One of Fuller’s final-shot ruminations – that the moment a war ends, killing turns from a heroic act into a criminal one. Feeling oppressed by the North and betrayed by his own losing side, an Irish-Confederate soldier (Rod Steiger, warmonger general of Mars Attacks!) joins a Sioux tribe against all whites. He gets guidance from doomed scout Walking Coyote (Jay Flippen, father-figure crook in The Killing), falls for a girl called Yellow Mocassin (Spanish superstar Sara Montiel, overdubbed by Angie Dickinson), and tricks suspicious Sioux warrior Crazy Wolf. A bunch of whites-vs-natives twists and betrayals later, Steiger and Moccasin leave the tribe, deciding to try their hand with the new USA instead.

Kiss Me Deadly star Ralph Meeker plays the Union officer shot twice by the same bullet (long story), and “newcomer Charles Bronson” plays a Sioux chief. There were actual Sioux players in the film, but relegated to smaller roles.

Sam:

The boys at RKO loved my yarn and gave me a green light to produce the picture the way I wanted. Indians would be depicted as a community of people with their own rules and rituals, not – as in most studio movies – like a pack of marauding killers. .. I think [Rod Steiger] earned more on that picture than I did. After all, I was only the writer, director and coproducer.

Dancer Sugar Torch is surprised in her dressing room, then chased down and shot to death in the street. Enter the cops: Glenn Corbett (star of Homicidal) and James Shigeta (of the musical Flower Drum Song). Delightfully drunk artist Mac (Anna Lee of Hangmen Also Die) points Corbett to painter Christine (Victoria Shaw of Edge of Eternity), who knew about Sugar’s new act, The Crimson Kimono, a geisha thing.

Corbett and Mac:

Lots of twisty witness-questioning ensues, and it turns out the killer is a wigmaker who thought her husband was cheating with Sugar. More interesting is the rivalry stemming from both cops falling in love with Christine the painter, which explodes when Joe beats his partner senseless during an official police kendo match. She ends up with Shigeta, the interracial thing being a pretty big deal for 1959.

Shigeta and Christine:

I always remember this wrong: in 1944, Merrill’s 3,000 U.S. troops join soldiers from other countries, launching a mission from India to reclaim Burma from the Japanese. It opens with narration aplenty, stock footage and even animation, all to set up the plight of these anonymous-looking soldier-actors led by silver-haired Jeff Chandler (in his final film, dead at age 42 from surgery complications). It’s a long slog for the soldiers, ordered to march across Burma with not enough food or rest, all sick and short-tempered, but the movie tries to keep things lively for us with its relentlessly boisterous soundtrack. Fuller says the studio convinced him to make this film as a dry run for The Big Red One. He had an actual Marauder hired as technical advisor, and was excited to have Gary Cooper play Merrill, but Cooper was too sick and would die before the film’s release.

The guys win a decisive battle near the start, think they’ll be relieved by the British, but are ordered to keep moving. Nicely shot battle at a railroad – only the aftermath is shown, a survivor standing above hundreds of casualties.

Standing on what looks like giant 3-D coffins – creepy:

The first woman in the entire movie isn’t glimpsed until an hour in, as they crash at a village to recuperate. The doctor reports: “from a medical viewpoint, they’re finished as a fighting unit.” But orders are orders, and Merrill pushes them forward, to another battle, forward again to the next one. Most of the film is the drudgery of pushing wearily forth to the next battle (Fuller: “For cryin’ out loud, the work of GI’s at war is nerve-racking and frustrating, not glorious!”), and that’s how it ends, Merrill dropping (not dead) of a heart attack while ordering them to rise from the mud and move on, and the men moving. The narrator tells us that they achieved their mission, but that only 100 of the 3,000 remained in action.

It’s not all trudging through mud and dropping dead from hunger.
There’s some good action and ‘splosions, too:

Weird for a war film to focus on the dull parts and resign the climactic battle to a mention by the voiceover. Fuller explains:

To my surprise and anger, the studio decided to cut my final scene in the editing room. Right after Merrill’s collapse, they spliced in footage of a victory parade of soldiers marching down Fifth Avenue. Jack Warner and his executives wanted an overt patriotic ending, and they decided to end the picture what that propaganda-like crap and a pompous narrator bragging about the American victory at Myitkyina. … Merrill’s Marauders got good reviews. Critics for Time and Newsweek remarked that the film had a documentary flavor, giving realistic depictions of war’s simplicity and death. The only thing they said was ‘Hollywood’ was the ending. Ironically, the opposite was true. The ending that Jack Warner’s boys tacked on was real documentary footage of a military parade. In the context, it seemed phony. My film was fiction. But it smelled of truth.

Lt. Stockton, surrogate son of Merrill: Ty Hardin of I Married a Monster from Outer Space

Doc: large-headed Andrew Duggan, a star of Larry Cohen’s Bone. Jeff Chandler was best known (and oscar-winning) for playing head Apache Cochise in three movies.

Bullseye: Peter Brown, a crimelord in Foxy Brown. At right, Chowhound: Will Hutchins, comic hero of The Shooting

Sgt. Kolowicz: round-headed Claude Akins, the jailed killer in Rio Bravo

Muley: Georgia native Charlie Briggs

Not pictured: Taggy (Pancho Magalona), a Filipino with the movie’s best comic scene, “I will wear my shirt out until all tyrants are dead!”

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.