), Ben Hecht (story) | 2 more credits »
Won 1 Oscar. See more awards »




Complete credited cast:
George Bancroft ... 'Bull' Weed
Evelyn Brent ... 'Feathers' McCoy
Clive Brook ... Rolls Royce Wensel
Fred Kohler ... 'Buck' Mulligan
Helen Lynch ... Meg, Mulligan's Girl
Larry Semon ... 'Slippy' Lewis
Jerry Mandy Jerry Mandy ... Paloma


'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 Igenlode Wordsmith

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


The Seething Melodrama See more »


Not Rated | See all certifications »

Did You Know?


Although Underworld is considered the first gangster film, technically it isn't because Bull Weed does not have a gang, and so literally cannot be a gangster. He is a well-known criminal, but he commits his murders and robberies on his own. See more »


'Feathers' McCoy: [to Rolls Royce] How long since you had the body washed and polishd?
See more »


Referenced in Rio Bravo (1959) See more »

User Reviews

"Nobody helps me, I help them"
17 July 2020 | by TheLittleSongbirdSee all my reviews

'Underworld' is the second film of Josef von Sternberg recently seen. The other being 'The Docks of New York'. Although 'Underworld' is the more historically significant of the two films, being the first gangster film and one of the earliest film noir-like films, there is a preference for 'The Docks of New York'. Both are very, very good films though. Sternberg was a fine director, evident in his collaborations with Marlene Dietrich, and George Bancroft deserves a lot more credit as an actor.

As said, 'Underworld' is a very good film. It is not one of Sternberg's best, do prefer the likes of 'Shanghai Empress', 'The Blue Angel', 'The Scarlet Empress' and 'The Devil is a Woman'. It is incredible though that this is only his third solo film, well technically the fifth but two are lost, and his distinctive style seemed not only obvious throughout but fully established, one does not usually that with directors at this early a stage, so 'Underworld' was something of an achievement.

Is 'Underworld' perfect? No as two scenes didn't quite work for me. One was the prison break sequence, which lacked the necessary tension and felt choppily staged.

The other was the ending, after the exciting shoot out it then ends on a tacked on note that is too at odds with what came before and came over as a little heavy-handed as well.

Sternberg's direction though is truly impressive, one does not expect to see direction this polished, visually beautiful or taut at such an early career stage suggestive of a director who had actually been in the profession for years beforehand (that's a compliment by the way). What immediately stands out is the production values, the settings are evocatively seedy yet made oddly attractive at the same time and the cinematography has great audacious style and gritty atmosphere. Sternberg's films always had great use of light and shadow and 'Underworld' is no exception. The music is suitably haunting.

Other than two scenes, the story was riveting with a suitably pull no punches atmosphere, some exciting moments (especially the climactic shoot-out, which is why it's a shame that how it's resolved disappoints) and some nice turns that stopped it from becoming predictable without it becoming confusing. The central relationship to me was handled fine. The performances likewise, with Bancroft showing again with his intensity that he is deserving of more credit. Clive Brook shows here how his acting grew significantly from when he first started and Evelyn Brent is charming.

Concluding, very good. 8/10

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None | English

Release Date:

29 October 1927 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Underworld See more »


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Company Credits

Production Co:

Paramount Pictures See more »
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Technical Specs


| (director's cut)

Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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