Nationality: American. Born: Samuel Michael Fuller in Worcester, Massachusetts, 12 August 1911. Military Service: Served in 16th regiment of U.S. Army 1st Division, 1942–45, awarded Bronze Star, Silver Star, and Purple Heart. Family: Married actress Christa Lang, 1965. Career: Copy-boy and journalist, New York Journal, from 1924; crime reporter, from 1928; screenwriter in Hollywood, from 1936; screenwriter at Warner Bros., 1946–48; directed first feature, 1948; signed to 20th Century-Fox, 1951–57; TV director, 1960s. Died: 31 October 1997, in Hollywood, California.
Films as Director:
I Shot Jesse James (+ sc)
The Baron of Arizona (+ sc); The Steel Helmet (+ sc, co-pr)
Fixed Bayonets (+ sc)
Park Row (+ sc, co-pr)
Pickup on South Street (+ sc) [remade in 1968 as Cape Town Affair (Webb)]
Hell and High Water (+ co-sc)
The House of Bamboo (+ co-sc, role as Japanese policeman)
Run of the Arrow (+ pr, sc); China Gate (+ pr, sc); Forty Guns (+ pr, sc)
Verboten! (+ pr, sc)
The Crimson Kimono (+ pr, sc)
Underworld USA (+ pr, sc)
Merrill's Marauders (+ co-sc)
Shock Corridor (+ pr, sc); The Naked Kiss (+ co-pr, sc)
Caine (+ sc)
Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street (+ sc, role as United States Senator)
The Big Red One (+ sc)
Thieves after Dark
Street of No Return (+ co-sc)
Le Madonne et le dragon (for TV) (+ mus); The Day of Reckoning (for TV) (+ co-sc); Tales (series for TV) (+ co-sc)
Hats Off (Petroff) (sc)
It Happened in Hollywood (Lachman) (sc)
Gangs of New York (Cruze) (remade in 1945 as Gangs of theWaterfront) (Blair) (sc); Adventure in Sahara (Lederman) (sc); Federal Man-Hunt (Grinde) (sc)
Bowery Boy (Morgan) (sc)
Confirm or Deny (Lang, Mayo) (sc)
Power of the Press (Landers) (sc)
Shockproof (Sirk) (sc)
The Tanks Are Coming (Seiler) (sc)
Scandal Sheet (Karlson) (sc)
The Command (Butler) (sc)
Pierrot le fou (Godard) (role as himself)
Brigitte et Brigitte (Moullet) (role as himself)
The Last Movie (Hopper) (role as himself)
The Klansman (Young) (sc)
Der Amerikanische Freund (The American Friend) (Wenders) (role as The American)
1941 (Spielberg) (small role)
Girls in Prison (McNaughton—for TV) (sc)
By FULLER: books—
Burn, Baby, Burn, New York, 1935.
Test Tube Baby, New York, 1936.
Make up and Kiss, New York, 1938.
The Dark Page, New York, 1944 (published as Murder Makesa Deadline, New York, 1952).
The Naked Kiss, New York, 1964.
Crown of India, New York, 1966.
144 Piccadilly, New York, 1971.
Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street, New York, 1973.
Il etait un fois . . . Samuel Fuller: Histoires d'Ameriques, edited by Jean Narboni and Noel Simsolo, Paris, 1986.
New York in the 1930s (Pocket Archive Series), New York, 1997.
By FULLER: articles—
"What Is Film?" in Cinema (Beverly Hills), July 1964.
"Samuel Fuller: Two Interviews," with Stig Björkman and Mark Shivas, in Movie (London), Winter 1969/70.
Interview in The Director's Event by Eric Sherman and Martin Rubin, New York, 1970.
Interview with Ian Christie and others, in Cinema (Cambridge), February 1970.
"Sam Fuller Returns," interview with Claude Beylie and J. Lourcelles, in Ecran (Paris), January 1975.
"War That's Fit to Shoot," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), November 1976.
"Three Times Sam: The Flavor of Ketchup," interview with R. Thompson, in Film Comment (New York), January/February 1977.
Interview with Russell Merritt and P. Lehman, in Wide Angle (Athens, Ohio), vol. 4, no. 1, 1980.
"Samuel Fuller—Survivor," an interview with T. Ryan, in CinemaPapers (Melbourne), December/January 1980/81.
"Fuller mis au défi par l'avocat du diable," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), April 1982.
