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Noir Films

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kingrat
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Re: Noir Films

Postby kingrat » September 20th, 2011, 6:48 pm

Underworld USA is the eleventh Samuel Fuller film I've seen, and it seems to have some of the virtues and defects of most of the others. ChiO's observation that Fuller had a background in sensational journalism really hits home. Fuller tends to have an attention-grabbing subject and beginning--unlike poor Albert Brooks in Broadcast News, he doesn't bury the lead. Underworld USA gets off to a gripping start, as young Tolly Devlin rolls a drunk, sees four men kill someone in an alley, and realizes it's his father. We also meet wacky bar owner Sandy (Beatrice Kay in a Thelma Ritter role). Just as if this were a 1930s Wellman or LeRoy film for Warner Brothers, in practically no time Tolly is now an adult safecracker (Cliff Robertson) bent on avenging his father's death. He also meets a strung-out-on-drugs mangled blonde whom he calls Cuddles (Dolores Dorn). So far I was loving it.

Another aspect of the journalism background is Fuller's fondness for editorializing. Often this includes flag-waving, though not here. However, there's much sermonizing and speechifying by Driscoll, the federal agent trying to bring down the very mobsters who killed Tolly's father. The pace slackens. (By the way, It's worth noting that the three areas controlled by the mobsters are narcotics, prostitution, and labor. Younger people may not know about mob control of certain labor unions at this time, though those of us familiar with, say, Dave Beck and the murder of Jock Yablonski know that Fuller isn't making this up.) The speech-making also points to a characteristic weakness in Fuller's writing, which is frequently below the level of his directing. Some writers are adept at working in exposition; Fuller often is not. At least there's no dialogue in Underworld USA as unintentionally funny as "What a tragedy! An insane mute wins the Pulitzer Prize!" If Fuller had had a couple of collaborators who could have worked on his scripts, which often feel and sound like early drafts, I would find his films more satisfying.

Sometimes Fuller's films suffer from weak acting, but Beatrice Kay and Dolores Dorn are so interesting that I wished they'd had more time. Too bad Robertson couldn't play the leads in House of Bamboo, The Naked Kiss, and Shock Corridor. Underworld USA introduces an intriguing romantic pairing but doesn't really develop it, as opposed to The Crimson Kimono, which does.

The working out of the revenge is all right, if not remarkable. Although Fuller is certainly a two-fisted guy, action scenes are not necessarily his strong suit. Few films have as many extreme close-ups as this one. Some make sense; some, like the ones of Driscoll in the corrupt police chief's office, don't.

Heavy-handed irony becomes a big problem for this viewer. When Cuddles tells Tolly she wants marriage and children (he's not buying it), between them on the wall is a framed picture of a baby. The camera set-up is as blatant as possible. When Connors, one of the gangsters, is killed, we see a newspaper with the headline Connors Defies United States. If this is too subtle, a man who's been shot then staggers out to the street and wraps his arms around a garbage can which has the legend Keep Our City Clean. If this is still too subtle, the man then staggers to the alley which was the scene of the original crime in the film.

Although I like Pickup on South Street and The Steel Helmet quite a bit, I probably won't ever be a member of the Sam Fuller fan club. I Shot Jesse James (1949) and The Baron of Arizona (1950) are apprentice work. Each has a strong central idea and a strong central performance which in part compensate for the occasional crudeness of both writing and directing. The Steel Helmet (1951) is a great leap forward. I find Park Row (1952), Fuller's Frank Capra film, to be dull, though I do like Mary Welch as the villain/heroine. Pickup on South Street (1953) is the most recommendable of his films. House of Bamboo (1955) has a splendidly shot climax, though the film shortchanges us with both hero and villain, due to the woodenness of Robert Stack and Fuller's unwillingness to give Robert Ryan any close-ups, perhaps because Fuller isn't yet comfortable with the wide screen. Run of the Arrow (1957) is better, although the most interesting events in the film--a white man joins an Indian tribe but finally realizes he belongs with his own people--all take place offscreen. The Crimson Kimono (1959) morphs from noir to problem drama, with an excellent role for James Shigeta; this is my third favorite Fuller so far. I like only bits and pieces of Shock Corridor (1963) and The Naked Kiss (1964).
Last edited by kingrat on September 21st, 2011, 11:36 am, edited 1 time in total.

