I’m traveling this weekend so I’ve put up the link to my Times column a bit early. I’m eager to hear your thoughts on this interesting collection from Sony, which includes seven Columbia features — two of them directed by Fuller (“The Crimson Kimono” and “Underworld USA”) and five on which he worked in one capacity or another as a writer: “It Happened in Hollywood” (Harry Lachman, 1937), “Adventure in Sahara” (D. Ross Lederman, 1938), “Power of the Press” (Lew Landers, 1943), “Shockproof” (Douglas Sirk, 1949), and “Scandal Sheet” (Phil Karlson, 1952).
For me, the discovery among the Fuller scripts is “Power of the Press,” which shows Sam in his full-on, hysterical-didactic mode (it’s about a group of Nazi sympathizers trying to take over a New York tabloid). But Landers, a hard-working B director who frequently brought an unexpected psychological depth and emotional delicacy to the wide range of assignments he handled, doesn’t seem to know what to make of Fuller’s taste for extremes. The picture remains a failure but an illuminating one — the words are there, but they need Fuller’s direction to come alive.
Fuller’s first produced screenplay, for a romantic comedy called “Hats Off” (Boris Petroff, 1936), is available on the public domain market, and it’s well worth a look: a story of two competing press agents (Mae Clarke and John Payne), it centers on a vividly rendered personal betrayal of the kind that would figure strongly in Fuller’s later work. Fuller also wrote four pictures for Republic during this period, including the first (1938) film adaptation of Herbert Asbury’s “Gangs of New York.” Needless to say, it would be fascinating to see those as well, but since they’re part of the Republic library now owned by Paramount, they’re unlikely to see the light of day anytime soon.