Underworld (1927) - Rotten Tomatoes

Underworld (1927)

Underworld (1927)




Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

Underworld Trailers & Photos

Movie Info

A series of "art" titles fill the screen to establish the mood: "A great city in the dead of night...streets lonely...moon clouded...buildings as empty as the cave dwellings of a forgotten age." Then, an explosion rips apart the front of a bank. Criminal mastermind Bull Weed (George Bancroft) having "closed another account," hops into the getaway car driven by his shabby but erudite associate Rolls-Royce (Clive Brook). With the police in hot pursuit, Bull Weed pauses long enough to drop a few bills into the tin cup of a blind beggar. Thus begins the classic gangland melodrama Underworld, a master blend of realism, expressionism and sentimentality served up by director Josef Von Sternberg and screenwriter Ben Hecht. The story traces Bull Weed's rise from common thief to underworld kingpin with the help and advice of the wily Rolls-Royce. Inevitably, Bull's sweetheart Feathers (Evelyn Brent), falls in love with Rolls-Royce, but she remains loyal to Bull. But when he's arrested for his participation in the murder of a rival gangster, Bull assumes that Feathers and Rolls-Royce have betrayed him. Breaking out of jail (a brilliantly conceived and executed sequence, in which sounds are conveyed in purely visual terms), Weed prepares to shoot down both his girl and his pal but discovers at the last minute that he's been wrong about them all along. Satisfied that Feathers and Rolls-Royce have remained true-blue, Bull Weed willingly surrenders to the Law. A true feast for the eyes, Underworld is essential viewing for anyone who thinks that all silent films are crude and old-fashioned; though the story creaks a bit, the techniques employed by Von Sternberg and his cinematographer Bert Glennon are as fresh and contemporary as anything being served up by the computerized filmmakers of today.more
Rating: Unrated
Genre: Drama, Classics
Directed By:
Written By: Charles Furthman, Robert N. Lee, Ben Hecht
In Theaters:
On DVD: Aug 24, 2010
Paramount Pictures


Evelyn Brent
as "Feathers" McCoy
Karl Morse
as "High Collar" Sam
Fred Kohler
as "Buck" Mulligan
Clive Brook
as "Rolls Royce"
Helen Lynch
as Mulligan's Girl
Larry Semon
as "Slippy" Lewis
George Bancroft
as "Bull" Weed
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for Underworld

Critic Reviews for Underworld

All Critics (13) | Top Critics (5)

Sternberg's richly ornamental compositions-which are dense with shadows and objects that separate viewers from the action-suggest a willful distance from his characters.

Full Review… | September 14, 2015
New Yorker
Top Critic

There's a wallop right through and yet the film retains romance, clicks not a little on comedy and even whitewashes itself with a 'moral.'

Full Review… | March 26, 2009
Top Critic

Largely through the competent work of Messrs. Bancroft and Brook, Mr. von Sternberg gives a better idea of his powers as a director.

Full Review… | March 25, 2006
New York Times
Top Critic

The film radiates total confidence in its own means and methods, and the themes are wholly Sternberg's.

Full Review… | February 9, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

The first full-fledged gangster movie and still an effective mood piece.

Full Review… | September 24, 2001
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

The film's influence on subsequent gangster films is indisputable.

Full Review… | February 27, 2013
TV Guide's Movie Guide

Audience Reviews for Underworld

A really good gangster drama, it was actually pretty funny in some scenes too, I enjoyed it. The story has excitement, drama, and romance. The actors are good. The movie's got good cinematography too. If you like gangster movies, I'd recommend checking this one out.

Aj V

Super Reviewer

Underworld is unquestionably the impetus of the "gangster film." Directed by one of the greatest visionaries of the silent era, Josef von Sternberg, this film was audacious and provocative for its time (so much so that Paramount only released it in one theater in New York, convinced that audiences would hate it). The thought of filming unfiltered violence, of glamorizing the mob world, of fleshing out and even showing sympathy to criminals was simply unheard of at the time. Granted, Underworld isn't as flamboyantly violent as some of the famous crime fllms of the '30s and '40s, but there are a number of stylistic touches that mark it as a definite progenitor of those films. For instance, just before the climactic gun battle Bull takes a sympathetic interest in an orphaned kitten, a motif reprised in the classic noir This Gun For Hire. Also, the Coens lifted this exact narrative structure for Miller's Crossing.

Of course, there are von Sternberg's trademarks all over this film: the soft focus for emphasis, revealing close-ups, the expressionistic lighting, the heightened editing patterns, etc. He directs this film was an assured confidence -- which is kind of astonishing considering how much ground he was breaking. Those who enjoy the prohibition-era gangster films may be hesitant to watch a silent film without the trademark colorful dialogue of a James Cagney or Edward G. Robinson, but don't worry, this film more than makes up for it. Tough, tense, and tightly-written, every gangster film you've ever seen owes a serious debt to Underworld.

Jonathan Hutchings

Super Reviewer

really stylish and fun gangster picture, one of the very first. in fact we've seen this story dozens of times since. from a script by ben hecht that was so good he borrowed large parts himself for scarface a few years later. well worth checking out

Stella Dallas

Super Reviewer

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