The Underworld Story In Noir City D.C.
I have learned something about film noir by attending the annual noir city DC film festival held at the American Film Institute Theater in Silver Spring and cosponsored by the Film Noir Foundation. I had the opportunity to see this rare 1950 film,"The Underworld Story" on large screen in a newly restored 35 mm print sponsored by the Film Noir Foundation. The presentation was in commemoration of the film's 65th anniversary. Foster Hirsch, a scholar of film noir and a member of the Foundation board gave a brief insightful introduction to the film. The title of the film "The Underworld Story" is something of a misnomer in that organized crime plays a secondary role.
Cy Endfield directed the film shortly before he was blacklisted as a result of the work of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Howard Da Silva, who played the gangster in the film was blacklisted as well. Much of the film seems to predict the anti-communist "witch-hunting" that would soon lead to the blacklisting. The movie discusses the power of masses and of the press, for good and for ill. The film is based on a story by Craig Rice, a pseudonym for an early woman writer of mysteries, Georgiana Ann Randolph Craig (1908 -- 1957).
The film stars Dan Duryea as an ambitious and seemingly unprincipled reporter, Mike Reese. He gets fired from his big city job and connives his way to purchase a share of a struggling small New England newspaper, owned by Catherine Harris (Gale Storm). When the daughter-in-law of a powerful newspaper is murdered, Reese, ever on the alert for the main chance, tries to rescue the small paper's failing fortunes by sensationalistic reporting. An African-American woman, the maid of the murder victim, is falsely accused of the murder. Reese tries to play both sides of the question of her guilt or innocence until he evidences a sense of integrity as the movie reaches its conclusion.
Dureya is effective is the brash reporter, but Da Silva's portrayal of the sinister but smooth gangster, Carl Durham, is the highlight of the film. As Foster Hirsch pointed out in introducing the film at Noir City DC, "The Underworld Story" combines elements of noir in its exploration of the internal, dark aspects of its characters with social and political commentary and with mystery. Genre lines are often fluid; and this film may most accurately be described as noir influenced. The noir elements of this rare film still made it a valuable addition to a festival of film noir. I was grateful for the opportunity to see a new restoration of the film in the theater and to learn about and enjoy the film in a festival devoted to film noir.