Thursday, April 11, 2013

Two-Faced Jerks

Underworld U.S.A (1961) / Samuel Fuller

There is a sequence of immense cruelty in Fuller’s film – a dying man who has murdered the protagonist’s father asks him for forgiveness, ‘I gotta die with a clean slate’, he tells him and clutches onto the younger, more alive man’s coat-lapel as a plea. In return, the protagonist, who has gotten himself implicated (and therefore, in prison) repeatedly over the years only to preserve proximity with the dying man (since he’s been serving a life-term), asks for the names of the other three men involved in the murder. He presses onto the older man to the point of blackmail, repeatedly reminding him of possible post-death retribution in case he does not give his partners up. With the terms of the barter agreeable to both parties involved, the old man proceeds to rat. He then demands of the other man to keep his side of the bargain, at which point, the younger man takes the dying man’s hand and severs it from his coat-lapel, letting him die with blood on his hands. He does the dishonourable act by lying to a man on his deathbed – but the thing with Fuller is, there isn’t much honour at any rate, there is no glory or pride too; there is only dignity and individuals trying to salvage whatever little of it they can. The protagonist’s been the liar in this scene, the two-faced jerk, but who’s to say about the old man prepared to divulge the identities of his partners for an entirely selfish purpose – only because he’s dying and well, death means there aren’t any stakes involved anymore. Fuller will confuse the issue even more; the old man’s desire for forgiveness is entirely hokey – he is, after all, the man who murdered a father in front of his child and ended his possibilities for a normal adulthood. In that, Fuller is clear that the dying man’s more successful murdering partners – Gela, Gunther and Smith – who are honest (and even proud) of their criminal excursions are more admirable than this sniveling old man who believes an afterlife remission will save him. 

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