Having completed my quest to watch all movies Sam Fuller directed, I took a victory lap with this action revenge flick based on a story he wrote.

Pilot Wilson (Paul Kelly of Side Street, Crossfire) hears his brother has died in Niger, immediately enlists in the French Foreign Legion, asks to serve under Captain Savatt (villain specialist C. Henry Gordon) but doesn’t tell anyone why. Among the men: Poule (Marc Lawrence, whose final film was Looney Tunes: Back in Action), a bunch of guys who want the sadistic Savatt dead, a fellow who’s always pining after his girl, and the decent second-in-command Lt. Dumond (small-mustachioed Robert Fiske, mostly from westerns). The men make a big deal over Wilson being American, but despite their French names they all sound quite American. Wilson takes the Cool Hand Luke martyr role and plots to overthrow the wicked Savatt.

Paul Kelly is quite possibly the guy on the left:

Lorna Gray (of those awful late-30’s Buster Keaton shorts) was Wilson’s girl back home, a fellow pilot, and since she hasn’t heard from him in a long while she flies to Africa, crashes her plane into the sand and wanders into the base only to find a mutiny in progress.

Most of the men successfully take over the base and send the mad captain on a death march through the desert, but incredibly he survives and returns with troops to take back his fort. The mutineers hold off the reinforcements until desert hostiles attack, forcing the two sides to work together. In the ensuing court martial, Lt. Dumond breaks his silence and tells his superiors that the men had extenuating circumstances to revolt since Savatt had been a demon – so Wilson waits a few token months in jail then gets to rejoin his hot pilot girl. I guess nobody thought to blame the mutineers for the lives they cost among men sent out with Savatt who didn’t make it out of the desert, or casualties in the fight before they opened their gates to the reinforcements. Not a very well thought-out revenge plot, overall.

Savatt is not amused:

Lederman had been a director since the 20’s, and his final film was 1951’s The Tanks Are Coming, also with story by Sam Fuller. I thought this was not bad for a standard 30’s action movie until the end, when due to crappy use of stock footage I saw the same man fall off his horse three times. I liked the music (mostly stock), some of which sounded suspiciously like that of Star Wars. Screenwriter Maxwell Shane later directed a few pictures, including Nightmare with Edward G. Robinson. Some fine work by cinematographer Franz Planer, who had worked on Murnau’s Finances of the Grand Duke and movies by Max Ophüls, before shooting King of Kings for Nick Ray.

Charles Moore played the boot polisher, would soon move on to better things, working with Capra and Hawks before becoming Preston Sturges’s favorite black actor to humiliate.

It’s Auteur Completism Month! I try to watch all the movies by my longtime favorite filmmakers – Fuller, Lang, Jarmusch, Cocteau, Maddin and so on – but sometimes a couple titles fall through the cracks. Either I can’t find them or they’re just not a priority. Auteur Completism Month is meant to take care of that.

Sam Fuller is the one whose movies I’ve tried the hardest to see, buying a bunch from bootleg tape traders in the dark days before they all came out on DVD. This was the last lingering title on my original list, and it snuck out on disc a few months ago. IMDB has since added a bunch more titles Sam supposedly directed – six episodes of The Iron Horse and something called The Dick Powell Theatre – but I’d rather check out the movies he wrote, like The Klansman, The Deadly Trackers, The Command, The Tanks Are Coming and Confirm or Deny.

A hammy Tony Perkins introduces the series, an inadequate replacement for his onetime director Hitchcock. As far as I’m concerned Patricia Highsmith, on whose stories this series are based, is inadequate as well, but I shouldn’t judge based on a single short story. In fact, Hitch himself adapted her story for Strangers on a Train.

This story is ridiculous, but the actors are game and Fuller is freaking out in full, free Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street mode. He must figure they wouldn’t have called him if they’d wanted a cheap but professional straightforward television production – in this post Shock Corridor (in fact, post White Dog) era, they wanted Rebel Fuller. So he threw all he had at this story of a doomed modern chicken farm, including an awesomely-edited black and white musical dream sequence, nutty angles, nuttier acting, zooms and camera shots from a chicken’s point of view – literally inside a chicken eyeball.

