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Posts Tagged ‘Samuel Fuller’

THE CRIMSON KIMONO (1959 ) BLU-RAY REVIEW

Saturday, August 5th, 2017

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Stars – James Shigeta, Glenn Corbett, Anna Lee, Victoria Shaw
Director – Samuel Fuller * Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Released by Twilight Time
Limited edition of 3,000 Units
Available at Screenarchives.com and Twilighttimemovies.com

Sam Fuller takes on a lot with this movie. There is the story of a stripper who gets shot down on the streets. She is in her full stage costume running between cars at night when she falls. We learn a lot about Sugar Torch and the act she was working on with a karate man smashing bricks before she begins to peel off her geisha styled kimono. Then there are the two cops assigned to the case, played wonderfully by James Shigeta (Bridge to the Sun) and Glenn Corbett (Route 66, Chisum), These detectives are very tight. The easy going banter between them feels like any number of later day buddy cop pictures. Shigeta in particular has a very natural style. Another character is the alcoholic painter who likes to throw beer on her paintings. Though very kooky she’s like the wise older relative to Corbett who gets advice from her. While there are compelling trips inside Little Tokyo in Los Angeles and quite a bit of time devoted to aspects of the culture there it is Victoria Shaw as Chris the attractive art student witness that sets the film on its main course.

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Both detectives fall for Chris but she falls for James Shigeta. Shigeta has a very tough time with this. He thinks his partner resents him but more for his love crossing a taboo racial line than simply winning the girl. Fuller drills down on this deep seated case of reverse racism. We can feel that the Japanese detective is uncomfortable with this from any number of angles. It certainly was not the kind of thing that movies openly dealt with then. Fuller was always one to confront racism and injustice. The theme of people mistakenly judging others frequently comes up in his films. There was the hooker trying to start her life anew in The Naked Kiss (1964). His film White Dog (1982) which dealt with a dog that was taught to attack black people was left unreleased for many years due to a misinformed backlash from groups that judged it without even seeing it. Sam Fuller also will pick up a blow torch to make his point when a match would have gotten the job done. Sometimes he makes his points with a sledgehammer swinging it like Thor against injustice. While the spirit is admirable it sometimes mars the flow of his films and sticks out a bit too much. On the other hand that is who he is, like it or not.

For a film that seems to only have a few interiors there is a tremendous amount of detail to be seen. There is an intriguing collection of porcelain figures in the detectives’ shared apartment. Later on in the film we see dozens of these intricately made dolls encased in glass cases filling a set. We even see how they are made and the woman who specializes in wigs for them. Fuller takes us inside a few dojo to see men practicing judo and karate. There are posters in these schools and in the detectives’ apartment advertising various kendo tournaments. One of the highlights in the film is the kendo fencing match between the two detectives. It is highly ritualized match that gets out of hand when one of them begins to actually attack the other. What at first looks like a shocking clash of cultures and races between a white man and Japanese man turns out to be two very good friends getting so far beyond words that only combat can express what one of them feels. It’s a powerful scene and the one in which everything in the film comes together.

The Crimson Kimono works on a lot of levels. It begins as a Noir-ish tale of a stripper being killed on the street but it ends with another woman being killed on the same street, and by then it has become several others kinds of pictures. Too much? Probably. But amidst the immersion in the Japanese culture hidden in Little Tokyo Sam Fuller mangers to get in a story about two buddies whose friendship is tested by a kind of racism that cuts deep.

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Video – 1.85:1
Much of this black and white picture looks wonderful. The way the painting fills in during the opening credits is a delight. There are occasional bits that fall short but nothing at all that stands in the way. Fuller does some interesting compositions that will leave wanting to hit the pause button for a sustained look. As noted by Curtis Hanson in the extras he moves his camera more than you might notice at first. There is one bit where the cameraman backs into a restaurant or hotel allowing the actors to move from the street to the interior in one continuous take.

Audio – DTS-HD 1.0 with subtitles offered in English SDH
All dialogue sounds fine and is easy to follow.

Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated music track , Sam Fuller Storyteller, Curtis Hanson: The Culture of The Crimson Kimono ,Original trailer

The extras are ported over from the Samuel Fuller Collection DVD set. Curtis Hanson who saw Fuller regularly at one time reveals some fun interactions that show off what a great storyteller Fuller was. We get a good sense of his background, too. Both of these extras are top notch and must see.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic:

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Good / Excellent

HELL AND HIGH WATER (1954) BLU-RAY REVIEW

Saturday, June 24th, 2017

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Stars -  Richard Widmark, Cameron Mitchell, Gene Evans

* Director -  Samuel Fuller *  Released by Twilight Time

Limited edition of  3,000 Units * Available at Screenarchives.com and Twilighttimemovies.com

 

