Underworld U.S.A. (1961)

UnderworldUSA_1Starring Cliff Robertson, Dolores Dorn, Beatrice Kay, Paul Dubov, Robert Emhardt, Larry Gates, Richard Rust, Gerald Milton, Allan Gruener, David Kent

Directed by Samuel Fuller

Expectations: High.

fourstar


Samuel Fuller is known as the director who makes direct films that punch you viscerally with their ferocity, but Underworld USA is perhaps the leanest, meanest, most consistently thrilling Sam Fuller picture I’ve seen yet. Not only is this one instantly rocketing up near the top of my favorite Sam Fuller movies, there are few noir films that I enjoy as much as this one. I must admit that I’m not as well-versed as I ought to be in the noir genre, but if there were more noir films as jam-packed with excitement as Underworld USA is, that might be a different story. It’s absolutely criminal that Underworld USA isn’t better known and respected. Who knew that one of the best noirs out there was made in the ’60s?

As all Fuller films do, Underworld USA begins with a strong premise. We meet Tolly Devlin, a 14-year-old kid hiding out in an alleyway, waiting for his opportunity to lift some valuables from drunk New Year’s Eve partygoers. He is firmly entrenched in the criminal lifestyle, and soon we learn why. His father is a career criminal, but tonight is not his lucky night. Tolly watches four men beat his father to death in the alley. He only sees the face of one of the men, but when given the opportunity to tell the cops what he saw, he refuses. Instead, he bides his time as a career criminal like his father, working towards the day when he might exact revenge on the men responsible for his father’s murder.

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A Look Back: Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998)

This is the third in a three-post series where I share my school reports from my first real film class, Film History. These were the first serious writings I did on film, and they offer a look back at the foundations that would eventually lead me to start writing reviews here at Silver Emulsion. I recently found them in a box while preparing to move, and I hope they are as entertaining to you as they are to me (they won’t be). These were written about twelve years ago during the Fall of the year 2000, when I was a spry nineteen years old. I will be re-creating the documents with the same formatting and images to the best of my abilities with the WordPress editor. Also, I’m leaving in any grammar errors or other things that I might want to change. It’s all about posterity and not falling into the George Lucas trap. Anyway, enjoy! Maybe.


Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998)

“I simply make a film as I want it to be,” Akira Kurosawa replied when asked why he shoots his films the way he does. It is this independence, this incredible cinematic vision, that has given Akira Kurosawa the nickname of The Emperor. His films not only inspire and teach but also entertain with top notch acting and visuals. Kurosawa never settled for second best and it comes through in every single one of his films, especially the three films I have chosen to focus on: Rashomon, Yojimbo, and Ran. These films were all pivotal to Kurosawa’s career, Rashomon made him famous, Yojimbo was his biggest commercial success, and Ran was the film that he felt to be his best. All of the films are set in the past, in Japanese history. As a student, Kurosawa was very interested in literature, especially Dostoevsky and Shakespeare, and the kodan, a story-telling entertainment where traditional samurai tales were told. Obviously, these interests molded themselves into the films Kurosawa made and shaped his style and vision into something the world had never seen before.

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The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)

Starring Clifford Evans, Oliver Reed, Yvonne Romain, Catherine Feller, Anthony Dawson, Josephine Llewelyn, Richard Wordsworth, Hira Talfrey, John Gabriel, Warren Mitchell, Anne Blake

Directed by Terence Fisher

Expectations: High. Loving these Hammer movies, love the werewolf character.


Hammer continues to impress with this stunning rendition of an old, tired tale. Once again they choose to go in a completely opposite direction from the classic Universal film, delivering a film that is not only better, but incredibly so. How did they manage such a feat? By following their tried and true method of focusing on the characters. The Curse of the Werewolf is not quite epic in its scope, but it does seek to present a nuanced portrayal of a life in its entirety. This is the werewolf by way of Charles Dickens, and I loved it.

The first half hour or so is dedicated solely to setting up the origin of the werewolf in question. And not just his childhood, but the series of events leading to his conception! This is the first of many wonderful strokes of genius and is easily my favorite section of the film. A beggar seeks food and drink, but is turned away by the poor townspeople as all their food reserves have been given to the Marquis for his wedding day. One of the boisterous men jokingly suggests that the beggar should go to the party and seek his handouts there. The beggar, oblivious to the joke, decides it’s a better plan than any he’s had all day and sets out down the road. I don’t want to ruin anything so I’ll stop here, but suffice it to say this is one of the best half hours I’ve ever seen in classic horror cinema. Perhaps it’s just my intense love for revenge stories and the hard extremes presented here. I can’t say for sure, but I thought it was brilliant.

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