The Tanks are Coming (1951)

tanksarecoming_6Starring Steve Cochran, Philip Carey, Mari Aldon, Paul Picerni, Harry Bellaver, James Dobson, George O’Hanlon, John McGuire

Directed by Lewis Seiler

Expectations: Moderate.

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The Tanks are Coming is the epitome of a middle-of-the-road film (and no, that’s not intended as some dumb attempt at a tank pun… although if you laughed, I’ll take it!). This is a shame because there are a lot of great scenes of tank action that really deserve to be in a better movie. Many of the characters also show potential, but none of them ever fully realize it. So when it’s all over, and you realize that the whole she-bang is kinda mediocre, it’s more disappointing than it would normally be because you can almost see the better movie it could have been.

The plot is one of the film’s main issues, because there really isn’t one. OK, there is one, but it’s incredibly brief. Here it is… ready? A few tanks from the Army’s 3rd Armored Division (nicknamed Spearhead) attempt to bust through Germany’s Siegfried Line and into Germany. As you can see, that’s more of a general goal than it is a plot. The Tanks are Coming is largely episodic in nature, but because of the clearly defined end-goal, the episodes feel more directly connected than in a traditional episodic film. In this way it’s kinda like an adventure across the countryside in tanks (not that war should ever be considered an adventure). Anyway, this episodic structure has been done effectively in war films, but in The Tanks are Coming the elements never congeal. We’re watching these guys go through many different situations, yet everything still feels somewhat disjointed and glossed-over. For me, this frustration is further compounded by the fact that the film’s story is credited to Sam Fuller, the man I consider to be not only the master of the realistic war film, but also the episodic, survival-based war film.

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Shockproof (1949)

shockproof_2Starring Cornel Wilde, Patricia Knight, John Baragrey, Esther Minciotti, Howard St. John, Russell Collins, Charles Bates

Directed by Douglas Sirk

Expectations: Moderate.

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Sam Fuller’s stories are known for their interesting story hooks that immediately take hold of you and demand your rapt attention, usually defying what you generally expect a movie to be about. Shockproof is no different, and while I’m sure the finished film was diluted from his original draft, it still bears much of Fuller’s known style. The dialogue sparkles with his wit, and the premise is as “Sam Fuller” as any premise ever was; there’s even a character named Griff! The dilution does come with a price, though, as the ending is far too contrived and happy for the story that came before it. It’s not quite as bad as “…And it was all a dream,” but it’s definitely cut from a similar cloth.

Shockproof opens on Hollywood Blvd. A beautiful woman in black walks into a shop and purchases a new set of clothes. She also bleaches her hair blonde and soon emerges ravishing and ready to take on the world. We follow her into an office building, where she’s told by a secretary that the man she’s here to see is just behind the next door. Surely this is the beginning of a nice little film where the girl gets a quiet bookkeeping job for an executive and falls madly in love, right?

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Gangs of the Waterfront (1945)

gangs_2Starring Robert Armstrong, Stephanie Bachelor, Martin Kosleck, Marion Martin, William Forrest, Wilton Graff, Eddie Hall, Jack O’Shea, Davison Clark, Dick Elliott

Directed by George Blair

Expectations: Moderate.

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Gangs of the Waterfront isn’t so much a sequel to Gangs of New York as it is a follow-up, and by “follow-up” I mean a film that just uses the same premise to build a movie on. So if you enjoy the type of movie where a gangster is impersonated by someone who happens to look exactly like him, then these two movies are nothing but sweet bread and butter. If, on the other hand, you’re me and you just watched Gangs of New York not too long ago (and weren’t too thrilled with it), Gangs of the Waterfront is going to hit you in roughly the same way.

This is going to seem obvious, but honestly the main difference between the films is that these gang members are the ones running the waterfront. It’d be hard to know this if you missed the film’s title, though, as outside of a few foggy waterfront warehouses, most of the film takes place in apartment buildings and offices. Gangs of the Waterfront is a low-budget film, without even the benefit of stock footage to sell itself, so instead of wasting money on waterfront sets, the producers apparently decided to combat this problem by having an incessant foghorn blaring over probably 75% of the movie, no matter what the location is. It’s so annoying! And it also had the side effect of lulling me into a light sleep at times.

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Margin for Error (1943)

marginforerror_1Starring Joan Bennett, Milton Berle, Otto Preminger, Carl Esmond, Howard Freeman, Poldi Dur, Clyde Fillmore

Directed by Otto Preminger

Expectations: Moderate.

