Classic Film Review: If It Bleeds, It Leads

Noirvember 2017, Episode 23: The Underworld Story (1950 ...

The Underworld Story is a crime film released in 1950.  Cy Endfield serves as director of this film which was adapted from a screenplay from Henry Blankfort.  Henry Blankfort apparently got the story idea from Craig Rice, who apparently is really a female writer named Georgiana Ann Randolph Craig.  Dan Duryea is in the lead role with a cast that includes Gale Storm, Herbert Marshall, Howard Da Silva, and Mary Anderson.

An overly ambitious big city news reporter played by Duryea loses his job and end up borrowing money from a gangster to invest in a small town publication in New England. He and the young woman who runs the paper figure out pretty quickly that they have different visions for the newspaper there.  The daughter-in-law of a news magnate in the community is murdered, and suspicion falls on a young black woman.  Duryea’s character, Mike Reese, decides to use the tragedy as a means to get back into the spotlight. Meanwhile, the gangster, played by Howard Da Silva, is running out of patience.

Duryea is an interesting performer, however the story was not that interesting.  The stranger casting choice is Mary Anderson as Molly Rankin, the young black woman who gets charged with the murder.  I was terribly distracted by Anderson not being black and apparently was supposed to have some kind of dark make-up.  Except the film is in black an white, so Anderson still looked as white as could be.  This clearly has to be one of the stupidest casting decisions in cinema history.  It probably would be if the film was better known overall.  Anyway, the role of Molly Rankin should have gone to an actual African-American actress, however that is not the only downfall of the film.  I didn’t find the actual murder mystery all that interesting, and the focus of the film had more to do with the questionable tactics of Reese’s reporting and his thirst for notoriety.  Da Silva is pretty good though and seems to give his role of the crime boss a bit more dimension than others from that era of cinematic depictions. Gale Storm is not someone with whom I was too familiar, but I gathered she had a pretty robust Hollywood presence.  She brought some charm to her part and was likable enough.

The film had some potential and seems to have had a pretty solid cast overall, with the exception of the aforementioned Mary Anderson.  The execution of the story was just not that well thought out.  I found myself not that interested in the plot.  Casting the role of Molly Rankin the way they did was too distracting.  The cast performances keep the film somewhat upright but with a very noticeable limp.

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