Underworld (Sternberg, 1927)

Underworld (Josef von Sternberg, 1927)

So, this is known as the movie to start the gangster genre. Further research leads me to believe this is most definitely not the first, but I suppose if this was the first to garner any attention, that might be why it gets so much credit. Regardless, the gangster genre is not really one I get overly excited about anyway. Von Sternberg’s film is about as good as they come for me. A lot of tough guy scowls, a lot of midnight shenanigans, and a lot of shootouts – all of which are meh. Where the film succeeds is in its simplicity. The plot is almost as basic as they come, which allows for more focus on the people and the setting. The main character is a victim of his own generosity, bringing lost people close to him, under his wings. What results is that these people find more in common with each other, leaving him as the one on the outside.

Additionally, the ‘underworld’ these characters live in actually feels like a dark and drab other world. When life from the outside world briefly interrupts (such as a scene where the main character, while hiding out, is frightened by the milkman making early morning deliveries, and proceeds to feed a stray kitten), we get a moment to pause and accept that this world they live in is real.  7.75/10


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