FULLER AT FOX FIVE FILMS: 1951 - 1957 / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: SAMUEL FULLER / STARRING: RICHARD BASEHART, RICHARD WIDMARK, ROBERT RYAN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
As the title suggests Fuller at Fox is a lavish boxset of five films that Samuel Fuller made for Twentieth Century Fox between 1951 and 1957. Fuller was essentially an indie film maker used to making low budget pictures, but when his Korean War drama Steel Helmet topped the box office, Fox head Daryl F. Zanuck came calling and asked, “What do you wanna make next Sammy?” Zanuck was practically offering Fuller creative control, which appealed to his independent sensibilities.
Fuller’s first film for Fox was his second Korean War feature Fixed Bayonets! (1951). Richard Basehart stars as Corporal Denno, whose superiors are killed leaving the responsibility adverse soldier the task of carrying out a strategic rear guard action. This is an outstanding psychological study of a soldier in conflict. There are no false heroics here, just battle weary, dirty, unshaven and scared men trying to survive each battle.
In his audio commentary film scholar Adrian Martin states how Fuller hated ‘phony, fake war films’, and he wanted audiences to think that ‘only an idiot would go to war’. Fuller’s dialogue rings with authenticity, which is unsurprising as he was a soldier himself.
In Pick-Up on South Street (1953) pickpocket Skip McCoy (Richard Widmark) inadvertently steals a secret formula making himself the target of Communist agents. Widmark excels as the moral-less thief, but the star of the film is the incomparable Thelma Ritter. She provides a beautifully nuanced performance as a police informer who only wants to save enough money that she may have a decent funeral.
In his interview, critic and filmmaker Kent Jones calls Fuller’s style of filmmaking, ‘physical cinema’. Fuller’s camera movements allow you into the minds of his characters with his use of close ups from unorthodox angles. French critic Francois Guerif discusses the birth of American film noir, and Fuller’s contribution to the genre in ‘Le Film Noir’, and in the French TV show Cinema Cinemas, Fuller talks about the origins of Pick Up on South Street, whilst breaking down key scenes.
Richard Widmark was cast by Fuller again as Captain Adam Jones in the rousing adventure Hell and High Water (1954). Jones is hired by a multi-national scientific consortium to find a secret Chinese island base and prevent a Communist plot that could trigger World War III.
Scott Harrison provides a commentary that provides a historical context to the film and a documentary charts Widmark’s life and career.
House of Bamboo (1955) is a tough-as-nails crime thriller set in Japan, and exemplifies Fox’s Cinemascope to perfection. U.S. Army munition trains are being held up by a ruthless gang. Disgraced ex-serviceman Eddie Spannier (Robert Stack) arrives from the States, apparently at the invitation of a gang member who is a former comrade of Spannier. But Eddie isn't quite what he seems.
Two audio commentaries by film historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redmen, and Alain Silver and James Ursini respectively accompany House of Bamboo. Both offer fascinating insights into Fuller’s experience with working with Japanese crews, and the relationship between the U.S. and Japan post-war. The highlight has to be a video essay by David Cairns who covers all five films in the boxset. It reveals just how innovative Fuller was. How instead of using Cinemascope as a proscenium arch he used it to full effect by shooting long tracking shots, such as the one in Forty Guns that exceeds three minutes, and which has influenced countless directors since.
The final film in the collection is the gloriously wild western Forty Guns (1957). Barbara Stanwyck stars as the formidable rancher Jessica Drummond. When U.S. Marshals, the Bonnell brothers, arrive in town, she finds her rough-riding authority challenged.
Fuller at the NFT from 1969 is the audio commentary for this spectacular film. In it, he talks about his life and career in an entertaining fashion. A Fuller Life is a feature-length documentary by Fuller’s daughter Samantha. It features clips from the man’s work and the likes of Mark Hamill, Joe Dante, William Friedkin, James Franco, and Bill Dukes amongst others, reading extracts from Fuller’s autobiography A Third Face. It charts his life as a teenage reporter, novelist, soldier, and, of course, filmmaker.
Eureka! has truly created a thing of beauty. The films are presented from Fox’s 4K restorations, with the exception of House of Bamboo, which is 2K, and the results are stunning! The pictures practically leap of the screen with their vibrancy with nary a drop-out to be seen. The soundtracks are clear as a bell. You won’t hear any snap, crackle, or pops anywhere here.
Fuller at Fox is an indispensable addition to any cineaste’s collection, indeed to anyone that has an interest in the history of film.