THE SAM FULLER 100

~ john cribbs ~

Sam Fuller's films have all the subtlety of a wrecking ball. There's no subtext. His characters say how they feel and act on their emotions: if they're angry, they'll fight. If they're in love, they'll kiss. If they're sad, they'll die. But that was his approach. Baptised in the ink and fire of the newspaper business, he knew the way to hook an audience was with blunt explicitness - the story's naked essence. There's something so honest about this kind of stark directness that like a good newspaper, despite their vulgar presentation and blatant sensationalism, maybe a little truth slipped in there. And while his undisguised approach, hindered by B-movie budgets, may have lent itself to some inevitable goofiness* (for god's sake Merrill's Marauders has a character named Muley who's obsessed with his pet mule) his movies are never, by the nature of their "tabloid narratives," any less than fully engaging. Fuller would lay all the cards on the table, but he'd always make sure it was a good hand. That's why, more than most directors, he appreciated the power of individual moments: even though not all of his films work overall, they still have scenes more powerful and memorable than anything found in any flat-out masterpiece.

Despite his often heavy subject matter, I don't think he ever took his "yarns" too seriously (at least not until he was pigeonholed with the retroactive label of "artist" by admirers) and the questions he really cared about - why intolerance still exists in civilized society, how the hypocricy and false patriotism of the elite stifle the efforts of the truly courageous and innovative, what an independent outsider owes to the rest of the world - are presented so pointedly that, combined with the director's unconventional camerawork and snappy editing, his confrontational ideas invigorate the audience with the pure audacity of inquiry. His famous quote from Pierrot le fou about film being "a battleground...love, hate, violence, action, death, in a word, emotion" is one of the most frustratingly ambiguous yet concisely introspective statements ever made by a famous director, one who made a career out of bottling these indefinite themes into small moments of gritty, veracious tenacity. Last October was his big red one-hundredth anniversary, so here are 100 of those moments that reflect the reason film enthusiasts like myself continue to have an enduring fascination with Sam Fuller.

(Just a few notes: I didn't bother to include anything from Fuller's European films, which are roundly awful. Nor did I bother with Caine, a.k.a. Shark!, a.k.a the non-Janine Lindemulder Maneater, the final cut of which Fuller famously disowned.)

* Check out what Alex Cox has to say about the ridiculous quicksand scene {LINK} of Run of the Arrow (around the 6:20 point of the video.

100 GREAT MOMENTS
FROM THE FILMS OF SAMUEL FULLER

BATTLEGROUND

"First we'll eat, then we'll bury 'em." The priorities of war. The Steel Helmet

Braving the mine field at night to save a wounded officer (mainly because he's terrified of having to take command himself - the guy dies anyway.) Fixed Bayonets

Nat King Cole, groin-deep in swamp with a grease gun slung over his shoulder, at the China Gate

Live grenade? No problem: Tanaka releases the lever, locates the pin on the floor, replaces it and tosses it back to the petrified G.I. The Steel Helmet

In the dark of the Buddist temple, the sergeant mistakenly shoots the life-sized silhouette of a four-armed Avalokitesvara statue...that suddenly grows two extra arms. Funny enough, it turns out to be the intruder's poorly-chosen hiding place. The Steel Helmet

After taking multiple shots at Bob Ford, the kid emerges from the darkness and begs him not to shoot: he's out of bullets! I Shot Jesse James

"When this is all over, you know what I'm going to do? I'm gonna get married. I'm gonna have about six kids. I'll line them up against the wall and tell them what it was like here in Burma. And if they don't cry, I'll beat the hell out of 'em." Merrill's Marauders

Soldiers gaze into the abyss and see...a whole lotta abyss. "Nobody fall in." Fixed Bayonets

Ammo strips for stir-ups, the inside of a panzer for a delivery room, a sweaty Lee Marvin for a midwife: Poussez! The Big Red One

The last casualty of the Civil War: the opening of Run of the Arrow

The last casualty of the first World War: the opening of The Big Red One

Everyone puts their feet together to stave off frostbite, but Gene Evans doesn't realize he's rubbing his own numbed toes. Fixed Bayonets

Grunts gather round and marvel: "So that's Jonesy's ear..." Fixed Bayonets

Moroccan Goums collecting the ears of dead Germans. The Big Red One

"Just one of your balls, sweetie. You can live without it, that's why they gave you two." The sarge consoles a landmine victim. The Big Red One

They shoot the toilet paper! Now what are we going to use to - ah fuck it, let's just get on the beach! The Big Red One

