Underworld U.S.A.

Underworld U.S.A. (also known as Underworld USA) is a 1961 American neo-noir[2] crime film produced, written and directed by Samuel Fuller. It tells the story of a fourteen-year-old boy who goes to enormous lengths to get revenge against the mobsters who beat his father to death. It stars Cliff Robertson, Dolores Dorn, and Beatrice Kay.[3]

Fourteen-year-old Tolly Devlin and his mother-figure (Beatrice Kay) see four hoods beat his father to death. Tolly vows to avenge his father, but he discovers that Farrar, the one perpetrator he recognized when his father was being beaten, has been arrested and imprisoned for life. Tolly becomes a petty criminal and safecracker. Many years later, during a stint in prison, Tolly discovers that Farrar is on his deathbed in the prison medical ward. Tolly manipulates his way into the room and tricks Farrar into revealing the names of the other 3 killers before he dies.

The remaining 3 killers have risen to be powerful lieutenants in the crime syndicate, so Tolly works his way into their organization. In the process he saves and then begins a romance with a low level syndicate money runner named Cuddles (Dolores Dorn). Becoming a secret informant for the police, Tolly ends up playing both sides in his cagey campaign to bring down the remaining mobsters. Tolly's machinations convince syndicate boss Conners to have each of the three lieutenants murdered by the syndicate's ruthless assassin, Gus.

Having accomplished his goal, Tolly plans to go straight and marry Cuddles. The police warn him that without bringing down Conners, he has no chance of getting out alive, but Tolly doesn't believe them. As Tolly prepares to leave, Gus arrives and informs him that Conners has assigned them to kill Cuddles and several other innocent witnesses. Tolly realizes that Conners must be stopped. He knocks out Gus and turns him in to the police, and then confronts Conners and his men. Tolly kills Conners, but is shot during the struggle. He stumbles into an alley and dies.

Producer Ray Stark asked Fuller to write and direct a film based on the title of a magazine article written by Joseph F. Dinneen. Fuller also was inspired by a book, Here Is to Crime, by newspaperman Riley Cooper.[4]:383–384

An opening scene with a Union of Prostitutes was deleted by Sam Briskin and other Columbia executives.[4]:383–384 Fuller's character Tolly is a loner motivated by revenge using the United States Government as well as his own devices to even the score. Fuller heard the reaction of a real life gangster who reportedly said "If only my son would have that kind of affection for me!".[4]:390

Film critic Dennis Schwartz liked the film, and wrote, "Samuel Fuller's revenge crime thriller is shot in the same brisk and violent manner he shoots his war films. The timely crime film hopes to cash in on the public's thirst for mob stories, as it takes place after the well-covered mob gathering in Apalachin, New York; Fuller based his film on a series of exposé articles in The Saturday Evening Post ... Fuller's violent noir film shows the inhumanity of the soldiers in the war on crime, where neither the syndicate or Tolly react with basic human responses. Their drive to succeed overrides everything, even love. The FBI is shown as stymied without the help of the public coming forth with information or willing to act as witnesses despite the risks, but the lawmen do not play fair by not telling how dangerous it's to be a witness against the mob."[5]

A wanted poster of Tolly Devlin appears in a police station in Columbia's film of Sail a Crooked Ship (1961).