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Sam Fuller is the guy who is usually found directing films in gritty locations where everyone has dirt under their fingernails. His unlikely heroes include a bald headed hooker trying to go straight and a racist dog that attacks people of color on sight. So what is this guy doing make a colorful widescreen Cinemascope film on a damn submarine? Sam is doing his usual thing. Bucking authority and plumbing the souls of his characters to see where their real morality and sense of right and wrong lives. He seems to relish putting his characters in tough spots that show what they are really made of. Richard Widmark’s code of honor gets severely tested in this cold war nuclear thriller. Richard Widmark starred in what is arguably Fuller’s best work, Pick Up On South Street right before this picture in 1953.  Here he plays a former Navy submarine captain. The war is over but he is invited by this hidden cabal of scientists who discover that someone lit off an atomic bomb somewhere in the Artic.  He is give a large amount of cash to take one of the scientists out there to find out as much as he can.  The man brings along a very pretty assistant.  When she comes on board there is the usual wolf whistling and complaining about have a woman on board.  One guys says she is a Jonah, bad luck.   Cameron Mitchell smirks as he says, that’s no lady, that’s a scientist. No one believes this cad for a moment.

This is part of the sub genre of war films ; ok forgive the pun. But this one has more in common with later sub efforts like Ice Station Zebra and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea than it does with the old ones like Run Silent Run Deep. Fuller gets knee deep in sticky politics amidst the action. Widmark’s commander is as well known for his refusal to take orders as he is for his remarkable skills at fighting on the open seas.  Fuller stages a remarkably tense battle sequence between two subs. As they sit silently on the bottom of the ocean trying to avoid detection they go to red.  All the electricity gets turned off and the entire inside of the sub is cast in an eerie red glow. The submerged bull fight that we see is not like any other submarine battle. There are more action scenes staged in the artic. Fuller does not skimp on the pyrotechniques either. These gun fights and explosions set against the ice and artic seas look good.  Yes, there’s been some clever editing here and there.  And yes there are miniatures to be found but I am willing to suspend my disbelief and get caught up in it.

What a great rogues gallery of guys he‘s got on board.  Every shot in this cramped sub is loaded with these mugs strung out from left to right at various angles to fill up the wide screen. While this succeeds as an effective thriller much is made of the tough decisions that must be made once the nature of that atomic bomb explosion is revealed. There are conflicts between patriotism, following orders on one’s own inner code of honor.  That is Fuller’s sweet spot. The lead scientist has this weighty line that sounds like if came from a classic Dickens novel. “Each man has his own reasons for living, Mr. Jones, and his own price for dying..”  I had never seen this one and must admit I liked it a helluva lot more that I thought I would.  It can be riveting in places and  I can feel Sam blowing his beloved cigar smoke in my face as he make his points.

Video -   2.55:1

Colors and detail are very strong here.  The material used looks to be in nice shape.

Very impressive.

Audio  – DTS-HD 5.1 and  DTS-HD 2.0 with subtitles offered in English SDH

Dialogue sounds fine and is easy enough to follow.  The music swell with emotion when its called to.  The 5.1 mix makes the stereo effects a but more pronounced with dialogue jumping from the left to right speaker as characters cross the screen talking .

Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated music track,  Richard Widmark: Strength of Characters, Original theatrical trailers (2)

There is a good A & E Biography on Richard Widmark included.  We find out that he went to a pre World War II Germany to see for himself what was going on.  He shot amateur footage that is included here. He’s a terrific actor. Grab a pen and write down all the great pictures he was in that you may have not seen.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic:

Blu-Ray -  Excellent

Movie  -   Excellent

House of Bamboo (1955) Blu-Ray Review

Sunday, August 16th, 2015

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Stars – Robert Ryan, Robert Stock, Deforest Kelley, Cameron Mitchell, Shirley Yamaguchi
Director – Samuel Fuller

Released by Twilight Time
Limited edition of 3,000 Units
Available at Screenarchives.com

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Can a Film Noir be made in color? Sure. Widescreen Cinemascope? No problem. Set in Tokyo? I don’t see why not. Does Sam Fuller pull this off? Not entirely. The basic narrative device is taken from The Street With No Name (1948). Writer Harry Kleiner did both of them. In each case a man has to infiltrate a gang posing as one of them. They get very close to the head guy until things spiral to a climax. Robert Stack is the man the Army puts on the case with this version. He looks incredibly disheveled and sloppy in an ill-fitting trench coat. He starts shaking down local businesses for protection money in post war Tokyo until he runs into Robert Ryan’s gang. Fuller lets  Joe MacDonald’s cinemaphotographer give us a good look at Japan first. His exterior work is sumptuous, filled with bold colors that pop out. The streets are teaming with folks in colorful garb. The signs, the cars, the countryside off in the distance all look fabulous. We are definitely not in a cramped concrete city with black and white shadows anymore.

