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Samuel Fuller

samuel fuller, samuel fuller mayflower
Samuel Michael Fuller August 12, 1912 – October 30, 19971 was an American screenwriter, novelist, and film director known for low-budget, understated genre movies with controversial themes Fuller wrote his first screenplay for Hats Off in 1936, and made his directorial debut with the Western I Shot Jesse James 1949 He would continue to direct several other Westerns and war thrillers throughout the 1950s

Fuller shifted from Westerns and war thrillers in the 1960s with his low-budget thriller Shock Corridor in 1963, followed by the neo-noir The Naked Kiss 1964 He was inactive in filmmaking for most of the 1970s, before writing and directing the war epic The Big Red One 1980, and the experimental White Dog 1982, whose screenplay he co-wrote with Curtis Hanson


  • 1 Early life
  • 2 Career
    • 21 Writing and directing
    • 22 Acting
    • 23 Style and theme
  • 3 Death
    • 31 Legacy
  • 4 Directoral filmography
  • 5 References
  • 6 Further reading
  • 7 External links

Early lifeedit

Samuel Michael Fuller was born in Worcester, Massachusetts of Jewish parents His father, Benjamin Rabinovitch, died in 1923 when Samuel was 11 After immigrating to the United States, the family's surname was changed from Rabinovitch to Fuller, a name possibly inspired by a doctor who arrived in America on the Mayflower2 Fuller tells in his autobiography, A Third Face 2002, that he did not speak until he was five His first word was "Hammer!"3

After his father's death, the family moved to New York City where, at the age of 12, he began working in journalism as a newspaper copyboy He became a crime reporter in New York City at age 17, working for the New York Evening Graphic He broke the story of Jeanne Eagels' death4 He wrote pulp novels, including The Dark Page 1944; reissued in 2007 with an introduction by Wim Wenders,5 which was later adapted into the 1952 movie, Scandal Sheet

During World War II, Fuller joined the United States Army He was assigned as an infantryman to the 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, and saw heavy fighting He was involved in landings in Africa, Sicily, and Normandy and also saw action in Belgium and Czechoslovakia In 1945, he was present at the liberation of a German concentration camp and shot 16 mm footage, known as V-E +1, that was later integrated into the French documentary Falkenau: The Impossible 1988 In 2014, the footage was selected to the United States National Film Registry6 For his military service, Fuller was awarded the Bronze Star, the Silver Star, and the Purple Heart and reached the rank of Corporal7 Fuller used his wartime experiences as material in his films, especially in The Big Red One 1980, the nickname for the 1st Infantry Division After the war, Fuller co-authored a regimental history of the 16th Infantry8


Writing and directingedit

Hats Off 1936 marked Fuller's first credit as a screenwriter He wrote many screenplays throughout his career, such as Gangs of the Waterfront in 1945 He was unimpressed with Douglas Sirk's direction of his Shockproof screenplay, and he made the jump to writer/director after being asked to write three films by independent producer Robert Lippert Fuller agreed to write them if he would be allowed to direct them as well, with no extra fee Lippert agreed Fuller's first film under this arrangement was I Shot Jesse James 1949 followed by The Baron of Arizona with Vincent Price9

Fuller's third film, The Steel Helmet, established him as a major force The first film about the Korean War made during the war,10 he wrote it based on tales from returning Korean veterans and his own World War II experiences The film was attacked by reporter Victor Riesel for being, as Riesel saw it, "pro-Communist" and "anti-American" Critic Westford Pedravy alleged that Fuller was secretly financed by "the Reds"11 Fuller had a major argument with the US Army, which provided stock footage for the film When army officials objected to Fuller's American characters executing a prisoner of war, Fuller replied he had seen it done during his own military service A compromise was reached when the Lieutenant threatens the Sergeant with a court martial The film marked the first collaboration between Fuller and actor Gene Evans; the studio wanted a more prominent star such as John Wayne, but Fuller was adamant that Evans remain because he was impressed by his fellow veteran's authentic portrayal of a soldier12

After the success of The Steel Helmet, Fuller was sought out by the major studios He asked each of them what they did with the profits from their filmscitation needed All gave him advice on tax shelters, except for Darryl F Zanuck of 20th Century-Fox, who replied, "We make better movies," the answer Fuller was seeking Zanuck signed Fuller for a contract for seven films, the first being another Korean War film, Fixed Bayonets!, in order to head off other studio competition copying The Steel Helmet The US Army assigned Medal of Honor recipient Raymond Harvey as Fuller's technical advisor; the two struck up a long friendship during filming and Harvey later returned to advise him on Verboten!