Gross drifter-looking John (Cris Campion of Altman’s Aria episode and Polanski’s Pirates) shows up at his aunt and uncle’s farm, discovers they’re into automated chicken farming these days. Caught him sharing inappropriately suggestive looks with aunt Helene (spanish Assumpta Serna of Wild Orchid, Piano Tuner of Earthquakes) when not being ranted at about the wonders of chicken farming by crazed, desperate, possibly loaded uncle Philippe Léotard (older brother to France’s former minister of defense, had recently been in an Agnes Varda movie, less recently in Truffaut’s Two English Girls).

Aunt Helene looks crazed:

Uncle Ernie demonstrates his enthusiasm for chicken farming:

The couple’s daughter Samantha Fuller’s little cat dies as soon as John arrives – a bad sign. There’s some time-killing business. Neighbors Manuel Pereiro (Pod People) and Christa Lang come to visit. Then Samantha herself dies by suffocating in the grain (possible references: A Corner in Wheat, Vampyr) and her parents lose it. Helene frees the chickens who kill uncle Ernie then gather outside under the watchful eye of the single rooster. And Helene starts making out with her nephew (who often looks like a scarecrow). Shot by Alain Levent (Cleo from 5 to 7, The Nun). Some corny dialogue and ominous keyboard music and abuse of the song “Old Macdonald,” but a cute movie. Anyway, a good November 1 transition movie from SHOCKtober to Auteur month.

Christa Lang:

Some chickens were almost definitely harmed in the making of this picture.

A silly TV western series in which the good guys smile all the time, with an episode written/directed by the great Sam Fuller in his prime (between Underworld USA and Shock Corridor) and guest starring Lee Marvin. In 1884, Marvin shoots gang leader Sharkey (Warren Kemmerling of Close Encounters) and takes over the gang (were they called gangs back then?), plotting revenge on Judge Garth (Lee J. Cobb of Party Girl, Call Northside 777, Our Man Flint) for sending him away years earlier (of course, that’s always why dudes in westerns want revenge on judges). It’s up to our gang of interchangeable white-hats to stop him – and stop him they will, but not before Lee Marvin gets in a good bit of badassery (oh, spell-check doesn’t like that word).

I assume Fuller was working with a rush schedule and stock crew, but he was always a guy who worked fast, so he gets in plenty of striking shots. He also crams the script with literary quotes and references to newspapermen (Joseph Pulitzer is a major presence in the episode). Glad I tracked this one down.

Gangster revenge flick, featuring:

– one of those hilariously drawn-out hero death scenes, in which after being shot he manages to stagger a few blocks down the street in order to die in the alley where his old man was killed
– an extremely low-security gangster operation which, despite having a stranglehold on the city, seems to consist of four bosses and maybe six underlings
– a hard but charismatic mother-figure in the vein of Moe from Pickup on South Street
– a hit-man who puts on his dad’s heavy plastic sunglasses whenever he kills someone
– big broad facial expressions and poster-ready obvious compositions that make you want to smack yourself in the head, like the one below in which Cuddles is telling Tolly that she wants to get married and have babies
– just a mountain of serious powerful awesomeness

Young Tolly gets punched in the eye by another kid for not sharing the loot he stole from a drunk, giving him the scar over his eyebrow that lets us know he will grow into Cliff Robertson (Three Days of the Condor, lately Peter Parker’s murdered grandpa in Raimi’s Spider-man series). He runs to Sandy’s place and sees some gangsters beating a dude to death in silhouette – the dude is Tolly’s dad! T. identified local gangster Vic Farrar as one of the shadows, but doesn’t rat to investigating agent Driscoll (Larry Gates, whose final film was Leonard Part 6, but held more distinguished roles in Invasion of the Body Snatchers and In the Heat of the Night). It is new year’s eve and the boy’s father has been killed, so the soundtrack plays a slow, minor-key version of “Auld Lang Syne” – greatness!