Interview with A. Hunter, in Films and Filming (London), November 1983.
Interview in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), March 1984.
"Conversazione con Samuel Fuller," an interview with Gisella Bochicchio and B. Roberti, in Filmcritica (Siena), September-October 1989.
Fuller, Sam, "Comment John Ford et Max Steiner ont fait mon film préféré," in Positif (Paris), June 1994.
"A Fuller View," an interview with Eric Monder, in Filmfax (Evanston), March-April 1995.
On FULLER: books—
Will, David, and Peter Wollen, editors, Samuel Fuller, Edinburgh, 1969.
Hardy, Phil, Samuel Fuller, New York, 1970.
Garnham, Nicholas, Samuel Fuller, New York, 1971.
MacArthur, Colin, Underworld U.S.A., London, 1972.
Amiel, Victor, Samuel Fuller, Paris, 1985.
Caprara, Valerio, Samuel Fuller, Florence, 1985.
Server, Lee, Sam Fuller: Film Is a Battleground, Jefferson, North Carolina, 1994.
On FULLER: articles—
Lee, Russell, "Samuel Fuller," in New Left Review, January/February 1964.
Wollen, Peter, "Notes toward a Structural Analysis of the Films of Samuel Fuller," in Cinema (Cambridge), December 1968.
Canham, Kingsley, "The World of Samuel Fuller," in Film (London), November/December 1969.
Canham, Kingsley, "Samuel Fuller's Action Films," in Screen (London), November/December 1969.
McArthur, Colin, "Samuel Fuller's Gangster Films," in Screen (London), November/December 1969.
Belton, John, "Are You Waving the Flag at Me: Samuel Fuller and Politics," in Velvet Light Trap (Madison, Wisconsin), Spring 1972.
McConnell, F., "Pickup on South Street and the Metamorphosis of the Thriller," in Film Heritage (New York), Spring 1973.
Cook, B., "Sam Fuller Lands with the Big One," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), June 1979.
Valot, J., "Love, Action, Death, Violence: Cinema Is Emotion (sur quelques films de Samuel Fuller)," in Image et Son (Paris), July/August 1980.
Milne, Tom, "Sam Fuller's War," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1980.
"Fuller Section" of Image et Son (Paris), April 1981.
"Fuller Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 1 November 1981.
Dossier on Fuller, in Framework (Norwich), no. 19, 1982.
Revue du Cinéma (Paris), April 1988.
Sanjek, David, "'Torment Street between Malicious and Crude': Sophisticated Primitivism in the Films of Sam Fuller," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury), July 1994.
Norman, Barry, "Why the French Love Samuel Fuller," in RadioTimes (London), 8 March 1997.
Sinclair, Iain, "War Zone," in Sight and Sound (London), March 1997.
Obituary, in Variety (New York), 3 November 1997.
Saada, Nicholas, "Goodbye Sam, Goodbye," an obituary in Cahiersdu Cinéma (Paris), December 1997.
"Leading Fearlessly," an obituary in Sight and Sound (London), December 1997.
Obituary, in EPD Film (Frankfurt), December 1997.
Obituary, in Skrien (Amsterdam), December-January 1997–1998.
Obituary, in Positif (Paris), January 1998.
Obituary, in Séquences (Haute-Ville), January-February 1998.
Simon, Adam, "Sam Fuller: Perfect Pitch," in Sight and Sound (London), March 1998.
Stevens, Brad, "Play It Again, Sam," in Sight and Sound (London), April 1998.
Obituary, in 24 Images (Montreal), no. 91, Spring 1998.
Obituary, in Z (Oslo), no. 63, 1998.
* * *
Sam Fuller's narratives investigate the ways that belonging to a social group simultaneously functions to sustain and nurture individual identity and, conversely, to pose all sorts of emotional and ideological threats to that identity. Fuller's characters are caught between a solitude that is both liberating and debilitating, and a communality that is both supportive and oppressive. Unlike Howard Hawks, whose films suggest the triumph of the group over egoism, Fuller is more cynical and shows that neither isolation nor group membership is without its hardships and tensions.