Surveying the serene aftermath of the battle in the body-strewn maze: some dead, some sleeping, others somewhere inbetween. Merrill's Marauders

The Belgian innkeeper recognizes the German infiltrator by the way he cuts his steak. The Big Red One

One of the troops adds lyrics to the North Koreans' bugle battle music. Fixed Bayonets

The sergeant spanks the nazism right out of a pint-sized sniper. The Big Red One

Lucky Legs triggers the dynamite to blow, taking herself out in the act, under the empty gaze of a headless Buddha. China Gate

Smoke and shadow coalesce under the hollowed-out POV of a termite-infested wooden christ, gazing eyelessly upon the prone bodies of a bushwack squad playing possum. The Big Red One

LOVE

Wes sets his sights on the buxom gunsmith: "Yeah, this kind of rifle's worth hangin' around for." Forty Guns

Tolly sees the ocean after years in the desert. Underworld USA

"After devoting so many years to this scheme, what made you confess?" "I fell in love with my wife." The Baron of Arizona

A bathing Jesse invites Bob Ford to...what? Shoot him? Fuck him? A back scrubbing couldn't possibly be at the front of his mind. I Shot Jesse James

Brent and Helga become geschlagen with each other under the disapproving eyes of Hitler after Brent is wounded in the ass. Sadly, their love is...Verboten!

"It might go off in your face." "I'll take a chance." Jessica handles Griff's big gun. Forty Guns

A lady he struck across the face not 24 hours earlier preps his bath and fixes him breakfast, such is the charm of Robert Stack! (Also love the look she gives him when he informs her he'll take his eggs in the tub - hey, that's how he likes 'em.) House of Bamboo

GI awakens abruptly from a wet dream and assaults a fellow soldier: "Stay away from my girl!" Merrill's Marauders

"You can't fight a natural feeling." "Then why are you?" Japanese cop stops a bomb going off by shooting down the object of his partner's affection. The Crimson Kimono

"All the men want me, Johnny..." He scrunches his face as the phantom boa grazes his nose. Shock Corridor

Candy finally wins Skip over, and it only took being beaten half to death and shot in the back: "I'd rather have a live pickpocket than a dead trick." Pickup on South Street

Lee Van Cleef's pained expression as he realizes ol' Lucky Legs has betrayed him. China Gate

The sergeant spurns the advances of a randy kraut in the POW hospital: "I can understand you bein' horny, Fritz - but you got bad breath." The Big Red One

It's a merger: passion amidst the printing machines of Park Row

HATE

Trent's passionate segregation speech in the Shock Corridor embodies the power and inanity of hatred.

"Love is like a battle...someone has to get a bloody nose." The friendly kendo duel gets a little rough. The Crimson Kimono

The Korean POW wants to know why the black soldier fights with his white squad when they wouldn't let him ride in the front of the bus back home. The Steel Helmet

The look Jesse's wife gives Bob Ford after finding her husband's body: not exactly hate, more like pity. I Shot Jesse James

Mariko watches the homeless woman, ostracized for her relationship with an American G.I., digging through trash. House of Bamboo

"Where's my dog?" Julie meets the real monster. White Dog

The naked kiss. The Naked Kiss

Oh yeah, I ran down that little girl on her bike. Drink? Underworld USA

The little black kid and the mercifully oblivious White Dog around the corner.

Griff at Falkenau: There just aren't enough bullets to wipe out true evil. The Big Red One

ACTION

Bald hooker beats her pimp, gets her money. The Naked Kiss

Gene Barry holding the bloody pilot's eyes open: you're not allowed to die until you land this plane! China Gate

The opening train heist. House of Bamboo

Assault on the Buddhist temple. The Steel Helmet

The entire eight minute sequence of setting up Griff to get ambushed in the alley. Forty Guns

"Gimme the knife!" Widmark frees the scientist's hand from the hatch by cutting off his thumb. Hell and High Water

Robert Stack knocked through a holding screen at the pachinko parlor behind which Robert Ryan's gang is waiting for him. House of Bamboo

Lumbering giant throws everything not nailed down at the cops in the pool hall - they have to team up to take him down. The Crimson Kimono

Careful hands on a crowded subway. Pickup on South Street

Johnny makes Wilkes eat his whistle. Shock Corridor

Useless thrashing in the pool, the one for "big wigs and disadvantaged kids," as a vengeful Tolly drowns the fat crime boss. Underworld USA

Candy gets fed her dirty money for dessert. The Naked Kiss

The baron drops his regal posture to take riflebutt to a disgruntled landowner. The Baron of Arizona

The Run of the Arrow. Run of the Arrow

The circulation war gets ugly: headbutt beneath Benjamin Franklin in the middle of Park Row

The four-legged timebomb goes off: fatal attack under the uncharitable stained glass visage of St. Francis. White Dog

Climatic slugout in the subway. Pickup on South Street

Jessica dragged behind her horse in the middle of a cyclone. Forty Guns

Gunsmoke meets sky, blood hits water, flesh embedded in rock - the final stand of Merrill's Marauders. An exhausted Merrill's insane attempt to rouse his ravaged men back into action brings about a crippling heart attack.