That’s Tolly’s dad in the middle:

Sandy with Driscoll, after the killing:

Thirteen years later, three of the four shadows are running the most powerful crime organization in the city: Gela (below left: Paul Dubov of Shock Corridor, Verboten) the “dope king”, Smith (center: Allan Gruener) on labor and Gunther (right: Gerald Milton of China Gate, Forty Guns) on prostitution (didn’t think I’d hear the phrase “the recruitment of schoolgirls into the ranks of prostitution” in a 1961 movie) under big (literally big) boss Connors (Robert Ernhardt of 3:10 to Yuma). And Driscoll is the main prosecutor trying to bring them down.

Tolly is still a thief, now with a long police record, but somehow he turned out unusually smart. In prison he gets himself close to Vic in the sick ward and coerces a confession. Now Tolly’s just gotta get out of prison (no jailbreaks; it’s a short sentence) and murder the most notorious crooks in town.

Back outside, he accidentally runs into the gang’s hitman Gus (Richard Rust of Comanche Station), a ruthless killer who’s inadvertently hilarious with his sunglasses ritual. Tolly saves a girl named Cuddles (Dolores Dorn), and hides her away while he gets in good with the baddies by voluntarily giving back the drugs he’d stolen off Gus.

Gus, about to do some murderin’:

Fuller is fully engaged with this one, packing more than enough intense action into his revenge tale. Gus runs over a little girl, the corrupt police chief is taken away by Driscoll and the gang is turned against itself – all accompanied by newspaper headlines, of course. It has its talky, overexplainy moments, filling us in on how organized crime works so we can better appreciate its danger and root for our anti-hero as he racks up dead bodies and dirty deeds. Ultimately, Tolly can’t get away clean with the girl, so he catches a bullet after drowning Connors in his own gigantic pool. Fuller makes this ending sounds like his own idea, and not a studio-imposed production-code move, since he writes: “My final shot closes in tight on Tolly’s clenched fist, dying proof of a life filled with hate and frustration.” The studio did cut his proposed opening about a prostitute union organizer getting her head blown off, but he sounds very pleased with the way the picture turned out.

The guy who shoots Tolly at the end is Neyle Morrow, who acted in more Fuller films than anyone – at least 14 of them!

Fuller:
“My lead’s anarchistic attitude owes a debt to Jean Genet… whose writings were deeply rebellious against society and its conventions. … For Genet, moral concepts are absurd.”

“I wanted to go beyond classical gangster movies like Public Enemy and Scarface to talk about alienation and corruption, inspired more by Greek drama.”

“I wanted to show how gangsters are no longer thugs but respectable, tax-paying executives.”

W.W. Dixon in Senses of Cinema:
“The idea of organised crime as a business was a novelty when Fuller made the film, but as the events of the past half-century have made manifestly clear, this is precisely how the underworld operates, hiding in plain sight under a cloak of false respectability.”

“[Tolly’s] only real opposition comes from Gus, the mob’s enforcer, who is a solid professional ready to kill anyone, even a little girl, to do his boss’s bidding. But as V. F. Perkins astutely noted, Gus, who dons dark shades before each “hit”, is simply a working stiff, devoid of personal involvement; it is Tolly who is the real psychopath of the film. And yet, Fuller seems to argue, it takes a psychotic personality devoid of even a shred of humanity to bring down an operation so venal, so utterly rotten that only inhuman force can destroy it; Tolly is the avenging angel for not only his father, but for society as well. The government man, Driscoll, never really questions Tolly’s tactics or motives; if this is what it takes, then so be it.”