Many of the films touch upon a broad kind of belonging, as in membership in a nation—specifically the United States (although China Gate comments on several other nationalities)—as a driving idea and ideal, national identity becoming a reflection of personal identity. For example, in Fuller films about the building of the West, such as Forty Guns, The Baron of Arizona, or Run of the Arrow, the central characters initially understand their own quests as necessarily divergent from the quest of America for its own place in the world. Even though the course of the films suggests the moral and emotional losses that such divergence leads to, the films also imply that there is something inadequate in the American quest itself, in the ways such a quest undercuts its own purity by finding strength in a malevolent violence (the readiness of "ordinary" people in The Baron of Arizona to lynch at a moment's notice), in mistrust and prejudice (unbridled racism in Run of the Arrow), or in political corruption.
Similarly, in films such as House of Bamboo, Underworld USA, and Pickup on South Street, about criminal organizations infiltrated by revenging outsiders, the narrative trajectory will begin by suggesting the moral separation of good guys and bad guys, but will then continue to demonstrate their parallelism, their interweaving, even their blurring. For example, in Underworld USA, the criminals and crimefighters resemble each other in their methods, in their cold calculation and determination, and in their bureaucratic organization. Tolly, the film's central character, may agree to map his own desire for revenge onto the crimefighters' desire to eliminate a criminal element, but the film resolutely refuses to unambiguously propagandize the public good over personal motives.
At a narrower level of group concern, Fuller's films examine the family as a force that can be nurturing but is often stifling and riddled with contradictions. Not accidentally, many of Fuller's films concentrate on childless or parentless figures: the family here is not given but something that one loses or that one has to grope towards. Often, the families that do exist are, for Fuller, like the nation-state, initially presenting an aura of innocent respectability but ultimately revealing a corruption and rotted perversity. Indeed, The Naked Kiss connects questions of political value to family value in its story of a woman discovering that her fiancé, the town's benefactor and a model citizen, is actually a child molester. Similarly, Verboten! maps the story of postwar America's self-image as benefactor to the world onto an anti-love love story. A German woman initially marrys a G.I. for financial support and then finds she really loves him, only to discover that he no longer loves her. Love, to be sure, is a redemptive promise in Fuller's films but it is run through by doubt, anger, mistrust, deception. Any reciprocity or sharing that Fuller's characters achieve comes at a great price, ranging from mental and physical pain to death. For example, in Underworld USA, Tolly is able to drop his obsessional quest and give himself emotionally to the ex-gangster's moll, Cuddles, only when he is at a point of no return that will lead him to his death. Against the possibility of love (which, if it ever comes, comes so miraculously as to call its own efficacy into doubt), Fuller's films emphasize a world where everyone is potentially an outsider and therefore a mystery and even a menace. No scene in Fuller's cinema encapsulates this better than the opening of Pickup on South Street where a filled subway car becomes the site of intrigued and intriguing glances as a group of strangers warily survey each other as potential victims and victimizers. Echoing the double-entendre of the title (the pickup is political—the passing on of a secret microfilm—as well as sexual), the opening scene shows a blending of sexual desire and aggression as a sexual come-on reveals itself to be a cover for theft, and passive passengers reveal themselves to be government agents.
In a world of distrust, where love can easily betray, the Fuller character survives either by fighting for the last vestiges of an honest, uncorrupted love (in the most optimistic of the films) or, in the more cynical cases, by displacing emotional attachment from people to ideas; to myths of masculine power in Forty Guns; to obsessions (for example, Johnny Barratt's desire in Shock Corridor to win the Pulitzer Prize even if that desire leads him to madness); to mercenary self-interest; to political or social ideals; and ultimately, to a professionalism that finally means doing nothing other than doing your job right without thinking about it. This is especially the case in Fuller's war films, which show characters driven to survive for survival's sake, existence being defined in Merrill's Marauders as "put(ting) one foot in front of the other."
Fuller's style, too, is one based on tensions: a conflict of techniques that one can read as an enactment for the spectator of Fuller themes. Fuller is both a director of rapid, abrupt, shocking montage, as in the alternating close-ups of robber and victim in I Shot Jesse James, and a director who uses extremely long takes incorporating a complex mix of camera movement and character action. Fuller's style is the opposite of graceful; his style seems to suggest that in a world where grace provides little redemption, its utilization would be a kind of lie. Thus, a stereotypically beautiful shot like the balanced image of Mount Fujiyama in House of Bamboo might seem a textbook example of the well-composed nature shot but for the fact that the mountain is framed through the outstretched legs of a murdered soldier.
—Dana B. Polan