Underworld U.S.A. (1961)

UnderworldUSA_1Starring Cliff Robertson, Dolores Dorn, Beatrice Kay, Paul Dubov, Robert Emhardt, Larry Gates, Richard Rust, Gerald Milton, Allan Gruener, David Kent

Directed by Samuel Fuller

Expectations: High.

fourstar


Samuel Fuller is known as the director who makes direct films that punch you viscerally with their ferocity, but Underworld USA is perhaps the leanest, meanest, most consistently thrilling Sam Fuller picture I’ve seen yet. Not only is this one instantly rocketing up near the top of my favorite Sam Fuller movies, there are few noir films that I enjoy as much as this one. I must admit that I’m not as well-versed as I ought to be in the noir genre, but if there were more noir films as jam-packed with excitement as Underworld USA is, that might be a different story. It’s absolutely criminal that Underworld USA isn’t better known and respected. Who knew that one of the best noirs out there was made in the ’60s?

As all Fuller films do, Underworld USA begins with a strong premise. We meet Tolly Devlin, a 14-year-old kid hiding out in an alleyway, waiting for his opportunity to lift some valuables from drunk New Year’s Eve partygoers. He is firmly entrenched in the criminal lifestyle, and soon we learn why. His father is a career criminal, but tonight is not his lucky night. Tolly watches four men beat his father to death in the alley. He only sees the face of one of the men, but when given the opportunity to tell the cops what he saw, he refuses. Instead, he bides his time as a career criminal like his father, working towards the day when he might exact revenge on the men responsible for his father’s murder.

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Forty Guns (1957)

MPW-33338Starring Barbara Stanwyck, Barry Sullivan, Dean Jagger, John Ericson, Gene Barry, Robert Dix, Jidge Carroll, Paul Dubov, Gerald Milton

Directed by Samuel Fuller

Expectations: High. Sam Fuller.

threestar


I don’t say this often, but Forty Guns is definitely a film I’ll have to see again to really understand it. I felt almost completely lost through most of the movie, not necessarily plot-wise, but more thematically. There’s a ton of stuff going on, but unlike a lot of Fuller films, it seems as if Forty Guns doesn’t have one specific focal point where its themes come together. That could just be me not getting it, but for right now that’s the only viewpoint I have on it.

The film’s plot is fairly loosely told, focusing on Griff and his two brothers as they ride into a small town in Arizona. They’re working as representatives of the federal government and looking for a mail robber named Swain. This leads them into a struggle between the town and the woman who’s controlling it, Jessica Drummond (Barbara Stanwyck). What really complicates matters, though, is Jessica’s brother Brockie, a loud-mouthed, drunken asshole who’s always used to getting his way.

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China Gate (1957)

Starring Gene Barry, Angie Dickinson, Nat ‘King’ Cole, Paul Dubov, Lee Van Cleef, George Givot, Gerald Milton, Neyle Morrow, Marcel Dalio, Maurice Marsac, Warren Hsieh, Paul Busch, James Hong

Directed by Samuel Fuller

Expectations: High. Sam Fuller.


It’s been about seven months since I did a Sam Fuller movie, so once again I find myself slacking off immensely on my review journey through his filmography. And every time after I finish a film I think, “Why did it take me so long to watch this?” I love Sam Fuller’s films more than I know how to communicate, and for some reason when I get infatuated with a filmmaker I have an in-born desire to stretch out seeing all of their movies for fear that one day there won’t be any more new ones to see. This is exactly the reason I haven’t seen every Kurosawa film, for example. It’s an irrational fear because when you get through them all, then you have the fun of re-watching them! But I resolve that in 2013 I will do my best to finish the series! Anyway, my personal neuroses aside, China Gate is a fantastic, underseen gem in the Fuller catalog, exhibiting just about everything fans have come to expect from the director.

Set during the end of the First Indochina War in Vietnam, China Gate is an action/adventure tale about a group of men on a mission to destroy an ammo depot. That’s the yarn in the broad sense, but the real tale is the story of Angie Dickinson and the lengths to which she’ll go for her child. She agrees to lead the men through enemy territory as she has developed a good rapport and reputation with the enemy forces through smuggling and prostitution. As I said, she’s a single mom willing to do anything necessary to provide for her child. The lead male of the group is her ex-husband Brock, a racist who left her upon seeing their son’s Asian eyes after he was born. Herein lies the true journey of China Gate, and while modern viewers will probably find it too exaggerated and heavy-handed, for the time it is yet another bold picture confronting hypocrisy and racism from Fuller.

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