Falkenau, The Impossible (1988, Emil Weiss)

Weiss seems to love Sam Fuller, but he’s not on Fuller’s wavelength, unable to have much of a conversation with the man. So this doc (which is an hour long, but I crammed it in the shorts section anyway) admirably fulfills its purpose by screening all of Fuller’s WWII concentration camp cleanup footage while Sam narrates, taking him to the site of the camp in present-day and asking for his thoughts. That would’ve been more than enough, but Weiss leaves us with a one-sided (Sam likes to talk) silly-ass conversation about fictional representation of war, which would’ve been better left out. I’m most of the way through Sam’s autobiography, one of the greatest books I’ll ever read, where Fuller says this doc screened at Cannes and was praised for its straightforwardness.


Cry For Bobo (2001, David Cairns)

Poor and desperate, a man resorts to thievery to get by. He’s caught and imprisoned, then shot to death after escaping, as his wife and kid leave town, trying to start a new life without him. It’d be a miserable little story if the main characters weren’t clowns. Hilarious, reference-heavy, and better than I’d expected – and I had expected greatness. Already watched twice and trying to get Katy to see it (she hates clowns).


The Possibility of Hope (2007, Alfonso Cuarón)

Zizek:
“We no longer live in a world. ‘World’ means when you have a meaningful experience of what reality is which is rooted in your community, in its language, and it is clear that the true most radical impact of global capitalism is that we lack this basic literally ‘world view,’ a meaningful experience of totality. Because of this, today the main mode of politics is fear.”

Naomi Klein:
“More and more we see the progression of this economic model through disasters. So we’re now in a cycle where the economic model itself is so destructive to the planet that the number of disasters is increasing, both financial disasters and natural disasters.”

James Lovelock:
“If you live in the middle of Europe or here in America, things are going to get very bad indeed.”

Of course the “hope” part comes at the very end, as it does with all recent doom-gloom climate-change global-meltdown documentaries, and the hope in this one, despite the film’s title, isn’t all that hopeful. Start preparing now for how badly the future will suck – and it will suck. An Inconvenient Truth supposedly has a credit-time list of ways you can help the planet, Home encourages us to build windmills and go vegan, Wake Up Freak Out says we must act politically, and there’s always the hope during Collapse that the subject is just wrong, or that he’s a crackpot. Not so much here. If I’ve avoided talking about the filmmaking, well it’s basically a radio show with distracting visuals, much of it b-roll from Children of Men.


Night Mayor (2009, Guy Maddin)

Pronounce it similarly to “nightmare.” An inventor, a Bosnian immigrant, harnesses the “music” of the Aurora Borealis and converts it into dreamlike images which are sent across phone lines to his fellow Canadians using his Telemelodium. Even more/cooler junkpile inventions than in the electric chair short, some nudity (not as much as in Glorious or The Little White Cloud That Cried) and some delicious nonsequiturs. Clean narration by the accented inventor and two of his kids, along with excellent string music. At the end, the government shuts down his project, so he turns his attention from the skies to the seas, considers visualising whale songs.


One Minute Racist (2007, Caveh Zahedi)

Sweet three-minute cartoon story about the slippery slope of racism narrated by CZ, who codirected with a couple animators. Story of a student who doesn’t like asians because they’re too uptight and a paranoid library security guard who threatens to confirm the stereotype.


Talking Heads (1980, Krzysztof Kieslowski)
“What is your year of birth?”
“Who are you?”
“What do you most wish for?”
These three questions are asked to a one-year-old, then a two-year-old, and so on. The final answer: “I’m one hundred years old. What do I want? To live longer. Much longer.”

Most people seem to have thought about the questions for a while – possibly while the camera and lighting crew buzzed about their head, since the film looks like a lesson in how to effectively shoot subjects, professional but no-frills, by cinematographers Jacek Petrycki (No End, Camera Buff) and Piotr Kwiatkowski (second camera on the Three Colors). As a result, the answers come out seeming like a beauty pageant. Everyone wants more honesty and fairness, for everybody to just get along. The answers from kids under ten and adults over seventy are the best.


