UNDERWORLD STORY, THE (aka: THE WHIP)
(director/writer: Cy Endfield; screenwriters: Henry Blankfort/from a story by Craig Rice; cinematographer: Stanley Cortez; editor: Richard V. Heermance; music: David Rose; cast: Dan Duryea (Mike Reese), Gale Storm (Cathy Harris), Herbert Marshall (E. J. Stanton), Howard da Silva (Carl Durham), Michael O’Shea (Ralph Munsey), Mary Anderson (Molly), Gar Moore (Clark Stanton ), Harry Shannon (Parkie), Melville Cooper (Radford), Art Baker (Lieut. Tilton), Alan Hale Jr. (Schaeffer), Frieda Inescort (Mrs. Eldridge), Stephan Dunne (editor Chuck Lee), Roland Winters (Stanley Becker, lawyer); Runtime: 94; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Hal E. Chester; Warner Bros.; 1950)
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Cy Endfield(“Try and Get Me!”/”Hell Drivers”/”Zulu”), soon blacklisted and to spend the remainder of his career in exile in England, directs this cynical hard-hitting subversive crime drama about newspaper people who do not operate always in the public’s interest and heroes who are not always pure. It’s based on the story by mystery writer Craig Rice and is co-written by Henry Blankfort and Endfield.
At the steps of the Hall of Justice, mobsters kill a gangster who agreed to appear as a secret witness and superficially wound the DA Muncey (Michael O’Shea). Under suspicion is crime kingpin Carl Durham (Howard da Silva). Munsey blames the shooting on the city’s newspaper and the unscrupulous reporter Mike Reese, who ran the front-page story about the secret testimony when he promised to with-hold it. Mike gets fired and blacklisted from other jobs, and flees the New England big city to go to the nearby suburbs and buy a half-interest in the small-town community Lakeville paper. The slick city guy gets a $5,000 stake from Durham as a quiet thank you for running the story, and convinces publisher Cathy Harris (Gale Storm) and her pressman, George R. “Parkie” Parker (Harry Shannon), despite their reservations, that he’s the go-getter to run the struggling paper and keep it afloat.
A young boy bursts into the newspaper office with the news that Diane Stanton, the daughter-in-law of newspaper magnate E. J. Stanton (Herbert Marshall), has been found murdered in the woods. Mike sees this as an opportunity to sell the story to the city papers. At the family home, Stanton’s immoral disappointing weakling son Clark (Gar Moore) confesses to his father that he killed his wife because she was going to leave him. But the pair soon learn that the vic’s black maid Molly (Mary Anderson) seemingly stole her missing jewelry, and the unethical father and son frame her for the murder believing because she’s black no one will believe her.
Meanwhile Cathy is convinced that Molly couldn’t murder anyone, someone she knows from her school days. Thereby she gets her newspaper to back her and organize a defense fund for her trial. The opportunistic Mike proves to be a treacherous ally for the cause, as he waffles over what can bring in the most money for him (planning to split the defense money raised with the lawyer while, on the other hand, trying to plea bargain the murder charge down to manslaughter). Eventually, when the Stantons ally with Durham, Mike has no choice but to reform and fight for Molly or be killed.
This is an underrated gem, that very effectively and unpretentiously spins this tale of corruption on all fronts in respectable American society and tells of the frightening power of the press to influence public opinion.
REVIEWED ON 12/30/2010 GRADE: A-