The proposed seventh film, Tigrero, based on a book by Sasha Siemel, is the subject of a 1994 documentary by Mika Kaurismäki, Tigrero: A Film That Was Never Made, that featured Fuller and Jim Jarmusch visiting the proposed Amazon locations of the film Film that Fuller shot on that location at the time was featured in his Shock Corridor

Fuller's favorite film was Park Row, a story of American journalism13 Zanuck had wanted to adapt it into a musical but Fuller refused14 Instead, he started his own production company, with his profits to make the film on his own Park Row was a labor of love and served as a tribute to the journalists he knew as a newsboy His flourishes of style on a very low budget led critics such as Bill Krohn to compare the film to Citizen Kane

Fuller followed this with Pickup on South Street 1953, a film noir starring Richard Widmark, which became one of his best-known films Other films Fuller directed in the 1950s include House of Bamboo, Forty Guns and China Gate, which led to protests from the French government and a friendship with writer Romain Gary After leaving Fox, Fuller started his Globe Productions that made Run of the Arrow, Verboten!, and The Crimson Kimono and produced, wrote and directed a television pilot about World War II soldiers called Dogface that was not picked up15

In 1961 Warner Bros offered to finance his The Big Red One in return for his making Merrill's Marauders When Fuller had problems with Warners' editing of his film, the Big Red One fell through16

Fuller's films throughout the 1950s and early 1960s generally were lower-budget genre movies that explored controversial subjects Shock Corridor 1963 is set in a psychiatric hospital, while The Naked Kiss 1964 features a prostitute attempting to change her life by working in a pediatric ward Both films were released by Allied Artists

Between 1967 and 1980, Fuller directed only one film, the Mexican-produced Shark 1969 Fuller asked the Directors Guild to remove his name from the credits of Sharkcitation needed He returned in 1980 with the epic The Big Red One, the semi-autobiographical story of a platoon of soldiers and their harrowing experiences during World War II The film won critical praise but failed at the box office

"Shelve the film without letting anyone see it I was dumbfounded It's difficult to express the hurt of having a finished film locked away in a vault, never to be screened for an audience It's like someone putting your newborn baby in a goddamned maximum-security prison forever Moving to France for a while would alleviate some of the pain and doubt that I had to live with because of White Dog"

 —White Dog: Sam Fuller Unmuzzled, Samuel Fuller, as quoted by J Hoberman, Criterion Collection17

In 1981, he was selected to direct the film White Dog, based on a novel by Romain Gary18 The controversial film depicts the struggle of a black dog trainer trying to de-program a "white dog," a stray that was programmed to viciously attack any black person He readily agreed to work on the film, having focused much of his career on racial issues19 Already familiar with the novel and with the concept of "white dogs," he was tasked with "reconceptualizing" the film to have the conflict depicted in the book occur within the dog rather than the people17 He used the film as a platform to deliver an anti-racist message through the film's examination of the question of whether racism is a treatable problem or an incurable disease1820

During filming, Paramount Pictures grew increasingly concerned that the film would offend African-American viewers and brought in two consultants to review the work and offer their approval on the way black characters were depicted171921 One felt the film had no racist connotations, while the other, Willis Edwards, vice president of the Hollywood NAACP chapter, felt the film was inflammatory and should never have been made19 The two men provided a write-up of their views for the studio executives, which were passed to producer Jon Davison along with warnings that the studio was afraid the film would be boycotted Fuller was not told of these discussions nor given the notes until two weeks before filming was slated to conclude Known for being a staunch integrationist and for his regularly giving black actors non-stereotypical roles, Fuller was furious, finding the studio's actions insulting He reportedly had both representatives banned from the set afterwards, though he did integrate some of the suggested changes into the film1921 After the film's completion Paramount refused to release it, declaring that it didn't have enough earnings potential to go against the threatened NAACP boycotts and possible bad publicity17181922