"Let's see you shoot her!" Griff doesn't hesitate, shoots the girl to get the bad guy. Walks past the bodies and coldly states: "Get a doctor - she'll live." Forty Guns

DEATH

Two boots under Mount Fuji. House of Bamboo

The sound of the hanged man's boots clunking against the wall. Forty Guns

Stripper Sugar Torch shot dead in the middle of an L.A. intersection. The Crimson Kimono

Rock checks out: "I told ya, I'm dead." Fixed Bayonets

Bob Ford's last words: "I'm sorry for what I done to Jess...I loved him." I Shot Jesse James

The fat Greek soldier with the broken back apologizes to the rest of the ragtag squad: "I'm sorry I'm taking such a long time to die." China Gate

The quiet guy finally speaks, pleadingly, as he's stabbed to death from behind. The Steel Helmet

Suicidal bullet shatters the police chief's picture. Underworld USA

Thug caps his wounded compadre during a heist - no witnesses! House of Bamboo

The groom gets whacked at the wedding. Forty Guns

Sergeant Zack mouths off a quick prayer to the prisoner he's killed in cold blood while the statue of Buddha offers its own indifferent blessing. The Steel Helmet

"If a man lives in a house and there's some danger in it, and he wants to keep on living in it, he should fight for it..."  American solider's last words before bullets pierce his house. The Steel Helmet

A delirious, dying man demands to know if Lemcheck made it before falling silent. "Did Lemcheck make it?" "He's Lemcheck." Merrill's Marauders

Killer/lover Robert Ryan caresses the wet hair of dead traitor Griff, lovingly preventing it from sinking beneath the water of the bullet-riddled bath. House of Bamboo

Steiger shoots Ralph Meeker for the second time - this time, it's a mercy killing. Run of the Arrow

The kid was already gone - slumping over on the sergeant's shoulder just makes it official. The Big Red One

Lone, shaggy soldier breaks from the company and heads for the promise of fresh rations beneath the gently swaying parachutes in an inviting open field. A single shot from a Japanese rifle ends his hunger pangs for good. Merrill's Marauders

Crime boss watching the car go up in flames: "Gimme a light." Underworld USA

"Keep Your City Clean!" Tolly writhes down the empty block before collapsing, fist clenched in defiance, among the filth of an alley - just like his old man. Underworld USA

All of Tokyo turns out to witness the lonely death of Robert Ryan atop the gyrating steel carousel. House of Bamboo

Moe doesn't get a fancy funeral after all: "Look mister, I'm so tired you'd be doing me a big favor if you'd blow my head off." Pickup on South Street

The death of a dog. White Dog

Mr. Davenport writes his own obituary - Thirty. Park Row

EMOTION

Torrential downpour in the Shock Corridor

"Every man has a breaking point." Robert Ryan in House of Bamboo

The killer hiding in the dumbwaiter. Pickup on South Street

Make no mistake, Mark Hamill: Lee Marvin will shoot you dead and sleep like a rock tonight if you don't get off your ass and complete the Bangalore Relay. The Big Red One

Young Werewolf Franz bears witness to the atrocities of his heroes at the Nuremberg trial: "I didn't know!" Those kind of emotions are...Verboten!

Vincent Price's passionate plea to spare his neck from the lynchin' rope: "Hang me and you hang all your claims!" The Baron of Arizona

Pathetic former foreman breaks down as Jessica writes a check to buy him off. Forty Guns

O'Meara bids his mother a tearful goodbye on the bridge, opting for exile rather than live in a reunified nation. Run of the Arrow

Too much war: big burly bearded Claude Akins breaks down blubbering in front of Burmese refugees. AOE: accumulation of everything. Merill's Marauders

Burl Ives rants against R2-D2. White Dog

Bob Ford finds he's not able to recreate the murder of his best friend in front of an eager crowd. I Shot Jesse James

"Largo al factotum" lullaby. Shock Corridor

A shell-shocked Zack finds himself alone in the void of a smoke-filled battleground. The Steel Helmet

~ 2013 ~