Sam Fuller’s TV Work Pt. 4: Iron Horse – Banner with a Strange Device & The Red Tornado

Once again, I am back with another installment in my look at the television episodes directed by Samuel Fuller… but this is the final post! Not just of these TV posts, but for the entire Sam Fuller series! Instead of going out with a bang reminiscent of Fuller’s dynamic opening shots, we’re gonna go out with a whisper from a TV playing in the next room. I casually started reviewing Fuller films in 2010, so to finally finish everything off is a huge source of joy for me. I love Fuller, but I’ll be glad to be moving on to other things.

ironhorse_banner_1Iron Horse: Banner with a Strange Device (1967)
First aired: 02/06/1967

Starring Dale Robertson, Robert Random, Jeff York, Jorja Curtright, Dean Pollack, Anthony Zerbe, Brenda Benet, Roger Torrey, Tony Young, Robert Williams, Charles Horvath, Dean Smith

Directed by Samuel Fuller

Banner with a Strange Device is an episode that ditches the general Iron Horse format and focuses on the orphan Barnabas (Robert Random). The BPS&D train arrives in the town of Banner, where Calhoun has come to collect on a $50,000 wager he made with the namesake of the town, Big Jim Banner (Jeff York), that the railroad could reach his town before the first snow. They make it, but as soon as Barnabas steps off the train — to chase his pet raccoon that, as far as I can remember, hasn’t appeared in any of these Fuller-directed episodes — he is assaulted by a couple of dudes that think he’s a member of the Clayborne family.

Continue reading Sam Fuller’s TV Work Pt. 4: Iron Horse – Banner with a Strange Device & The Red Tornado →

Sam Fuller’s TV Work Pt. 3: Iron Horse – Hellcat & Volcano Wagon

In Part 3 of my look at the television episodes directed by Samuel Fuller we’re focused on his third and fourth episodes of Iron Horse: Hellcat and Volcano Wagon. According to Fuller in his book, A Third Face, he only remembers one of the six Iron Horse episodes he made, and these ain’t it! I’d think it’d be hard to forget something you made called Volcano Wagon, but this period in Fuller’s career was a definite rough patch. Even though the following years would bring much artistic frustration and strife, they also finally brought The Big Red One to life and Fuller also met his wife Christa in the years following this stint on Iron Horse. So it makes sense if he wiped out this small bit of forgettable work for hire from his memory banks.

ironhorse_hellcat_1Iron Horse: Hellcat (1966)
First aired: 12/26/1966

Starring Dale Robertson, Arlene Martel, Harry Landers, Vincent Beck, John War Eagle, Tony Young

Written by Samuel Fuller & Oliver Crawford

Directed by Samuel Fuller

Hellcat preserves the general structure of the previous two Iron Horse episodes I’ve seen, in that it involves one of the BPS&D (Buffalo Pass, Scalplock, & Defiance Railroad) employees surveying ahead of the train in order to secure the rights to build the railroad through the land. This time it’s Calhoun who’s out on the trail, and he’s also the only main cast member to appear in the episode. Even the train doesn’t make an appearance! Calhoun is out scouting deep in Indian territory when he comes upon a couple of roughneck cowboys attempting to rape a Native American woman. Once again Fuller chooses to favor long shots of stunt people fighting. Modern filmmaking always favors the more visceral up-close approach to bring the viewer in the action, but stepping back and watching these cowboys wail on this struggling woman feels more real to me. It’s like being a powerless bystander, which really enhances the emotional response. I’ve written many times about Fuller using this technique, but it never ceases to impress me.

Continue reading Sam Fuller’s TV Work Pt. 3: Iron Horse – Hellcat & Volcano Wagon →

Sam Fuller’s TV Work Pt. 2: Iron Horse – High Devil & The Man from New Chicago

In Part 2 of my look at the television episodes directed by Samuel Fuller we’re focused on his first two episodes of Iron Horse: High Devil and The Man from New Chicago. In A Third Face, Sam Fuller is not shy about how most of his work in television was done for cold hard cash, and I really got the feeling from his book that he despised working on Iron Horse the most. When he quickly discusses the show in his book, he flat-out admits that he only remembers one of the six episodes he made. His heart just wasn’t in it. By this time in the later ’60s, he was really having trouble getting his film projects going so it makes sense that he would finally relent and do a good-sized stint at a TV show.

ironhorse_highdevil_2Iron Horse: High Devil (1966)
First aired: 09/26/1966

Starring Dale Robertson, Gary Collins, Robert Random, Louise Sorel, Charles H. Gray, James Best, Hardie Albright, Dal Jenkins, Fred Dale

Written & Directed by Samuel Fuller

I had never seen — or even heard of — Iron Horse before delving into the work of Sam Fuller, and based on my first episode I’m not eager to know any more about the show. It seems like the basic premise is that Ben Calhoun (Dale Robertson) won a railroad line in a poker game (in the pilot episode, I’m guessing) and is now making his way around the west trying to expand the line. He’s got some photographer buddies traveling with him, but they didn’t stand out to me at all, or even seem to matter much in the episode.

