Starring George Bancroft, Evelyn Brent, and Clive Brook
September 17, 1927

"Underworld" is just what the title implies - an underworld melodrama; but it is the most thrilling melodrama that has been produced for several years. Almost from the beginning to the end, the spectator is held in such a suspense that he has not been held in a long time. He is gripped as he has not been gripped before. The most gripping scenes are those in which the hero, under sentence to hang the following midnight, is shown breaking jail; and later at his home, where he is seen surrounded by the police, and where he, barricaded, fights back with a machine gun.

The scenes where the hero's pal, whom the hero had been suspecting as having stolen his girl, breaks the police cordon and reaches the back way of the hero's home with the purpose of unlocking the steel door, whose key he had on his person, so that the hero might escape, too, are suspensive, as well as thrilling. The closing scenes are appealing even though they deal with crooks. Having convinced himself by his pal's action in risking his life to get to him that he, that is, the pal, had not stolen his girl and that he was loyal to him to the core, the hero, after realizing that his pal and his girl loved each other, tells them that it is all wrong and gives himself up to the police, thus letting them find happiness in their love.

While the story deals with criminals, it is not bereft of a good moral; it conveys vividly the impression that crime does not pay. The hero, though a tough criminal, is shown as possessing some fine characteristics. In one scene, for example, he is shown as perceiving a young boy, about ten years old, staling an apple. He catches the boy, reprimands him, telling him that it is wrong to steal, takes the apple away from him, gives him a dollar and sends him on his way; but he himself keeps the apple when the goy is gone. In another scene he is shown tender-hearted; he dips his finger into the milk bottle and feeds the kitten.

It is difficult to describe Mr. Bancroft's work in the leading role and do justice to it; no doubt this picture will make him famous. Evelyn Brent, I the role of the hero's girl, does excellent work. Clive Brook, s the well bred Englishman that had let himself sink to the gutter, is superb. Larry Semon is good, too, as one of the hero's friends. Fred Kohler doe good work as the rival gangster, whom the hero had murdered, and for whose death he had been sentenced to hang.

The plot has been founded on the story by Ben Hecht; it was adapted by Charles Furthman, and put into scenario form by Robert N. Lee. Mr. Josef Von Sternberg certainly deserves credit for his masterful direction.

It is not, of course, a Sunday School picture - not for children; it is a picture for adults.

starring George Bancroft, Evelyn Brent and Clive Brook

A strong story, plus powerful direction, plus three marvelous performances combine to make "Underworld" one of the greatest pictures of the year.

It is raw, red drama, vivid as the front page of a newspaper, compelling as the bark of a machine-gun.

Bull Weed, murderer, gang leader, law defier and sentimentalist, loves his moll, Feathers, a beautiful queen of ht underworld, and Rolls Royce, a bum who, on a whim, he stakes to a thousand dollars. Sobered up, Rolls Royce becomes Bull's devoted friend and the brains behind his campaigns. Bull thieves and kills gloriously until he sees a rival gang leader attempting to kiss Feathers. He promptly pumps him full of lead and is sentenced to be hanged.

The suspense from this moment is nerve tightening as the shriek of a fire engine. Feathers and Rolls Royce, knowing they love each other, pledge their loyalty to Bull, but their attempts to save him from the noose arouse Bull's worst suspicions. He breaks away from jail to hunt them. Under police fire himself, he threatens their lives, only to surrender to the law, happy, as he beholds for himself the strength of their fidelity to him and their love for one another.

Credits are due in all departments from the story by Ben Hecht, to the titles of George Marlon, Jr. Joseph (sic) von Sternberg's direction cannot be praised too highly. The photography is flawless. Chracterizations of rare distinction are given by George Bancroft, Evelyn Brent and Clive Brook. Leave the younger children at home but give yourself a treat.

starring George Bancroft, Evelyn Brent and Clive Brook
November, 1927

Wear your bullet-proof vest when you go to see "Underworld." And don't forget to duck. Windy City-zens may feel at home, but everybody else had better do a little quiet target practice before venturing to join Josef von Sternberg's excursion into the underworld -- the subway of life, the bargain-basement of humanity. "Underworld" is a close-up of gunmen and their girl friends, -- whizz, bang! Almost got you that time!

No, really -- it's a corking picture. There's not a dull moment -- men falling to the right and women to the left of you. George Bancroft as Bull Weed falls for Feathers, (Evelyn Brent). Clive Brook as Rolls Royce, a drunkard who has seen better days, and nights, fall for her, too. Bull is a bluff, hearty crook -- a square-shooter in private life. But he shoots once too often, and -- I should give the end away! After that good Mr. von Sternberg has gone to all that work to build up such suspense, do you suppose I'm going to let him down? No, sir -- not after he provided splendid entertainment; it may make your teeth chatter, and you may be afraid of the dark afterwards, but it is good entertainment. The director went so far as to think up some brand-new camera-angles; and it wouldn't amaze me if some day he approaches von Stroheim's standards of realism, even if Josef doesn't use up half as much film.

"Underworld" is a great, big triumph for George Bancroft. He rises to real heights in a performance that even Emil wouldn't be ashamed of. Evelyn Brent has the part of her young life as one of those girls who finds her soul. You feel that Evelyn really has a soul to find. There's a quality about Miss Brent -- I don't know just what it is; she's not a raving beauty, nor a great actress; but she has -- sincerity, perhaps that's it. She can play a Feathers as no other picture girl can. More power to her. But it is Bancroft, as a tough guy with a peculiar code of honor, crashing through life robbing and killing, yet with all the time something fine in him untouched -- who makes the picture, with von Sternberg's help. Here's a character you won't forget. He turns his machine-gun on your emotions; he'll "get" you, see if he won't.

starring George Bancroft, Clive Brook, Evelyn Brent and Larry Semon.
November, 1927

When it was shown to the public for the first time at the Paramount Theater in New York, "Underworld" received notices studded with laudatory adjectives from virtually all of the criti8cs. They regard it as an unusual, vigorous and thrilling melodrama which will make a hit in most places where it is shown. Josef von Sternberg, the director who leaped into the limelight some time ago by his direction of "The Salvation Hunters," has definitely taken his place among the top-notchers, believe the critics, who heap praise on him for capturing unusually authentic atmosphere in this film. Goerge Bancroft, recently made a star, gives one of the finest performances seen in some time as the gangster, the reviewers opine. Clive Brook, who plays Bancroft's pal, and Evelyn Brent, the girl in the case, come in for similar notices. "This film," says Donald Thompson in the Telegram, "which opens with the dynamiting of a bank and ends with a machine-gun battle, to be followed, one presumes, with a first-rate hanging, is consistent melodrama, smoothly and convincingly done . . . 'Underworld' . . . is the most worthy offering of its kind to be shown at Paramount's pet theater since it opened." Langdon W. Post, the Evening World's reviewer, has this to say: "Ben Hecht . . . and Josef von Sternberg . . . have so manipulated George Bancroft, Clive Brook and Evelyn Brent that we are glad to announce that 'Underworld' is as good a picture of its kind as has come to Broadway in some months." Mordaunt Hall, writing in the Times, says that "although there are several episodes in this picture that could have been improved upon. . . it is a compelling subject, one that has a distinctly original vein." Declaring it to be one of the significant pictures of the year, Marquis Busby, in the Los Angeles Time, says that the film is played throughout "at terrific pitch ­ suspense toward the end is almost nerve-racking, and there is raw, vivid drama from beginning to end. . . It is a true slice of life."

For more information, see "Underworld" as our "Feature of the Month."

Return to reviews page