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The first time we meet Ryan’s gang it is peculiar mix of inventive and primitive use of that widescreen Cinemascope lens. Stack is putting the lean on someone when suddenly he falls through a paper screen wall. It is a clever way to show that Japanese design, a style many may associate with the old samurai pictures. It takes the old into the modern. Behind the wall is Ryan and his gang. Fuller has Ryan perched on a bamboo chair with his gang stretched out on either side of him. For some reason Fuller felt compelled to get these guys as far out to the left and right that this widescreen lens would allow. Consequently his blocking gives a very flat looking picture with no depth. The other odd thing is the way the men behave. These are all ex-army guys. They have been through Hell together. There is a real bond between them, a code of honor that to an Army man like Fuller means a lot. The rich history of Japan includes the Budo code of honor, too. There are the Yakuza crime gangs that also have a very strict code of loyalty. This is powerful stuff and Fuller has got one foot in each land now. Oddly Ryan’s gang comes off like a tight lipped gang from a thirties gangster film instead of a former military outfit. They barely speak at all. Deforest Kelley (Star Trek) and Cameron Mitchell (Toolbox Murders) may have a few lines. When the leader goes over the details of a job they are about to pull off there is no interaction. That is such a staple of heist films and here the scenes have no excitement, tension or coolness to them. Ryan puts pictures up on a big board like a school teacher.

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Yet there are many scenes that carry a toughness. During that first train robbery the gang use Manriki chains to garrote the soldiers who are guarding the train. It makes a nice visual and is a nod to the old school Ninja weapon. We see a ruthless side of Ryan when he informs his gang later on that if anyone gets wounded they will be shot rather than left behind to give up any information. When we see his guys on the run at the end of that job it carries some real weight. They may be running more from the boss than the cops. However there is a lot more talk in small rooms than any action pieces here. Robert Stack as the hero can’t help it that his voice has that deep stoic baritone that just sounds like it belongs in a cartoon or narrating a serious documentary. His acting style is so stiff and wooden too. It was great fun in Airplane (1980) but that was a parody. As the real thing he is just not believable and his casting hurts the film. The plot has him falling in love with the former wife of a gang leader that was killed in the train robbery. Shirley Yamaguchi plays Mariko the kimono girl/prostitute who was his secret wife. She is a very good actress. We’re not quite sure how she and Stack become a couple. Fuller does not explore the fact that her marriage was a secret very well either.

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There are two scenes that really stand out here, The first one is pure Fuller and the dominant image in the picture for me. Ryan tracks a man down and shoots him in his bathtub. Only here the tub is a big wooden barrel filled with hot water. The background is those wooden veined screens that show off an imposing silhouette so well. It is a master stroke to have the bullets fired into the barrel so that as the water leaks out so does his life. On the one hand the censors are happy since we do not see the shots hit the body but that gives us such a powerful image. It also reminded me that in old theater traditions, Kabuki and other styles, red scarves were used to simulate blood. Here we have rivulets of water streaming out like a scarf would. Beautiful. The climatic scene in the amusement park is often hailed as a showpiece. The set up feels a bit borrowed to me yet the compositions of Ryan caught in the swirling globe look very nice.

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Ultimately the film does not have enough juice or action or interesting character to really drive it home. Robert Ryan is always a pleasure to watch yet this performance here does not rank anywhere near his better ones for me. Fuller is something of a non-acquired taste. I think you have to stop expecting all that much from him. If you go into this one expecting a lot you are libel to wonder where is the guy who just did Pick up on South Street (1953). That one remains a brilliant Film Noir with a scene of such unexpected pathos (the death of Thelma Ritter’s Moe) that you get caught off guard by the artistry of it. This edition of House of Bamboo shows off the Cinemascope photography beautifully. Fuller has been more brutal and his characters have had more bite in other films. Does it come down to a so-so script and a bad casting decision? Maybe it is as simple as not all of this films are great. Let the man smoke his cigar and just get it done. If it comes out great he’ll be glad to take the compliment later. What’s that line that is often attributed to him but actually comes from a film he was cast in? “Film is like a battleground. Love, hate, action, violence, death. In one word, emotion. ”  I like his films, don’t love them except for Pick up. White Dog I like a lot, too. There may be others. He grows on you.

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Video – 2.55:1
This is a simply stunning looking picture. Colors are bold and striking. Particular colors will leap out of crowd scenes. All of the exterior location shots in Tokyo look marvelous. With the widescreen Cinemascope lens cinemaphotographer Joe MacDonald delivers panoramas that look like fancy travel postcards. With the interiors his work with how things are shot looks much better than most of the blocking that Fuller seems to prefer in this one.

Audio – 5.1 DTS-HD with subtitles offered in English SDH
The 5.1 track is a disappointment. The mix is off. Most of the scenes feel empty with no definition of the rooms they take place in. Dialogue is clear but boomy, seeming to float in space rather then emanating from the characters on screen. Much of the time the Foley effects don’t seem to be there at all. If they were done they are mixed so low as to be inaudible. When a person enters a room there are sounds that ground us in that room – doors closing, drawers opening, light switches, the sound of shoes on the floor. Many times in this film that is off and leaves sequences feeling empty. Fuller elects to drop out music and sound effects purposefully in that last climatic scene at the amusement park. The decision doesn’t work for me. When I played the track just through the stereo speakers in my TV, forgoing the sound system that interprets the 5.1 mix, it sounded better.

Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated score and effects track, Commentary with with Film Historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman, Commentary with Film Historians Alain Silver and James Ursini, Fox Movietone Newsreels, Original Theatrical Trailer

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic:

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Good / Excellent