Wednesday, November 4, 2009

New on DVD: Sam Fuller’s UNDERWORLD U.S.A., and Sandy Harbutt’s STONE—Watch them NOW!

Underworld U.S.A. (1961)
Written, produced and directed by Samuel Fuller
Cinematography: Hal Mohr
Editing: Jerome Thoms
Music: Harry Sukman

Cast: Cliff Robertson (Tolly Devlin), Dolores Dorn (Cuddles), Beatrice Kay (Sandy), Paul Dubov (Gela), Robert Emhardt (Earl Connors), Larry Gates (Driscoll), Richard Rust (Gus Cottahee), Gerald Milton (Gunther), Allan Gruener (Smith).
B&W, 99min.
DVD letterboxed

Here’s my quickie N-flix-style review:

Samuel Fuller’s incredible hard-boiled tale of revenge is finally available on DVD, and it’s a must-see. Try not to read too much about the movie beforehand (and don’t watch Scorsese’s intro until after seeing the movie—he reveals too much info), just rent it and be exhilarated by Underworld U.S.A.’s intensity.

It’s a rotten world for juvenile delinquent Tolly Devlin, made worse when he sees his dad brutally beaten to death by four shadowy figures in the first minutes of the film.

Rather than use his remarkable talent to lift himself out of the cesspool, Tolly dives further in, seeking to exact revenge on the killers—
and thereby seals his own doom.

Tolly’s got no use for anything that isn’t related to killing these guys—
Because his life is nothing without revenge.

(Of course, it’s never asked or mentioned about Tolly’s dad maybe deserving to get iced? Like, what does someone have to do to get beaten to death? Something big, you’d think.)

Sam Fuller’s incredible Underworld U.S.A. is finally available on DVD,
as part of the
Samuel Fuller Collection
and it’s even better than I remembered it!

A perfectly constructed machine of nihilism, filmed in fantastic B&W, Underworld U.S.A. is like
White Heat
The Phenix City Story
Kiss Me Deadly:

It’s one of those Noir Bridges between the Old School (“social problem”) Crime Films (Little Caesar, Scarface) and the 1970s Neo-Noir Madness (Dirty Harry, The French Connection, The Outfit, Scarface) that essentially ignores Film Noir’s “Fallen Noble Hero” subset, like most of Bogie’s movies.

At DVD Talk, Glenn Erickson writes:
Cinematographer Hal Mohr may be the key factor in Underworld U.S.A.'s enhanced impact; the modestly budgeted film can boast superior imagery. The mob's glass and steel offices equate organized crime with big business, while some of Dolores Dorn's close-ups are breathtakingly beautiful. Fuller blocks his compositions the way an editor blocks out a page of newsprint.

And what about this: Fuller describes a crime syndicate hiding behind a legitimate business façade, but what if he’s alluding to crime in the US being supported by big business? Not just “equating,” but pointing-the-finger: Big Business has its fingers in the dope & whores racket!(or am I looking too hard for subtext? Heck, that’s what Samuel Fuller movies do to you!)
Underworld U.S.A. has a feral energy that’s infectious/
the darn thing never stops moving—
all credit to the late, great Sam Fuller, an Ivanlandia favorite!

Co-star Dolores Dorn (who plays the prostitute who falls for Tolly; in the photos up top, gazing into Cliff Robertson’s soulless, revenge-hungry eyes; and at right)
went on to be in the awesome The Candy Snatchers (1973)
(good band, too!—not that Ms. Dorn was in the band…),
then later became a noted acting teacher for the American Film Institute in 1977, and with the Lee Strasberg Institute in 1983, according to IMDB.

Click here for a good essay on
Underworld USA
By Richard Harland Smith (but one that gives away some surprises, as well)

By the way, Sam Fuller’s Underworld U.S.A. is not specifically related to James Ellroy’s Underworld U.S.A. trilogy, now concluded with the recent publication of Blood’s a Rover, an excellent novel, worthy of being mentioned in the same sentence with Samuel Fuller.
(I think I remember reading that Ellroy got the title for his trilogy from, and is said to have liked Fuller’s movie, but I couldn’t find any links… Sorry.)

There’s MORE!

Stone (1974)
Directed, produced and production designed by Sandy Harbutt
Screenplay by Sandy Harbutt and Michael Robinson
Cinematography: Graham Lind
Editing: Ian Barry
Music: Billy Green

Cast: Ken Shorter (Stone), Sandy Harbutt (Undertaker), Helen Morse (Amanda), Hugh Keays-Byrne (Toad),
with Rebecca Gilling, Vincent Gil, Bindi Williams, James H. Bowles, Bill Hunter, Garry McDonald
99 min.
DVD Letterboxed

As you well know, The United Provinces of Ivanlandia loves it some biker movies, and this week we were lucky enough to get hold of the recently-made-available-on-DVD-in-the-US Australian biker classic Stone (1974).

It’s an absolute must-see for fans of biker movies!
Inspired by the biker exploitation flicks Hollywood was churning out in the late-60s/early-70s,
Stone is an Australian biker (or “bikie”) movie that really rings true
primarily because the film was a labor of love made by and for bikies.

Because of that, Stone is one of the best motorcycle gang B-movies made,
much better than 99% of its American counterparts,
with a semi-documentary feeling that keeps things raw and authentic.

Forget about the plot—
it’s the flimsiest of excuses to allow the viewer to groove on the exclusive world of the Gravediggers Motorcycle Club—
and unlike US biker films, Stone is very sympathetic to the gang, without emasculating them or turning them into clowns and harmless goofs.

(In fact, I’d say Stone has more in common with its fellow Aussie B-movie masterpiece Mad Max and the English biker/ horror movie Psychomania, than with any of its Yankee equivalents.)

While Stone is very docu-like, the movie also has a very strong stoner aesthetic (or “trippy vibe”) that really passes on the feeling that you’re smoking as much dope as the bikers are on-screen (which makes sense since the flick is called “Stone” and the tagline from the poster was

And it’s true: Stone has a great ending.

Lots of credit should be heaped on writer-director-actor-designer Sandy Harbutt—
if anyone deserves to be called an auteur, it’s him.


  1. I'm a huge Fuller fan, so I'm right there with you on UNDERWORLD USA. And since I'm an Aussie, I concur with your STONE comments. I saw STONE at the drive-in when it first came out in Australia. I was too young to "get" it, but I sure had a good time with it. Your blog's a ripper.

  2. Phantom, you rule!
    Thanks for the kind words, I would've replied sooner but excuses, excuses...

    Dang, I would've killed to have seen Stone at a drive-in! (But when I was 11 or 12, my folks did take me to see Mad Dog Morgan: YOW!)