Gary J.
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Re: Noir Films

Postby Gary J. » September 21st, 2011, 12:43 am

The only Fuller film to ever hold my attention all the way through was THE BIG RED ONE (80). All of his films from his 'hey day' always suffered from inconsistent acting and low production values, although the man definitely had talent.
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CineMaven
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Re: Noir Films

Postby CineMaven » September 21st, 2011, 12:34 pm

I went to college (NYC's Hunter College) with two guys about 142 years ago who I'm still friends with. They know so much about classic films as we all do. So I asked one of them what was HIS opinion of Samuel Fuller. Everybody has one, so I asked my friend. I said Fuller didn't seem to be getting much love from the Message Board I write on. This is what my friend wrote back to me:



T.,

First: did you ever go see HOUSE OF BAMBOO? Because then the question would be, "What's YOUR opinion?"

How many Fuller films have you seen? You have to have seen SHOCK CORRIDOR and THE NAKED KISS. If you haven't, then stop what you're doing and see them! Those are amazing films and THE NAKED KISS is esp. right up your alley.

You must have seen FORTY GUNS with Barbara Stanwyck. That's gotta be one of her ten best roles. She plays opposite Barry Sullivan in that one. CHINA GATE with Gene Barry, Angie Dickinson and Nat King Cole. Didn't (the Professor at Hunter) ever show that to you at Hunter?

My favorite is THE STEEL HELMET, a Korean War movie with James Edwards in one of his best parts.

Then there are:
RUN OF THE ARROW with Rod Steiger as an Irish Confederate who joins the Sioux Indians. Brian Keith, Ralph Meeker and Charles Bronson are all in that one too.
MERRILL'S MARAUDERS with Jeff Chandler--a great WWII movie.
PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET with Richard Widmark and Jean Peters.
UNDERWORLD USA with Cliff Robertson
THE CRIMSON KIMONO with Glenn Corbett and James Shigeta.

All good ones.

Disregard the message boards and SEE THESE MOVIES!

Honestly, I would have thought you had seen these already.

So, does that answer your question?

B.


I've seen some of Fuller's films...but it looks like I've got some more Fuller to watch.
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ChiO
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Re: Noir Films

Postby ChiO » September 21st, 2011, 1:30 pm

CM --

You have a very wise friend. But he left out of the upper tier of Fuller films:

FIXED BAYONETS! -- A struggle for survival, if you're lucky, in Korea! With Gene Evans and Richard Basehart!!
VERBOTEN! -- Love and a struggle for survival at the end of WWII!
WHITE DOG -- Racist? The studio feared it was. Anti-racist? Arguably so. Most likely: Race is...and it's a damn shame and stupid that it is. With Kristy McNichol, Paul Winfield & Burl Ives. Co-written by Curtis Hanson (yup, the director-writer of L.A. CONFIDENTIAL)

And I SHOT JESSE JAMES, THE BARON OF ARIZONA and THE BIG RED ONE are worth seeing as well.

Heck, see all of his movies. Over and over.

ChiO's "Favorite Director" submission:
1. Orson Welles (you were expecting, maybe, Stanley Kramer?)
2. Carl Th. Dreyer
3. Jacques Tourneur
4. Samuel Fuller
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
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ChiO
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Re: Noir Films

Postby ChiO » September 21st, 2011, 2:30 pm

KingRat wrote:
Fuller tends to have an attention-grabbing subject and beginning--unlike poor Albert Brooks in Broadcast News, he doesn't bury the lead.

Seldom have truer words been written.

How can one not want to watch what follows these beginnings?

