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.

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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.

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House of Bamboo (1955)

Starring Robert Ryan, Robert Stack, Shirley Yamaguchi, Cameron Mitchell, Brad Dexter, Sessue Hayakawa, Biff Elliot, Sandro Giglio, Elko Hanabusa, DeForest Kelley

Directed by Samuel Fuller

Expectations: High. Sam Fuller.


If Hell and High Water was Fuller’s ability to shoot CinemaScope within confined spaces, then House of Bamboo is Fuller proving that he can apply the techniques to shooting wide-open vistas and dense cityscapes. House of Bamboo, while definitely being a minor Fuller film, is one of the best shot CinemaScope films I’ve ever seen. Literally every shot is gorgeously composed and full of vibrant life. Modern filmmakers using the widescreen ratio definitely need to sit down with this one, as they could stand to learn a lot from it and Fuller in general.

House of Bamboo is a tale of Westerners in Japan, but not like you’d expect; it’s a heist noir with heavy overtones of melodramatic interracial romance and homoeroticism. I’ll admit that I didn’t see much in the way of homoeroticism while watching House of Bamboo, but after reading a couple of essays on it (and Fuller’s own words), it is clearly his intention. I guess I have a tendency to take everything too literally.

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Hell and High Water (1954)

Starring Richard Widmark, Bella Darvi, Victor Francen, Cameron Mitchell, Gene Evans, David Wayne, Stephen Bekassy, Richard Loo

Directed by Samuel Fuller

Expectations: Low. This is Fuller’s least favorite film according to his book.


Hell and High Water begins in classic Sam Fuller style, hitting hard with a stunning image designed to immediately excite the viewer and grab hold of their attention. The particular image that opens this Fuller film is a giant nuclear explosion on a remote island (which is actual footage of a test blast by the military), and we’re quickly told via narration that it’s this explosion that the film is about. Sort of. The explosion is more like the catalyst to the film and its climax, but I guess you could say that the explosion informs the entire film and gives tension to the events presented within. That’s kind of a stretch though. This conflicted feeling I have is representative of how I feel about the entire film.

Going into Hell and High Water I had virtually no idea what the film was about. All I knew was that it was a Sam Fuller film, that it was something of a military film, that it was a bigger budget studio picture made as a favor, and that it was Fuller’s least favorite of his pictures. Like the opening explosion, the knowledge that Fuller didn’t like this one informed my viewing of the film. To my surprise though (and realistically I shouldn’t be surprised), Hell and High Water is pretty damn fun, and exceedingly well produced. It is Fuller’s first film in color, as well as his first CinemaScope film and he wastes no time in utilizing both to great effect.

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