The Samuel Fuller Film Collection

crimson kimono

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.

425 comments to The Samuel Fuller Film Collection

  • And of course ‘mail is meant to mean ‘male.’ Don’t know what Freudian slip I just revealed, there.

  • Brian Dauth

    Noel: Hawks plays around with gender roles, but I am often suprised at how many times his endings re-inscribe the status quo — Walter Burns carrying Hildy off or Rochard throwing the key out the porthole and assuming control. I sometimes think Hawks is leery of the gender/sex disorder he unleashes. I sense a vein of ambivalence pulsing in his work. Hawks will upset the gender apple cart, but only within certain limits.

  • Gregg Rickman

    “I sometimes think Hawks is leery of the gender/sex disorder he unleashes.” Like the good leopard Baby versus the bad wild leopard that must be destroyed.

    Hawks, like most directors, prefers order to chaos; broadening things out, isn’t that what directors do? They impose a vision. Some filmmakers however offer a different vision that doesn’t replicate what audiences expect.

  • Brian Dauth

    Gregg: I think directors can prefer order to chaos and still, as you say, offer a vision that does not re-inscribe the normative values the audience walked into the movie house with. Hawks’ tendency to re-affirm the old order diminishes over time as he seems to feel less compelled to enforce old rules. One of the reasons I like THE STING is that it is a film where male-male love is neither punished nor depicted as the result of circumstance.

  • Brian: I don’t think Hildy’s strictly a girl, and Burns is carrying he/r away from a conventional marriage.

    And check out Red River while you’re at it–Clift and Ford’s great love John Wayne never looked more married.

  • Alex Hicks

    Bordwell’s treatment of the Hollywood studio cinema as narrative centered, criticized some days ago in this thread, seems to me very incisive and well grounded. Moreover, it certainly allows for variations and exceptions from specific films as well as conflicting HOLLYWOOD strains (e.g., sepctacle).

    (Bordwell has also written on less strongly narrative-centered modes of film as well as on non-narrative film: “categorical,” “abstracts,” “rhetorical” and “associative” in particular. Indeed, his analytical categories are just that, not terms in a dogma, and and may be used in novel combination to analyze films of great distinctiveness, as in his analysis of post-67 Godard.) .

    That Hawks films tend, in conclusion, to “re-affirm the status quo” should be no surprise, for narrative re-equilibrium in the Classical Hollywood Cinema, both popular and pre-Stonewall, tends to reaffirm a heterosexual status quo, as Bassinger well argues and documents for the “women’s film and Harvey for the romantic comedy,” though not always with a straight face.

  • mike schlesinger

    “Fredrik, it looks as though we are going to have to piece together our own Phil Karlson box by picking out items from other sets like this Fuller box and the upcoming Columbia noirs. Following on from the Mankiewicz-Ray-Kazan discussion; Don Siegel becomes a superstar and Phil Karlson becomes a footnote. C’est la bleeping vie.”

    Barry, no disrespect intended to Karlson, who is a genuinely splendid director. But let’s be honest: “The Phil Karlson Collection” would sell a snappy 150 copies at best. Better to get his films out under other auspices; the alternative is the shelf.

  • Barry Putterman

    Mike, even with the William Bishop sidebar!? I agree, a Phil Karlson box set doesn’t make any financial sense. A Don Siegel box set would. That was my point. If you can slip in all of the Karlson films (including THUNDERHOOF) under whatever guises are necessary, I will be eternally grafeful.

  • Barry Putterman

    I might even go so far as to say I’d be “graTeful.”

  • jbryant

    A Siegel box would indeed be wonderful, especially if they’d redress the OAR fiasco of the CHARLEY VARRICK DVD. Even better if they could score a print of the well nigh impossible to see BABY FACE NELSON.

  • Kent Jones

    There’s a print of BABY FACE NELSON at the BFI, which is where Bruce Goldstein found it when he showed it during his Film Forum Siegel retrospective a few years ago. I wonder if it played at any other venues around the country.

  • Oh, BABY FACE NELSON. Of all the many films I haven’t seen, none am I more eager to see then that one! (No offence regarding your Lewton film Kent). If they indeed have it at BFI I must get to work on it right away.

  • Tony Wiliams

    Frederik, I know where you can get a “very fair” copy of BABY FACE NELSON if you are interested but the quality is not very good from the extract I saw. Yes, that film does deserve a re-release in an early Siegel DVD box collection similar to the “Good Sam” reissues that started off this thread.

  • Barry Putterman

    Fredrik, I know that Dave doesn’t like us promoting bootlegs, but one does exist of BABY FACE NELSON. If it is important enough to you, I hope that Dave will grant an exemption and allow me to find out whether it is multi region for you.

    BABY FACE NELSON is also one of the films of my childhood having seen it multiple times on a 1950s-1960s New York television institution called “Million Dollar Movie.” I don’t think anybody outside of New York, let alone the U.S.A., could understand what it was like to experience movies in that venue.

  • Barry Putterman

    Tony, we may both have to go underground for promoting hot merchandise.

  • Tony Wiliams

    Yes, Barry, what would we do without our anonymous bootleggers! Do you have a good copy? Dave should understand that this is all in the service of making art accessible and turn at least one blind eye unlike Victor Mature in SAMSON AND DELILAH (see Fuller thread posting)

  • Tony Wiliams

    Correction I meant “Prisoner” thread but I hope this will not lead to an OT debate on SAMSON AND DELILAH!.

  • Barry Putterman

    Tony (and Fredrik), I’ll put the disc on tonight to make a more “professional” evaluation of the quality.

  • Tony Wiliams

    Thanks, Informed comment is always appreciated.

  • Barry Putterman

    Sadly, I must report that my bootleg of BABY FACE NELSON would also go into the category of “not so hot.” For Fredrik, I would think that it would come down to the issue of experiencing the film initially under less than ideal conditions just to have seen it, or wanting to wait to experience it first under conditions that would indicate what it actually looks like. What I can say is that the power of the film still shines bright even in this drab visual incarnation.

  • I hope you don’t take my silence as a sign of ungratefulness. I tried to write something yesterday but something was unable to connect to something else, and it was apparently important that those two somethings got together.

    It’s very kind of you both, Barry and Tony! Thanks for your support. I’m sorry your version wasn’t in pristine condition Barry, but I have to say that I’d think I’d try and watch it in pretty much any condition, as long as you can actually see what’s going on. And any region should work.

  • Barry Putterman

    That said Fredrik, I could contact my local bootlegger and see about getting you a copy if you can give me an address to send it to.

  • Barry, that’s very nice of you. What can I do to repay you?

    You can email me at fg223@st-andrews.ac.uk

  • Barry Putterman

    Fredrik, you’ll hear from me soon. As for repayment, I’m sure that something will come up in due time.

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