Born Free (2010, Romain Gavras)

I don’t count music videos as “shorts” or things would get too complicated, but then, I don’t really count this as a music video. M.I.A.’s music isn’t far enough up front, and the video (by Costa-Gavras’s son) is twice as long as the song. It’s a little piece wherein red-headed kids are rounded up by violent cops, beaten, shot and made to run through a minefield. Probably trying to make a point about tolerance and freedom, but for messages of tolerance I preferred the climactic speech in Cry For Bobo, also featuring overzealous cops: “First they came for the mimes, then the jugglers, then the bearded ladies. Next time, it were you.”


Hotel Torgo (2004, buncha dudes)

Buncha dudes head for El Paso and interview the last guy who remembers working on Manos: The Hands of Fate. There’s no real point to this, but the guy is very good-natured about it. Learned that Torgo was high all the time, which shouldn’t come as a surprise but somehow still does.

Howard Hawks planned to film Fuller’s “The Dark Page” with Edward G. Robinson and Humphrey Bogart while Fuller was still in the war, but by the time the story finally staggered onto the screen featuring a lower-prestige cast and director, Fuller himself had directed four pictures and was working on his own newspaper drama, Park Row. Maybe that explains why he was so disappointed in Scandal Sheet while he had no complaints about It Happened In Hollywood or Power of the Press. Or maybe he saw the early ones as collaborative screenplays, while this was his novel, written alone, being adapted without his input by three screenwriters – James Poe (Attack, The Big Knife), Eugene Ling (Behind Locked Doors) and Ted Sherdeman (Them!). The reason I wonder is because I think Scandal Sheet blows away the earlier movies and rivals Fuller’s own first two films. I’m sure the script wasn’t what Sam envisioned, but Phil Karlson (later 99 River Street, The Phenix City Story) sure knew how to shoot it. It’s noirish and well-paced with good acting throughout (the hero failed to impress, but isn’t it always that way) and looks like it’s been given care and attention. I doubt Sam was any more pleased when the film was remade in the 80’s with Burt Lancaster and a plot that sounds not-at-all similar to this one).

L-R: some extra, Donna Reed, John Derek, B. Crawford, H. O’Neill
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You can’t tell from the beginning, with crime reporter McCleary (John Derek of Knock On Any Door) and his photographer (Harry Morgan, who played a character named Sam Fuller the same year in High Noon) deceiving a grieving victim into telling them her story before the cops arrive, if the reporter is a slimeball bastard or just a resourceful newsman. Eventually he starts to look like the editor in Power of the Press (but with dreamy slick 1950’s hair), a good guy at heart but a slimeball by association with his muckraking boss, ed-in-chief Broderick Crawford (depressed train operator in Human Desire). That’s not really the point of the story, and the question is dropped when it becomes clear that McCleary is our hero (you can tell because Donna Reed likes him).

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Dudes are going about their business raising circulation at the paper by treating the public like dolts (as in Power of the Press, this seems to work) when the editor runs into his ex-wife (Rosemary DeCamp, above, of 13 Ghosts) at the paper’s Lonely Hearts Ball. She’s rightfully pissed at him for ditching her twenty years ago without a divorce, changing his name and moving to the big city, so she offers to blackmail him until violent hubby pushes her into a bedpost, killing her. Now he’s trapped (Broderick Crawford always seems to be short-tempered and trapped), trying to cover up his crime while allowing his star reporter to try cracking the case. Loose end Henry O’Neill (The Sun Shines Bright) is eliminated, turning the accidental killer into a cold-blooded murderer, and the paper follows the case until its own editor’s face is plastered on the front page as circulation finally surpasses the level that would’ve made him a partner.

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As a possible shout-out to Sam Fuller, the actor who played the judge who fingers Broderick in the gun-totin’ final showdown was actually named Griff.

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Griff! He played a judge in Angel Face the same year.

Big city newspaper owner Carter is publically attacked by small town newspaper owner Ulysses Bradford for twisting the truth, exploiting the sacred power of the press for commercial gain.