Continue reading Sam Fuller’s TV Work Pt. 2: Iron Horse – High Devil & The Man from New Chicago →

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.

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

Let’s Get Harry (1986)

letsgetharry_1Let’s Get Harry (1986)
AKA The Rescue, Operation Harry

Starring Michael Schoeffling, Thomas F. Wilson, Glenn Frey, Robert Duvall, Gary Busey, Rick Rossovich, Ben Johnson, Mark Harmon

Directed by Alan Smithee (Stuart Rosenberg)

Expectations: None.


An American ambassador and a plumbing engineer, Harry (Mark Harmon), are kidnapped by Colombian guerrillas and when word gets back to Harry’s brother, Cory (Michael Schoeffling), he’s not about to let Harry rot away in the back of a Colombian shack in the middle of the jungle. Cory first attempts to appeal to the proper channels, taking a trip to Washington with his buddy Pachowski (Thomas F. Wilson), but the politicians are all, “Sorry, son, we just can’t help you.” So Cory decides to ask himself WWHD (What Would Harry Do?), and he finds that the only answer is that Harry would board a plane to Columbia and do his best at being Rambo. And that’s exactly what Cory, Pachowski, Spence (Glenn Frey) and Kurt (Rick Rossovich) do. Let’s Get Harry is one of the many ’80s action films with a Colombian drug lord villain, but how many of those films feature his civilian buddies attempting a rescue mission?

But what the hell do four plumbers know about assaulting a Colombian drug lord’s camp patrolled by armed guards? Well, they know their limitations — not that they need to in an ’80s action film — so they hire Shrike (Robert Duvall), a no-nonsense recipient of the Medal of Honor who agrees to help them traverse the treacherous terrain. And because they can’t get to Columbia on gusto and skill alone, they enlist the help of local car dealer/big game hunter Jack Abernathy (Gary Busey). He refuses to fund their little excursion unless he comes along, so now their party is up to six members and they are ready to roll. (And really, if they cast Gary Busey in this and didn’t take him along…)

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Klansman (1974)

klansmanStarring Lee Marvin, Richard Burton, Cameron Mitchell, O.J. Simpson, Lola Falana, David Huddleston, Luciana Paluzzi, Linda Evans

Directed by Terence Young

Expectations: None.


Klansman is an abysmal experience. It’s a race relations film, so you’d expect it to take some stance against racism. Instead, the film, like the lead character, is hesitant to come out in favor of a side (and not in a through-provoking ambiguous way). In fact, the film actually feels like it’s saying you shouldn’t interfere with the unstoppable juggernaut of the Klan, and that the races should just mind their own and stay segregated. Yeah. W. T. F.

Klansman began its life as a 1967 novel by William Bradford Huie, which was subsequently optioned and offered to Sam Fuller to write and direct as a film. Fuller jumped in head-first, delivering a script that sought to show the KKK in a brutally realistic manner. Production started to roll forward and Lee Marvin was cast as the Klan leader, the film’s lead. But before the cameras rolled, Paramount got cold feet about Fuller’s vitriolic version, replacing him with British director Terence Young and having his edgy script completely re-written. Fuller had taken the novel’s story as a starting point for his own socially charged yarn, and in the rewrites his villainous Klan leader character was changed back to the novel’s lead: a mild-mannered town sheriff caught in the middle of a race war.

Continue reading Klansman (1974) →

The Deadly Trackers (1973)

deadlytrackers_2Starring Richard Harris, Rod Taylor, Al Lettieri, Neville Brand, William Smith, Paul Benjamin, Pedro Armendáriz Jr., Isela Vega

Directed by Barry Shear

Expectations: None.


The Deadly Trackers opens with a few minutes of still images introducing us to the town of Santa Rosa. Sometimes dialogue plays over these images, creating the feeling of recalling a memory through a series of photographs. The images also carry the texture of a painting or an old photograph. This intro drags on for quite a while, eventually introducing a group of bandits robbing the bank. If there was ever an opposite to the slam-bang, ball-grabbin’ Sam Fuller-style intro, this would be it.

Where the motion begins, though, becomes all the more jarring because of this slow run-up of still images. The leader of the bandits, Brand (Rod Taylor), shoots a bank clerk in the forehead and the film almost literally explodes into action. Is it possible to assume that if Sam Fuller had been allowed to make the film he would’ve just opened here? Probably not, but it would definitely be closer to his style than anything Barry Shear decided to do in The Deadly Trackers.

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