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Margin for Error is an interesting film for the way it handles tensions among Americans and Germans in the US during World War II, but interesting is about the kindest thing you could say about it. It’s not all that entertaining, nor does it deliver any deep message, so instead it just feels like some kind of pro-American propaganda film. The Germans are predominantly of the villainous “Sieg hiel!” variety, with the main villain sporting a monocle and doing absolutely nothing to hide his outright hatred of America, the country he’s living in and is a diplomat to. If he had a mustache you can bet he’d be twirling it like the war depended on it, too.

But before we get to this guy, Margin for Error opens on a military boat carrying a load of soldiers off to some unnamed foreign shore or WWII battle. Max (Carl Esmond), one of the soldiers, has a thick German accent. When the red-blooded American soldiers give him a hard time, Moe (Milton Berle) stops the group and tells them the story of how Max came to become an enlisted man. No, this doesn’t lead into a 1940s version of the Full Metal Jacket boot camp scenario; it’s about the intrigue that develops at the German consulate in some unnamed East Coast city.

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Power of the Press (1943)

powerofthepress_1Starring Guy Kibbee, Gloria Dickson, Lee Tracy, Otto Kruger, Victor Jory, Larry Parks, Minor Watson

Directed by Lew Landers

Expectations: Moderate.

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Power of the Press doesn’t bother with subtlety. It’s a film that focuses like a laser on the power that the press can wield and how constructive/destructive it can be in the right/wrong hands. It’s a story and a setting that makes the Sam Fuller connection seem like a given, but unfortunately little of Fuller’s biting social commentary or affecting dramatics make it to the screen here. Power of the Press is an enjoyable little movie, but it’s one so straightforward and obvious that it’s almost pointless to watch.

The film opens as John Carter (Minor Watson), the publisher of the New York Gazette, is about to give a speech about the freedom of the press. What stops him from heading out and delivering the speech is an editorial in a small Nebraska newspaper that was recently sent to him. The editorial was written by an old friend, Ulysses Bradford (Guy Kibbee), and it takes Carter to task for being at the head of a completely corrupt newspaper that cares little for the truth. Bradford writes that freedom of the press means freedom to tell the truth, not the freedom to twist the truth.

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Coming Soon: Sam Fuller’s Brainquake!

In 1993, director Sam Fuller published his final novel, Brainquake. But while the book was released in French and a few other languages, it was never released in English. Until now! Err — September! English speakers will finally be able to enjoy this “lost” novel from a true storytelling master, as this September Hard Case Crime and Titan Books will be publishing Brainquake in English for the first time ever! If that’s not enough to sell you, here’s the synopsis!

The bagmen who transport money for organized crime live by a set of rules: no personal relationships, no ties, no women…and never, ever look inside the bag you’re carrying. Paul Page was the perfect bagman, despite suffering from a rare brain disorder. But that ended the day he saw a beautiful Mob wife become a Mob widow. Now Paul is going to break every rule he’s lived by–even if it means he might be left holding the bag.

Still not enough? How ’bout the intro to the book, featured in A Third Face, Fuller’s memoir?

Sixty seconds before the baby shot its father, leaves fell lazily in Central Park. Sparrow-weight with bulging jugular, the balloon peddler’s face appeared coated in white ashes of cow dung used against flies, but the pallor was really from his anemia.

Sounds like a must-read book to me! Brainquake releases on September 9, 2014, and you can pre-order it now from Amazon (and presumably other major book retailers)! Below you’ll find the cover and a link to the Amazon pre-order page! Enjoy!

116-Brainquake


Confirm or Deny (1941)

confirmordeny_2Starring Don Ameche, Joan Bennett, Roddy McDowall, John Loder, Raymond Walburn, Arthur Shields, Eric Blore, Helene Reynolds, Roseanne Murray, Stuart Robertson, Queenie Leonard, Jean Prescott, Billy Bevan

Directed by Archie Mayo

Expectations: Moderate.

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Confirm or Deny is an interesting film because it’s so unique. It’s hard to classify as it’s kind of a thriller, it’s kind of romantic, and it also has an almost fly-on-the-wall, documentary-like feel in its depiction of the war correspondents working in London during The Blitz, a series of Nazi air raids on British cities during World War II. These air raids happened from September 1940 to May 1941, so with a release date in December 1941, Confirm or Deny was also quite the topical film.

The original draft of the story was written by Sam Fuller and star journalist Hank Wales (who, according to Fuller, was the basis for the Hitchcock film Foreign Correspondent). The two newsmen caught wind of the Associated Press offices getting bombed during the Battle of Britain, so they decided to write a film about newsmen doing everything in their power to get the news out despite these incredible, extraordinary circumstances. The finished film reflects a lot of this general feeling, although like all of Fuller’s early scripts, the studio heavily re-wrote Confirm or Deny to fit their desires more closely. I’m guessing they added the romantic angle, as it really doesn’t fit at all, nor is it very believable or romantic.

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