Ah, Samuel Fuller. The great director, on some levels, exists in his very own category, creatively hitting up in the Kubrick/Kurosawa/Bergman leagues and yet hardly most people outside of serious film geeks have ever heard of him.
Arguably, Fuller has been largely ignored historically because, even in the 50s and early 60s he was cranking up the intensity to levels that simply could not be tolerated by most cinema-goers or even movie critics. Confronted with Fuller’s incendiary vision, American society collectively slapped their hands over their ears and repeated, No, this can’t be the way things are. But they were that way, and Fuller presented it in such a way that you couldn’t deny it. Forget about mom, apple pie and the postwar American dream, Samuel Fuller’s films metaphorically lifted Marilyn Monroe’s skirt to reveal a maniacally grinning demon underneath.
For instance, here’s white supremacist Trent from Shock Corridor, and remember this came out in 1962:
See what I mean? If you’ve never experienced that scene before, right now you’re probably saying, “Holy Shit…”
Sam Fuller was a classic cigar-chomping old school man’s man who’d been a crime reporter in the 1930s and then shipped off to World War II. He fought on the beaches of North Africa, Sicily and Normandy before helping to liberate the concentration camp at Falkenau, where shot some of his earliest film footage.
By the time he made his first movie in 1949 at the age of 37, Fuller was already loaded for bear with levels of life experience most of us would never even wish for. His films combined newspaper sensationalism sprinkled with bits and pieces from his own life. Although not nihilistic, Fuller didn’t have heroes or villains in the classic sense but populated his films with real characters with good and bad all mixed together. You know, like in real life.
Like any artist or writer or, well THINKER worth a damn, you can’t easily pigeonhole his world view. In Sam Fuller, The Typewriter, the Rifle and the Movie Camera, a documentary about Fuller’s life, Jim Jarmusch describes the iconoclastic director as an “anti-totalitarian anarchist,” though Fuller took heat from both the right and left for Pickup on South Street (which was accused of “Red baiting” and anti-Americanism at the same time!). In the film you can also see Fuller describe both the fascists and mid-20th century communist regimes as “Enemies of humanity.”
Like Luis Buñuel, Fuller got kicked to the curb for a number or years for just going too damn far, with the controversial White Dog—which never did see a US release—about a dog trained to hate black people [A neighbor of mine in Brooklyn had a doberman that hated black people, so this isn’t as far-fetched as you might think], whereupon he moved to France, where he was, of course, hailed as a genius, and finished out the rest of his creative career.
Here’s the entire film about Fuller, shot during his lifetime so that there are plenty of classic quotes from the man. Just as amusing are the shots of Quentin Tarantino and Tim Robbins rooting around in Fuller’s pre-France work-space, uncovering all sorts of Fuller’s old treasures, even as they imitate him and invoke his spirit at a distance: