Saturday, March 19, 2011


Underworld, 1927
Dir: Josef von Sternberg

This was one of the first films ever to be open about gangsters, and it's certainly a von Sternberg film. I might be selling it short simply because so many riffs of the gangster genre are in it because on the other hand it probably had a hand in forming some of those same cliches. If it's better than a lot of gangster films that followed it it's because unlike many of said films, this doesn’t really have a central premise – a big problem or heist or something. von Sternberg's "soft light specials" (particularly on leading lady Evelyn Brent, who's a great wise-cracking gun-moll puppy slut), along with the rest of his style (emotional motifs wrapped in romanticism), really make this a mature technical effort for his first professional film, but it doesn't really exude the overall emotional wallop that something like Docks of New York (1929) will for him two years later. It's probably hard to top a film like that on any level, but he makes it his own in the von Sternberg way, so I'll just say that this is a sad film that just happens to have gangsters, and in that sense it makes it worth watching.

No comments: