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Underworld U.S.A.

Sunday, August 28th, 2011

Robert Emhardt in Samuel Fuller’s Underworld U.S.A.

“There’ll always be people like us […] as long as we don’t have any records on paper, as long as we run National Projects with legitimate business operations and pay our taxes on legitimate income and donate to charities and run church bazaars, we’ll win the war. We always have.” – Earl Connors (Robert Emhardt), the “Big Boss” in Underworld U.S.A.

Along with Don Siegel, Anthony Mann, Robert Aldrich and a few others in the 1950s American cinema, Samuel Fuller is the poet of brutality, and no film of his is more vicious, to my mind, than his 1961 masterpiece Underworld U.S.A. – perhaps the most ruthless exposé of the corporate criminal gangs ever produced.

As I wrote of the film in Senses of Cinema 52, “Underworld, U.S.A. is arguably Fuller’s most efficient, brutal and unsentimental film, and its reputation has only grown with the passing years. The idea of organized crime as a business was a novelty when Fuller made the film, but as the events of the past half-century have made manifestly clear, this is precisely how the underworld operates, hiding in plain sight under a cloak of false respectability, in this case doing business as the “National Projects” company. Shot swiftly and cheaply, and initially dismissed by the director as “only a quickie,” Underworld U.S.A. offers a compelling vision of American society in collapse, even as it basked in the apparent glow of the post-war boom, and the first years of the Kennedy administration, supposedly an era of unbridled optimism.”

You can read the entire essay here.

About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of numerous books and more than 70 articles on film and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472.6064 or wdixon1@unl.edu.

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