“A free press is the sole right of the people. The editor is but the trustee of that right, not the dictator. Beware of those who hide behind the front pages of America who use for their own advantage the power of the press. They are as dangerous as enemy planes, bombs, guns, tanks.”

Carter, shamed, agrees with Bradford’s editorial, vows to improve his paper at a press conference, but is shot before he can get through the speech. Things get farfetched here, but it’s obviously the work of chief editor Howard Rankin (below), a transparent villain introduced delivering a light line about sending someone to a concentration camp.

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Hard to find an interesting screen shot. Doesn’t have half the visual interest of It Happened In Hollywood or Park Row.

Now it’s up to Edwina (“Eddie” to her friends), Carter’s longtime secretary, to convince smalltime Bradford to come to the big city, take the reins of the paper (it was left him in Carter’s dying will), get managing editor Griff from under Rankin’s thumb, catch trigger man Trent at another murder and force a confession from Rankin. Can they succeed in these noble deeds? Yes!

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Oh and I didn’t mention Rankin incites a riot to destroy a warehouse hoarding rationed goods, which turns out to be a secret army supply, and he frames a young commie ex-newsman for Carter’s murder. All this in 60 minutes. Big ol’ propaganda piece for a free press, with more and more spoken comparisons between Rankin and nazi bigwigs as the crimes are revealed. But the worst insult of all: “Why, Howard Rankin isn’t even a real newspaperman.”

Fuller wrote the story, not the screenplay, but we still get idealistic speeches about the press, mentions of Horace Greeley and a character named Griff. Sounds like our Sam. Doesn’t look like him unfortunately… feels like a quickie. No wonder, since director Lew Landers made 28 movies from 1942-44.

Minor Watson (Woman of the Year, Lang’s Western Union) played the murdered newsman, Larry Parks (played Al Jolson in a biopic and its sequel) the commie, Victor Jory (the Rupert Everett part in the 1935 A Midsummer Night’s Dream, also played The Shadow in the 1940 serial) the evil henchman, Atlanta native Lee Tracy (Doctor X and Borzage’s Liliom) the eventual-good-guy editor Griff and Otto Kruger (High Noon, Dracula’s Daughter) the maniacal Rankin. Our female lead Gloria Dickson died in a house fire two years later. Guy Kibbee (Ulysses) seems to have had a nice career despite his unfortunate name, from 30’s musicals to Capra to John Ford. The previous few years he’d been starring in a comedy series as Scattergood Baines.

In the featurette, Tim Robbins says a buncha general things about Fuller’s movies, mentions the year 1959, so I figure he thought he’d be on the Crimson Kimono disc, not having his interview slapped between clips of Power of the Press. Tim is a suitable interview, since I’ve had that song about “the press, the press, the freedom of the press” from his Cradle Will Rock in my head since I watched this.

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From Sam Fuller’s autobiography:

[Writer/producer Myles Connolly] and I started throwing around ideas for his picture. It was supposed to be about a character based on Tom Mix, the cowboy star of silent films who’d made scores of Westerns. Then came the talkies, and Mix didn’t make the transition successfully. Myles and I came up with a story about a silent cowboy star who doesn’t want to play a gangster role in a talkie because he wants to be loyal to his fans. He doesn’t want to disappoint the kids who are crazy about his Westerns. We called it Once a Hero, but after the movie went into production, they gave it the more commercial title of It Happened in Hollywood.

Harry Lachman, who’d been a successful painter in Paris, directed the picture. Lachman is forgotten today, but he made over thirty movies before he stopped directing in the early forties. Fay Wray played the female lead. This was after King Kong distinguished her from all the pretty blondes of the day as the one who could scream the best. the Tom Mix character, Tim Bart, was played by Richard Dix. It Happened in Hollywood was my first real credit on a picture.

