Gangs of New York (1938)

gangsofnewyork_1Starring Charles Bickford, Ann Dvorak, Alan Baxter, Wynne Gibson, Harold Huber, Willard Robertson, Max ‘Slapsie Maxie’ Rosenbloom, Charles Trowbridge, John Wray, Jonathan Hale

Directed by James Cruze

Expectations: Moderate.

onehalfstar


Gangs of New York was the first full script that Sam Fuller wrote and sold on his own, so it’s something of a shame that it’s not a better movie. Of course, as a Fuller fan I can always point to the other writers’ names that appear above Fuller’s in the credits as the ones who screwed up the story, or perhaps director James Cruze. They’re the ones that took Fuller’s script and reshaped it into the film at hand, after all. But Sam Fuller, as great as he became, is not infallible, so I’m sure some of the blame is his too. But what makes me lean away from this notion (other than my fandom) is the opening shot of the film. Fuller included the beginning of his screenplay in his memoir, so this opening is without a doubt the creation of Fuller.

Technically, this wonderful shot is the film’s second, but it’s hard for me to count stock footage of an elevated train as a shot. Anyway, we open on a dingy looking business with a car sitting curbside. The street is silent, until the sound of gun fire ricochets out from the building. Three men quickly descend the stairs exiting the building, jumping inside the car just before it speeds away. An injured man stumbles in pursuit, firing a pistol at the getaway car before keeling over. Some bystanders rush to help him, and a policeman comes from behind the camera, walking into the foreground to blow his whistle. This is all contained in a single, static, incredible shot, dense with action and storytelling to whet the audience’s appetite for a thrilling gangster picture. It’s the first of many fantastic, gripping openings from Sam Fuller’s mind, but unfortunately that’s about all the Fuller influence to be found here… outside of a few shots of story events being broken in the newspapers (which hardly counts).

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The Baron of Arizona (1950)

The Baron of Arizona (1950)

Starring Vincent Price, Ellen Drew, Vladimir Sokoloff, Beulah Bondi, Reed Hadley, Robert Barrat, Robin Short, Tina Pine, Karen Kester, Margia Dean, Jonathan Hale, Edward Keane, Barbara Woodell, I. Stanford Jolley, Fred Kohler Jr.

Directed by Samuel Fuller

Expectations: Moderate. I love Fuller’s films, this one seems like it might be underwhelming though.


The Baron of Arizona is an interesting film within the filmography of Samuel Fuller in that it isn’t nearly as upfront and in your face as the traditional Fuller picture. As a second feature, it comes off as something wholly different from his début I Shot Jesse James, showing off Fuller’s growing confidence as a filmmaker. The film is based on a true story of one of the biggest land scams in the history of the United States. While the facts here are bent for the purpose of fun storytelling, the film ultimately succeeds by portraying the characters and events in such memorable ways.

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