I made it a point to have the word “favorite” in the title of this post because I think ranking Sam Fuller’s “best” movies would shape up a little differently. If you’re interested in how I’d rank them under that banner, I made a list of just that on my Letterboxd account. I also made an expanded version of this list of favorites that includes all of his films, for those who are interested to see what’s beyond the #10 spot.
Any list is highly subjective to the person making it, though, so take my rankings with a grain of salt and definitely check the films out for yourself. I know that Sam Fuller is a bit of a “hit and miss” director with a lot of people, but his films deserve to be seen and you just might be one of the ones that loves his work.
So without further ado, here’s my favorite Sam Fuller movies! (Which was quite the hard list to make, considering how much I adore so many of his films.)
#10 Verboten! (1959)
Reviewed December 10, 2010
I shuffled films in and out of this spot a lot while making the list, but I ultimately decided on Verboten! for a couple of reasons. First: I love it. When I put it up alongside the other Fuller films that missed the cut, I always came back to how much I was moved by Verboten! and how much it had stayed with me since watching it almost three years ago. Its use of stock footage — primarily Fuller’s own footage of the liberation of the Falkenau concentration camp — is incredible and lends the film a level of undeniable reality. The other reason I picked Verboten! is because I’ve never once heard anyone talk about this film, and it’s far too good to go unnoticed.
#9 Pickup on South Street (1953)
Reviewed May 4, 2010
Pickup on South Street was the first Fuller film I reviewed for Silver Emulsion, kicking off what would eventually become this series. Widely hailed as one of his best films, Pickup on South Street is an expertly shot film noir that showcases Fuller’s impressive ability to use his camera to tell the story. Just the opening montage alone is worthy of careful dissection and discussion. Obviously, I like a lot of other Fuller films better, but this one is a perfect jumping-off point for anyone interested in seeing what Sam Fuller is all about.
#8 Fixed Bayonets! (1951)
Reviewed June 24, 2011
Like Verboten!, I’ve never heard anyone talking about Fixed Bayonets! and it’s a shame. The film was Fuller’s first studio picture and it definitely exhibits a hint of softening in regards to the social commentary seen in his previous film The Steel Helmet. But the support of a studio and a bigger budget allowed Fuller to make a much more ambitious war film. And like all of Fuller’s war pictures, it’s a story of the dogfaces, the infantrymen on the front lines. Fuller’s war experience and his attention to subtle details come to life in Fixed Bayonets! and create one of his most enjoyable films.
#7 Shock Corridor (1963)
Reviewed June 25, 2010
Shock Corridor was the first Sam Fuller movie I saw, and even though I wasn’t completely won over by it at the time, it made a lasting impression on me. As I aged, the film slowly grew on me, and every time I see a clip from it I am reminded just how stark and powerful a film it is. Fuller was at the height of his powers in the early ’60s in my opinion, and Shock Corridor is an undeniably quintessential Fuller film.
#6 The Crimson Kimono (1959)
Reviewed June 27, 2013
The Crimson Kimono is a film that I recognize isn’t quite as good as Fuller’s best work, but it’s a film that I unabashedly love. Fuller’s tale of found love between a white girl and a Japanese cop is so far ahead of its time that I’d be surprised even today to see something like it at the multiplex. It also serves as a great window into the past, as it features lots of great location filming all around Los Angeles.
#5 The Naked Kiss (1964)
Reviewed July 23, 2013
And now here we are at the Top Five films, which means that everything from here on out is ridiculously close. The Naked Kiss is a film that I didn’t care for at all the first time I saw it. I recognized that it was daring and controversial for its time, but its power was simply lost on my then-teenage brain. Thankfully, the years have been very kind to this film, and The Naked Kiss could easily become my favorite Fuller film in a couple of re-watches.
#4 The Steel Helmet (1951)
Reviewed March 25, 2011
This was the film that sealed the deal for me on Sam Fuller. I had seen Shock Corridor, The Naked Kiss and the theatrical cut of The Big Red One in my teens, but it wasn’t until I saw The Steel Helmet on my good friend Uncle Jasper’s recommendation that I recognized just how talented Sam Fuller was. In some way, writing this series of reviews on the work of Sam Fuller is my way of “returning the favor” and hopefully spreading my passion for Fuller’s films to new people as my friend passed it on to me. The Steel Helmet is a stunning film that continues to impress over 60 years after its initial release.
#3 White Dog (1982)
Reviewed August 13, 2013
When I finally got to see White Dog, it was with a large amount of expectation and hype. The film blew me away on all accounts, and the fact that US audiences had to wait 26 years for the film to receive a legitimate release is just plain ridiculous. This was the film that rekindled my love for Sam Fuller, as it had gone dormant for a number of years in frustration that many of his films were unavailable on home media. Now, years layer, we’re at the point where almost all of his films have received home releases, so it’s definitely a good time to be a Fuller fan! White Dog was Fuller’s final masterpiece, and I highly recommend it.
#2 The Big Red One (1980)
Reviewed September 24, 2010
In many ways, all of Sam Fuller’s war films prior to The Big Red One show similar elements to what eventually became this film. In part, I’m sure that’s due to Fuller wishing and attempting to get the film off the ground since the ’50s. But because of the film’s importance to Fuller, and his refusal to compromise the story into something more palatable for the studios to sell, it took him 30 years to actually make the film. And while that’s a long, beaten road, the film is definitely better for it. The studio in all its infinite wisdom cut what is arguably Fuller’s crowning achievement from a four-hour epic of survival to a low-budget action film running just under two hours. In 2004, the film was re-introduced in a reconstructed edition, boasting a runtime of almost three hours. It is a considerable improvement, and one that easily stands tall as one of the greatest war films of all time.
#1 Underworld U.S.A. (1961)
Reviewed July 11, 2013
I debated this a lot with myself, but ultimately I couldn’t ignore just how much I enjoyed Underworld USA. There are definitely better Sam Fuller films, but Underworld USA is pure entertainment mixed with absolutely exemplary black and white cinematography. I can always gauge how much I liked a movie based on how much I think about it afterwards, and Underworld USA has been on my mind steadily for the past few months. Highly recommended.
Nice list. Hard to argue with the films in your top 10, however, I’m surprised you didn’t put Park Row in it.
I’m a bigger fan of some (ie. Forty Guns) and not quite as high as you on others. (ie. Fixed Bayonets) but all in fairly similar opinions.
Thanks, Phil! I like Park Row a lot, but I ultimately went with Verboten because I would rather re-watch it if given the chance. Park Row is much higher on my Letterboxd list of what I think are his “best” films.
I think with time and re-watches I could easily come around to Forty Guns. That cinematography is especially nice!
Pickup on South Street is My favorite Sam fuller movie and White Dog a close second.
Thanks for chiming in, Erik! Great choices, too. Pickup on South Street is one that I’m most eager to re-watch, as I think I’d like it even more than I did the first time.
Please, do you know, where I could find Fuller’s first movie, which he shooted in Falkenau (Sokolov) in the Czech Republic at the end of the WWII? Thanks for your reply! Irena
All of the footage has never been released on its own. There’s a lot in Samantha Fuller’s film, A Fuller Life, which you can get directly from her at http://chrisamfilms.com/. There was also a documentary made in 1989 called Falkenau, the Impossible that features a lot of his footage, as well as footage of him returning there in the ’80s. Hope this helps!
Hope you are well.
FYI: Dog Face a 1959 tv pilot (was not picked up)written directed and produced by Fuller is available on YouTube. It’s pretty good And worth a watch esp for fuller fans.
Super cool! Thanks for the heads up! I will have to watch it.