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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The Crimson Kimono (1959)

The_Crimson_KimonoStarring Victoria Shaw, Glenn Corbett, James Shigeta, Anna Lee, Paul Dubov, Jaclynne Greene, Neyle Morrow, Gloria Pall

Directed by Samuel Fuller

Expectations: High. I saw this for the first time right before starting Silver Emulsion, so I’m excited to revisit it.

threehalfstar


Like all the Sam Fuller films I’ve seen, The Crimson Kimono is an interesting and unique film. It begins as something of a film noir, with a burlesque dancer chased and murdered in the middle of a busy Los Angeles street by a mysterious assailant. Stepping in to investigate this strange murder are LAPD detectives Charlie Bancroft (Glenn Corbett) and Joe Kojaku (James Shigeta). Yep, that’s right, a Japanese police detective in a ’50s film. If it were anyone other than Sam Fuller, I’d be surprised.

Not only does Fuller have a lead Japanese character in a position of power that would generally be shown as a white male, Fuller doesn’t portray Joe as a stereotype. Joe is an Asian character played by an Asian man. He speaks normally, he acts normally, and his culture is not presented as some den of villainy for the white men to bust into and break up. This is truly groundbreaking stuff, and Fuller should be more well-known for his contribution to this kind of socially conscious filmmaking.

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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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Verboten! (1959)

Verboten! (1959)

Starring James Best, Susan Cummings, Tom Pittman, Paul Dubov, Harold Daye, Dick Kallman, Stuart Randall, Steven Geray, Anna Hope, Robert Boon, Sasha Harden, Paul Busch, Neyle Morrow, Joe Turkel

Directed by Samuel Fuller

Expectations: High, it’s Sam Fuller.


Verboten! is notable for a few reasons. It is Sam Fuller’s first World War II movie, it was the last picture produced by RKO and it’s a damn fine piece of 1950s cinema. Opening with a bang as all Fuller pictures do, we are thrust into the action as a pair of soldiers are under assault from some Germans hiding behind a jeep. After a well-placed grenade they take a moment’s rest under a road sign that reads Trinken Verboten!, but their rest is short as they have orders to enter the town of Rothbach and clear out a sniper nested there. Queue Beethoven’s Fifth and run for cover!

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Shock Corridor (1963)

Starring Peter Breck, Constance Towers, Gene Evans, James Best, Hari Rhodes, Larry Tucker, Paul Dubov, Chuck Roberson, Neyle Morrow, John Matthews, Bill Zuckert, John Craig, Philip Ahn

Directed by Samuel Fuller

Expectations: High. I’ve seen it before, about nine-ten years back, but now I like Sam Fuller a lot more.


I’ve previously stated my love for Samuel Fuller, so I won’t repeat myself here. I had seen this film about nine years back, and I liked it at the time, but it was the first Sam Fuller film I had seen and it was before I knew anything about him. After watching Shutter Island, I had a burning desire to re-watch Shock Corridor, another film dealing with mental hospitals. Scorsese is on record as being a huge fan of this film, so I figured at some level he was influenced to make Shutter Island out of his love for Shock Corridor. After re-watching this, I can’t say that there’s any specific connection between the two, but it did make for an interesting pair of very different films.

Fuller opens his film with a Euripides quote, “Whom God wishes to destroy, he first turns mad.” It’s a stark way to open a B-picture, but this is Sam Fuller we’re talking about and he is all about putting the truth in our faces and letting us squirm in our seats as we are confronted by it. It is interesting to consider this quote against each character and how they ended up in the mental hospital. The quote exemplifies everything Fuller is trying to say within the film, so unlike a lot of quotes at the beginning of stuff, this one has real weight and power behind it.

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