Sam Fuller’s TV Work Pt. 1: The Dick Powell Show & The Virginian

fullerWelcome to the third and final phase in my exhaustive look at the work of Sam Fuller! Here I will explore the television episodes directed by Fuller. In A Third Face, Sam Fuller is not shy about how most of his work in television was done for cold hard cash. By the ’60s he was transitioning back to independent films, so a quick TV job paid the bills and didn’t take up too much time. That’s the gist of what I got from the quick passages about it in the book, anyway.

What’s interesting is that Fuller paints the picture of his debut on television as being around The Virginian, making no mention at all of The Dick Powell Show. I suppose production schedules and the like could have forced the episode of The Virginian to release after 330 Independence S.W., but at this point I don’t think it matters one way or the other. The important thing is that It Tolls for Thee was both written and directed by Fuller, and he was approached specifically to create an episode for the show. In A Third Face Fuller states that this episode was to be the show’s pilot, but some shuffling must have occurred because it ended up as the 9th episode aired. He makes no mention at all of 330 Independence S.W., but he does mention receiving a bunch of TV offers that he turned down. Apparently, he didn’t turn down that one! If he truly did forget the episode, I’m not surprised. When he quickly discusses his episodes of Iron Horse in his book, he flat-out admits that he only remembers one of the six he made. His heart just wasn’t in it.


330independencesw_1The Dick Powell Show: 330 Independence S.W. (1962)
First aired: 03/20/1962

Starring William Bendix, David McLean, Julie Adams, Bert Freed, Alan Reed Jr., Yale Summers, Ed Kemmer, Les Damon, Adrienne Ellis, Norman Alden, Michael Harvey

Directed by Samuel Fuller


330 Independence S.W. was Fuller’s first work on TV, and while its subject matter is somewhat Fuller-esque, you’d be hard-pressed to find the director’s stamp on this work. That’s not surprising, TV in those days was a lot more uniform than it is now, but I did hope for a slight glimmer. Especially since this was probably shot sometime between Underworld USA and Merrill’s Marauders, during the prime period of Fuller’s career.

330independencesw_2This episode of The Dick Powell Show takes a look at a subject that at the time probably wasn’t as prevalent as it is now: methamphetamine use. The story centers around truckers using the drug to stay awake during long shifts, and how the drug is distributed in candy wrappers to make it appear as innocuous lemon drops. An agent from the Health, Education and Welfare Department is on the case, hoping to find the suppliers and get the dangerous drugs off the streets. You’ll have to excuse any lack of distinct details in my summary, as the sound in the copy I tracked down was absolutely abysmal. Dialogue was incredibly hard to make out at times, even after trying to EQ the abundant hiss to a more manageable level.

Anyway, the episode is fairly cut and dry, and more educational than it is entertaining. You could even theorize that the episode was a marketing campaign by the Health, Education and Welfare Department, as they are painted as the shining beacons of justice protecting our communities from these kinds of public health issues. I didn’t catch if they mentioned these “Lemon Drops” getting into the hands of kids, but I imagine that was part of their concern. The whole “hopped-up truckers potentially causing accidents” thing is also of great concern, I just don’t specifically see how that’s something the Health, Education and Welfare Department would handle. And I do have to wonder if they really sent undercover agents out to infiltrate trucking companies and investigate supply chains. Who knows, but it did make for an interesting episode of television.

I wouldn’t say it’s worth tracking down, even for Fuller fans, but if you see it let me know what you think!


virginian_1The Virginian: It Tolls for Thee (1962)
First aired: 11/21/1962

Starring James Drury, Lee J. Cobb, Doug McClure, Gary Clarke, Lee Marvin, Pippa Scott, Roberta Shore, Albert Salmi, Ron Soble, Warren J. Kemmerling

Written & Directed by Samuel Fuller


It Tolls for Thee, on the other hand, has more of a Fuller feel to it. Not so much visually — because ’60s TV shows were all fairly uniform stylistically — but the writing is Fuller all the way. Fuller does manage to sneak in his usual trick of using stock footage to beef up the action, and this helps the cattle scenes to great effect. Anyway, the script pits Judge Garth (Lee J. Cobb) against Martin Kalig, a cattle rustler (Lee Marvin), and it explores the psychology of the two men as it relates to the violence that defined the old west.

virginian_3Like many Westerns, the story is set at the cusp of the civilized West. Men like Judge Garth represent the refined future of the region, while men like Kalig still exist and fight back against the changing landscape. According to the little synopsis provided in Fuller’s memoir, the storyline was a little more defined and fleshed out than it ultimately ended up being, but the themes Fuller explored still shine through. These two men aren’t all that different; one of them just hides his nature better. As Kalig tells Judge Garth, “You wear the halo, because you can afford to wear it.” What got Judge Garth to that point was a life of violence, but now with the law on his side it’s easy to renounce his former self.

The episode’s title is a reference to the John Donne poem For Whom the Bell Tolls, which is about how each person is a part of the whole of humanity, each life is worthwhile, and when one falls we all die a little. So, in a way, both Judge Garth and Kalig are the villains of the piece, as they have both built themselves up on the bodies of others. This script could have made an excellent Fuller feature, as the relationship between these two men is quite strong and engaging, it’s just all the other characters of the show — like the Virginian himself — seem to water everything down and take the focus away from what is truly engaging about Fuller’s story. I should also note that I’m not familiar with this series at all, so I have no connection to any of the characters.

virginian_4Fuller also adds in a journalistic aspect, as the Judge’s daughter returns from New York with a gift for her father from the one and only Joseph Pulitzer. It is a gold watch with an inscription about how Pulitzer envy the Judge for representing the last of the cattle kings and the power of the gun, and this gift plays well into the story as the Judge is kidnapped and held for ransom by Kalig.

I’d definitely recommend this one to Fuller fans. Enough of Fuller’s voice and style comes through to make it feel like he wasn’t restrained too much. There’s also some great dialogue in the episode, my favorite being: “Plan it down to a nat’s eyebrow.”

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