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Critic Reviews for Underworld
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.
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.'
Largely through the competent work of Messrs. Bancroft and Brook, Mr. von Sternberg gives a better idea of his powers as a director.
The film radiates total confidence in its own means and methods, and the themes are wholly Sternberg's.
The first full-fledged gangster movie and still an effective mood piece.
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.
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.
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
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