Fay Wray, the one who could scream the best:
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The name wasn’t changed soon enough – the Once a Hero title card made it onto the film. Celeb cowboy actor Bart is introduced screening his latest movie to sick kids, a real white-hat good-guy honest friendly lunkhead. He and his leading lady Gloria are called back to Hollywood for sound tests – she makes it but Bart, dressed in a silly period suit and made to speak out-of-character flowery dialogue, gets cut. Gloria later gets him a bit part as a gangster but he walks when the script is changed to make him a cop killer.

“The day of Westerns is over. We have to make the pictures indoors from now on.” Recalls The Naked City, which we watched the same week, finally making the pictures outdoors again.

Bart in gangster getup with his director:
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Out of work and unpopular when a young fan comes to visit, Bart throws a party and invites all the stars’ doubles and stand-ins to delight the kid – the highlight of the picture. Some stand-ins do the voices better than others – Chaplin’s and Harold Lloyd’s have no problem since they don’t speak.

This is not W.C. Fields:
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The improbabilities pile up… a realtor, after Bart to repossess his mansion while the party is being held, is kidnapped. Bart and Gloria tearfully confess to each other that they’re broke. The boy falls ill and the doctor says he can’t be moved. Tim hits his low point, about to reenact the bank robbery for real, ends up foiling a more serious bank robbery and shooting the criminals. Now a hero in the papers, he’s hired back by the studio, Westerns make a comeback and Tim opens a ranch for sick kids. That’s a better ending than Tom Mix got, touring with a circus after leaving the movies, marrying for the fifth time then dying when his car plunged into a ravine.

Did anybody realize that Blake Edwards made a movie in which Tom Mix (Bruce Willis) teams up with Wyatt Earp to solve a murder at the Academy Awards? It came out three months before Die Hard.

A boy in trouble:
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Decent movie. I liked Richard Dix (who’d really been a silent film star, and not exclusively in Westerns) but Fay Wray made more of an impression. It all confused Katy, who knows Sam Fuller is some kind of badass and didn’t follow his connection with this movie. I didn’t either, honestly – assuming Power of the Press and Scandal Sheet will show off more of his style (I already know that Shockproof does).

Based on the true story of James Reavis – however his wikipedia article sounds like the true story would make for a far less interesting movie than Fuller’s script. It’s got the pen-and-ink technicality (his forgery is discovered because he uses the wrong kind of ink), the marrying a trumped-up land heir, and the prison time, but it lacks the monastery, the gypsy camp and Reavis-Price’s completely solitary audacity of it all (the real Reavis had financial backers, co-conspirators and hired thugs). Also the guy who exposed the fraud was named Royal Johnson, not John Griff.

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Vincent Price hadn’t found horror fame yet, but he acts up a storm in this – convincing as a showman, a lover, a silent conspirator and an enraged victim of mob violence (see below). His plan involves the U.S. government honoring Spanish land grants – he trumps up his young ward (later his wife, ew) as the sole living heiress of a previously unclaimed grant for the whole territory of Arizona, planting her fictional parents’ gravestones, engraving a proclamation into a giant stone, posing as a monk for three years to inscribe the false grant into the ancient records and getting some gypsies to help him break in where the copy of the records is kept.

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For all that work he is very nearly killed by the angry villagers, but the government saves him in order to imprison him. His wife (Ellen Drew of Christmas In July, who again fails to make much of an impression) apparently forgives him for giving her a false identity and roping her into his land-grab scheme, picks him up from prison at the end.

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Fictional-historical adventure-romance-dramas aren’t exactly what Sam Fuller is known for, but he pulls it off. I guess he was one of the few writer/directors out there at this time, and The Steel Helmet wasn’t far behind. The only bit that doesn’t work for me is the silly framing device of old men smoking cigars and reminiscing about the Baron’s crazy scheme. At least Sam worked cigars into the story somehow.

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That’s Reed Hadley as Griff, the government’s expert fraud analyst who manages to debunk Price and help him escape the angry crowd. Within a couple years of this, Hadley played both Jesse James (for Fuller) and Jesse’s brother Frank, and appeared in two MST3K-bait films.

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