From Olive Films this week, two extraordinary movies about race and politics in the 1950s, as filtered through the American south of the early twentieth century by John Ford in “The Sun Shines Bright” (1953) and Samuel Fuller through the lens of what was then the French Indochinese war and would soon become our very own Vietnam in “China Gate” (1957). My New York Times review is here.
These are the usual no-frills discs from Olive, though the company has taken the care to obtain a hi-def transfer of Ford’s original 100 minute cut of “Sun Shines,” which turned up unexpectedly some years ago. The old, 90-minute version is still floating around YouTube, and the differences are apparent from the first shot. The film now begins with Stepin Fetchit falling asleep as he fishes from the end of a pier, establishing a slow, dreamy rhythm that Ford sustains quite beautifully as the plot begins to unfold on three different levels. The film concludes with three ceremonial processions that resolve the plot strands while dissolving them into myth — a wonderful example of Ford’s growing indifference, in his postwar work, to classical narrative structure and the perceived need for closure.
And “China Gate,” long the most elusive of Fuller’s films of the 1950s, now comes to us in the beauty of black-and-white CinemaScope, for the first time since, I believe, the 16-millimeter days. There is much more to say about this brave, confounding, breathlessly urgent film than I had room for in my column, and I know of at least two regulars on this site who are able to say it much better than I can.