Review: Sam Fuller at Columbia (1937-61)

Blu-ray: Sam Fuller at Columbia (1937-61)

(Well it’s certainly taken me a long time to get through this box set (apologies to Powerhouse Films).

Sam Fullerhad an interesting life before he started in film, aged 17 he moved to New York and got a job as a crime reporter. He then went on to write several pulp novels before joining the army in 1940 and was present at the liberation of a German concentration camp and shot 16 mm footage, known as V-E +1 that was later integrated into the French documentary Falkenau: The Impossible(1988). For his military service, Fuller was awarded the Bronze Star, the Silver Star, and the Purple Heart. Pretty impressive stuff. So it’s easy to forget that he worked for some years as a writer before making his mark as a director and producer of his own scripts and it’s this aspect of his work that is the focus of this box set. 

We’ll give ‘It Happened in Hollywooda miss as it’s pretty terrible. 

Adventure in Saharatells the story of American Jim Kelley is a pilot for a French airline, just before take he’s informed his Legionnaire brother died. He then literally runs away and joins the French Foreign Legion, insisting he must join the company led by cruel Captain Savatt, who was responsible resulted directly in his brother’s death. Based on an original story by Fuller, who obviously nicked if from Mutiny on the bounty, becomes really daft when Jim’s fiancée Carla crash-lands her plane near to the fort.  Luckily it’s only an hour long.

Things start hotting up a bit with Power of the Press– When John Cleveland Carter the publisher of a successful New York newspaper, is accused in a published editorial of hypocrisy and distorting the truth by his former friend and small-town newspaper editor, Ulysses Bradford he, very surprisingly, admits to it all, then decides to admit his guilt to the guests at a high-profile business dinner that he is hosting, identify the guilty parties and reverse the direction the paper has taken. But of course he’s murdered before this happens. Finally the Sam Fuller we know is starting to emerge with this story and it’s an enjoyable pot boiler despite its overt jingoism.

Shockproof – At long last, Douglas Sirk! 
Beautiful Jenny Marsh goes shopping for new clothing on Hollywood Boulevard in preparation for an important job interview; she even dyes her brown hair blonde. Arriving (looking fabulous) we soon realise  that her interviewer, Griff Marat (Cornel Wilde), is her parole officer, and that she has just been released from prison for killing a man who, we later learn, was threatening the life of her gambler lover. Well It’s not long until Griff has fallen for this femme fatale and well, you can guess the rest.

Sirk and Fuller make a truly great team and this film is a joy to watch, classic Sirk right up until the last 5 minutes and a happy ending. Yuck.

Scandal Sheet– and Fuller is now in his stride with a news room setting. Steve McCleary (heart throb and husband to be of Bo Derek – John Derek) is a hot young reporter for the New York Express, a once respectable newspaper that is now basically the 50’s version of The Sun. throw into the mix conscientious reporter Julie Anderson (Donna Reed), who obviously fancies Steve.  This is Fuller writing about what he knows crime and reporting and is a really enjoyable film with snappy dialogue and realistic relationships.

The Crimson Kimono– at last this is all Sam, writing and directing and the difference is really palpable, now there’s an attention to character detail and a more direct boldness of themes and story. 
In a nightclub in Los Angeles, exotic dancer Sugar Torch (Gloria Pall) puts on a saucy display for both the audience and the camera, and is just approaching her dressing room when a gunshot rings out from within. When she opens the door, a masked man spins round and fires a shot in her direction. She flees from the venue, but falls to her death amidst the night-time traffic on Main Street. Investigating the crime are Detective Charlie Bancroft and surprisingly Japanese-American Detective Joe Kojaku, partners whose close friendship began in the war when a blood transfusion from Joe helped to save Charlie’s life. They learn that Sugar was planning a new act involving a crimson kimono and a Japanese karate expert who breaks bricks with his hands. Amazing!

Underworld USA– is without a doubt my favourite film of the set. 
Tolly Devlin is a 14-year-old juvenile delinquent. Living with his gangster dad, he’s more or less abandoned and is brought up by Sandy (Beatrice Kay) an older woman who was probably a good time girl who now runs a bar. She loves Tolly as if he were her own son.
He and Sandy see a man being beaten to death in an alleyway behind Sandy’s bar, they then discover that the man being beaten to death was Tolly’s father.  Tolly makes the decision to devote the rest of his life to avenging his father . Cliff Robertson plays Tolly as an adult with just the right touch of intensense obsession.

• High Definition remasters of all seven films
• Original mono audio
‘The Typewriter, the Rifle & the Movie Camera’ Rushes Tapes 01-12 (1996, 406 mins): almost seven hours’ worth of unedited interview footage of Sam Fuller in conversation with actor Tim Robbins, recorded for Adam Simon’s classic documentary
All-Star Party (2018, 6 mins): a who’s who of the ‘stars’ and their impersonators in the climactic party scene from It Happened in Hollywood
Sam Fuller’s Search for Truth with Tim Robbins (2009, 7 mins): the celebrated actor explores Fuller’s time as a reporter
The Culture of ‘The Crimson Kimono’ (2009, 10 mins): an analysis by filmmaker Curtis Hanson
Switch-Hitting Between Three Triangles (2018, 15 mins): a new audiovisual essay on The Crimson Kimono by Cristina Álvarez López
Sam Fuller Storyteller (2009, 25 mins): insightful documentary with contributions from Martin Scorsese and Wim Wenders, as well as Fuller’s wife, Christa, and daughter, Samantha
Sam Fuller on Henry Chapier’s Couch (1989, 22 mins): archival interview from French TV in which Fuller answers questions about his life
Martin Scorsese on ‘Underworld U.S.A.’ (2009, 5 mins): the acclaimed director discusses the impact and legacy of Fuller’s film
Barry Forshaw on ‘Underworld U.S.A.’ (2018, 10 mins): a critical analysis by the author of American Noir
Sam Fuller Masterclass with Wim Wenders (1993, 62 mins): archival audio recording of the two friends and collaborators in conversation at the Arri Cinema, Munich
• Original theatrical trailers
• Image galleries: publicity photography and promotional material
• Limited Edition exclusive booklets containing newly commissioned essays by Jeff Billington, Pamela Hutchinson and Lindsay Anne Hallam, archival interviews with director Sam Fuller, historic articles, a critical anthology, and full film credits
• World Blu-ray premieres of It Happened in Hollywood, Adventure in Sahara, Power of the Press, Shockproof and Scandal Sheet
• UK Blu-ray premieres of The Crimson Kimono and Underworld U.S.A.
• Limited Edition Box Set of 6,000 numbered copies

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Review by Tina (co-host of 60 Minutes With) from discs kindly supplied by Powerhouse Films.