Sam Fuller (director)
28 October 2021 (released)
28 October 2019
A master of the B-movie, whose iconoclastic vision presented us with classics such as ‘The Naked Kiss’ and ‘The Big Red One’, screenwriter, novelist and film director Sam Fuller churned out a body of work that leaves no doubt about his contribution to American cinema. The 5-disc box set FULLER AT FOX offers some of this most influential and successful output between 1951-1957.
Starting with FIXED BAYONETS! (1951), this film about the Korean War during the Red Chinese intervention is as much a poignant analysis about the follies of war as it is a critique on army protocol. When a division of US soldiers is forced to withdraw down a snowy mountain, several troops are left behind to fend off enemy forces. The ensuing plot follows the fate of a 38-man strong platoon whose job it is to defend a so-called choke point in order to cover the withdrawal of their division over an exposed bridge. Commander of the platoon is Corporal Denno (Richard Basehart) – a man with a conscience who risks his own life in order to save a fellow soldier from certain death in a minefield – only for the rescued man to die seconds later anyway due to his injuries. This harrowing experience, and the fact that his platoon is trapped inside a mountain cave surrounded my enemy troops; force Denno to make decisions he would otherwise not have to make. As soldier after soldier falls, Denno comes to realise that in order to survive others need to be killed or sacrificed… such is the nature of war. Although obviously shot in a studio the film – based on the novel by John Brophy – never lets up on tension.
The excellent Cold War spy-thriller PICK UP ON SOUTH STREET (1953) features the equally excellent Richard Widmark as streetwise pickpocket Skip McCoy who gets more than he bargained for when, during a ride on the subway, he steals a wallet from local floozy Candy (Jean Peters). What Skip doesn’t know is that Candy’s wallet not only contains money but a microfilm holding apparently top secret Government information. It was Candy’s job to deliver the goods as a final favour to her former squeeze Joey (Richard Kiley). However, unbeknownst to Candy her former lover is a communist spy and the alleged Government information is of a dangerous nature… While Government agents Zara (Willis Bouchey) and Police Captain Dan Tiger (Murvyn Vye) were hoping that Candy would lead them to the Commie spy ring they now find themselves chasing after the pickpocket instead. When stool pigeon Moe Williams (Thelma Ritter) puts them on the right track, Skip initially has no idea what all the fuss is about. Upon learning the true value of his booty he unwittingly opens a can of worms which puts everyone in grave danger. Gripping from beginning to end, PICK UP has particularly brutal moments too, for example when old stoolie Moe, who hopes that by being a grass she can afford a decent plot for her burial, gets brutally killed by Joey for withholding information – stating she doesn’t like Commies. No decent plot at the cemetery for her then.
Richard Widmark features once again in the complex war action thriller HELL AND HIGH WATER (1954). Here he plays US submarine commander Adam Jones who travels to Tokyo after receiving a strange package containing a whopping £5,000 (a lot of money in those days). Jones meets Professor Montel (Victor Francen), an acclaimed French scientist believed to have defected over to the Iron Curtain some years earlier. Montel and his fellow scientists suspect the Communist Chinese are building a secret atomic base on an island north of Japan (sure it’s not North Korea…? How history seems to repeat itself…). In order to obtain proof, Montel offers Jones an obscene amount of money to follow a Communist Chinese freighter in an overhauled submarine and before you can say ‘Torpedo’, Jones and his crew find themselves amidst hell and high water, further complicated by the fact that Montel’s assistant happens to be the rather attractive female scientist Professor Denise Gerard (Bella Darvi). While the male crewmembers act like a bunch of primates, Jones soon has reason to believe that all is not what it seems to be… with devastating consequences!
HOUSE OF BAMBOO (1955) is a film noir and perhaps unusual because it is set in Japan. When a military train guarded by US soldiers and Japanese police is robbed of its cargo of ammunition and smoke bombs, a thief named Webber (Biff Elliott) lies dying in a clinic a few weeks later. Although he refuses to grass up his gang members to the cops he does reveal that he is secretly married to a Japanese woman called Mariko (Shirley Yamaguchi). Shortly later he dies and the police find a letter from an American named Eddie Spanier (Robert Stack) among his possessions – stating he wishes to join Webber in Japan after his release from an US prison. However, Spanier is not a prisoner but an undercover agent trying to infiltrate Sandy Dawson (Robert Ryan) and his gang of racketeers. Having managed to gain the trust of Mariko, who at first has no idea about Spanier’s real identity, he hopes to put a stop to the Dawson Gang’s next heist before they can carry it out. How did you guess that things don’t go according to plan? Of course they don’t, it’s a film noir after all! The climax is a breath-taking one, played out on the rotating rooftop of an amusement park. Vertigo sufferers, you have been warned!
Finally, we have FORTY GUNS (1957), a western with a feminist twist. Here it’s Barbara Stanwyck as feisty landowner Jessica Drummond who runs Cochise County, Arizona, with an iron fist… and with the help of her forty hired guns. She also permits the town of Tombstone to be trashed and terrorized by her younger brother Brockie (John Ericson). Among her other ‘hired guns’ are the Bonnell brothers Wes, Chico and Griff (Gene Barry, Robert Dix and Barry Sullivan respectively). When Wes falls in love with the daughter of the town gunsmith he decides to change his ways and become the town’s marshal… with wedding bells on the horizon. But a bullet by cowardly Brockie (intended for Griff) turns the young bride into a widow on her very wedding day. Meanwhile, Griff gets romantically involved with Jessica but with dead bodies piling up fast his loyalties are soon split… An outstanding performance by Stanwyck (this high ridin’ dame sure knows how to handle a horse) and an engaging plot lift this adventure above the average Western fare, though the musical interludes (“She’s a woman with a whip, but in the end she’s just a woman”… what?) add some unnecessary cheese to an otherwise sharp script.
An absolute eye opener is the docu film FULLER IN FULL with rare personal archive material and contributions from James Franco, Jennifer Beals, Tim Roth, Mark Hamill, Joe Dante, Wim Wenders, Robert Carradine and many more. Spiffing stuff, and all five discs come in Blu-ray format!