While the prospect of a tough World War II thriller starring velvet-voiced Broadway and TV star Robert Goulet might not be enticing in the abstract, Underground is actually quite palatable. Featuring a clear story, a handful of decent surprises, and a steady stream of effective suspense scenes, the picture gives Goulet all the ammunition he needs to deliver a respectable performance, and while it’s true he does a bit of preening here and there, he makes an okay (if somewhat wooden) action hero. When the story begins, mysterious American commando Lt. Dawson (Goulet) breaks into an airbase and slips onto a plane that’s departing for a secret mission. He then subdues the man who’s supposed to jump from the plane into enemy territory and makes the jump himself, joining up with a group of French resistance fighters led by the chrome-domed Boule (Lawrence Dobkin). It seems the American whose place Dawson took was slated to attack a convoy delivering Nazi Gen. Stryker (Carl Deuring) through France. Further, not only does Dawson have history with Stryker, but Dawson’s task is to kidnap rather than kill the German officer.
While executing his mission, Dawson engages in a battle of wills with Boule, who doubts the American’s credibility from the moment they meet, and has a steamy tryst with Yvonne (Danièle Gaubert), a member of Boule’s team. Although the basic story of Underground is uncomplicated, a few unexpected dimensions give the film texture. For instance, Stryker is in disgrace following a major strategic error, so he’s on a de facto suicide watch by his fellow members of the Third Reich; similarly, Dawson’s haunted by nightmares stemming from a past episode of imprisonment and torture. Since Goulet is the definition of a whitebread entertainer, it’s a kick to see him playing rough, though another actor could have done more with the role. (Dobkin and Gaubert are well-cast and efficient.) Still, TV-trained hack director Arhtur H. Nadel presents the story without adornment, giving the movie a grungy edge even though the production values are slick, and reliable composer Stanley Myers puts some blood in the flick’s veins. (Available as part of the MGM Limited Collection on Amazon.com)