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7LpiCZsGiO4[/youtube]

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x3cD7N3Mleo[/youtube]

Sam Fuller: The Woman's Director.
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles

RedRiver
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Re: Noir Films

Postby RedRiver » September 21st, 2011, 6:36 pm

NYMPHOS!

kingrat
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Re: Noir Films

Postby kingrat » September 21st, 2011, 7:26 pm

Yep. Maven, whether you lurv Sam Fuller or not, you're in excellent company on these boards. It's my experience that not many of his most dedicated admirers are women.

Back to Underworld USA: This film was made in 1961, after the classic noir period is over, according to some historians. More noirish chiaroscuro and shadows and lighting effects would do a better job of masking the inexpensive production values GaryJ mentioned in his post.

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ChiO
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Re: Noir Films

Postby ChiO » September 21st, 2011, 9:49 pm

Golly, you make "low production values" sound like a bad thing.

But speaking of minimal production values, women directors, male bonding, paranoia, and rural noir, I saw a beautiful 35mm print of THE HITCH-HIKER this evening. Two Regular Joes (Edmond O'Brien and Frank Lovejoy) make one little mistake in judgment and are subjected to the whims of a sadistic murderer (William Talman). The final scene -- Talman, freaking out because the police now have him in handcuffs, gets socked in the mouth by O'Brien who had almost been mistakenly shot by the police...and Talman spits at him -- is a highlight of noir cynicism.

Like William Talman, if you have an opportunity to see this on the big screen, keep an eye open for it.
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles

RedRiver
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Re: Noir Films

Postby RedRiver » September 22nd, 2011, 9:47 am

THE HITCH-HIKER is a classy little drama that, in my experience, doesn't come around much.

kingrat
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Re: Noir Films

Postby kingrat » September 22nd, 2011, 11:25 am

TCM showed this little gem a year or so ago. To see it in a great 35mm print would be a real treat. Most of you know, anyway, but the director of THE HITCH-HIKER is one of my favorite actresses, Ida Lupino.

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Rita Hayworth
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Re: Noir Films

Postby Rita Hayworth » September 22nd, 2011, 11:52 am

kingrat wrote:TCM showed this little gem a year or so ago. To see it in a great 35mm print would be a real treat. Most of you know, anyway, but the director of THE HITCH-HIKER is one of my favorite actresses, Ida Lupino.

RedRiver wrote:THE HITCH-HIKER is a classy little drama that, in my experience, doesn't come around much.


That's so true ... I would love to see it again!

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CineMaven
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Re: Noir Films

Postby CineMaven » September 22nd, 2011, 3:24 pm

kingrat wrote:Yep. Maven, whether you lurv Sam Fuller or not, you're in excellent company on these boards. It's my experience that not many of his most dedicated admirers are women.

I see. Well...looking over Fuller's filmography, I see he's a tough guy. I love the company on these boards. I'll just have to make some time to watch movies...

ChiO wrote: CM -- You have a very wise friend. But he left out of the upper tier of Fuller's films: "FIXED BAYONETS!" "VERBOTEN!" "WHITE DOG" And "I SHOT JESSE JAMES" "THE BARON OF ARIZONA" and "THE BIG RED ONE" are worth seeing as well. Heck, see all of his movies. Over and over.

With this line-up, I must put away my Grey Goose, Southern Comfort and Sarsparilla. It's nothing but bourbon and rye for these movies.


ChiO wrote:
Sam Fuller: The Woman's Director.

Well...well hey...why didn't you say THAT in the first place? :mrgreen: (Wait'll George Cukor hears this!)

But if these movies put hair on my chest...I'm coming after you guys like Constance Towers did.
"You build my gallows high, baby."

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Re: Noir Films

Postby Mr. Arkadin » September 22nd, 2011, 5:26 pm

CineMaven wrote:With this line-up, I must put away my Grey Goose, Southern Comfort and Sarsparilla. It's nothing but bourbon and rye for these movies.


Have a shot on me:

Image

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CineMaven
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Re: Noir Films

Postby CineMaven » September 22nd, 2011, 6:41 pm

How dry I...I...

What the heck was I s'posed to be doing?
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ChiO
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Re: Noir Films

Postby ChiO » September 22nd, 2011, 6:45 pm

Watching THE NAKED KISS!!!! Get with the program, gal!!!!
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles


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