After his controversial film White Dog was shelved by Paramount Pictures, Fuller moved to France and never directed another American film1718 He directed two theatrical French films, Les Voleurs de la nuit in 1984 and Street of No Return in 1989 Les Voleurs de la nuit was entered into the 34th Berlin International Film Festival23 He directed his last film, The Madonna and the Dragon, in 1990, and he wrote his last screenplay, Girls in Prison, in 1994

With his wife, Christa Lang, and Jerry Rudes, Fuller wrote an autobiography A Third Face published in 2002 This was the culmination of a long career as an author Among his books are the novels Test Tube Baby 1936, Make Up and Kiss 1938 and The Dark Page 1944; novelizations of his films The Naked Kiss 1964 and The Big Red One 1980; reissued 2005; and 144 Piccadilly 1971 and Quint's World 1988 A book-length interview of Fuller by Jean Narboni and Noel Simsolo, Il etait une fois Samuel Fuller with a preface by Martin Scorsese appeared in 1986


Fuller made a cameo appearance in Jean-Luc Godard's Pierrot le Fou 1965, where he famously intones: Film is like a battleground Love, hate, action, violence, death In one word, emotion!24 He also made a cameo appearance at an outdoor cafe in Luc Moullet's Brigitte et Brigitte 1966 along with French New Wave directors Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer and André Téchiné He plays a film director in Dennis Hopper's ill-fated The Last Movie 1971;25 an Army colonel in Steven Spielberg's 1941 1979; a war correspondent in his film The Big Red One scene deleted in the original release, restored in the reconstructed version,26 a talent agent in his film White Dog 1981, and a cameraman in Wim Wenders' The State of Things 1982 He portrays an American gangster in two films set in Germany: The American Friend by Wenders and Helsinki Napoli All Night Long by Mika Kaurismäki He also appeared in Larry Cohen's A Return to Salem's Lot 1987, and played a businessman in "La Vie de Bohème" 1992 by Aki Kaurismäki His last work in film was as an actor in The End of Violence 1997 A photo of Fuller also appears on one of the mirrors of a stripper in his Shock Corridor

Style and themeedit

Fuller's work has been described as primitive by Luc Moullet and by the influential American critics Manny Farber and Andrew Sarris27 Grant Tracey has used the term "narrative tabloid" to refer to Fuller's style of filmmaking28 This was the result of his often lower budgets, but also reflected Fuller's pulp-inspired writing

Fuller was known for using intense close-ups, off centered framings, and shock editing in many of his films, which were often about men facing death in combat These scenes were both violent and tragic22 Fuller often featured marginalized characters in his films The protagonist of Pickup on South Street is a pickpocket who keeps his beer in the East River instead of a refrigerator Shock Corridor concerns the patients of a mental hospital Underworld USA 1961 focuses on an orphaned victim of mobsters The leading ladies of Pickup on South Street, China Gate, and The Naked Kiss are prostitutes These characters sometimes find retribution for the injustices against them White Dog and The Crimson Kimono 1959 have definite anti-racist elements The Steel Helmet, set during the Korean War, contains dialogue about the internment of Japanese-Americans and the segregation of the American military in World War II, and features a racially mixed cast

A number of Fuller's films, including The Naked Kiss, The Baron of Arizona, Shockproof, House of Bamboo, Forty Guns and The Big Red One, feature a leading character with the same name, Griff


Fuller returned to America in the late 1980s, and resided in Los Angeles until his death He died of natural causes in his California home In November 1997 the Directors Guild held a three-hour memorial in his honor, hosted by Curtis Hanson, his longtime friend and co-writer on White Dog He was survived by his wife Christa and daughter Samantha29


Although Fuller's films were not considered great cinema in their times, they gained critical respect in the late 1960s Fuller welcomed the new-found esteem, appearing in films of other directors and associating himself with younger filmmakers

The French New Wave claimed Fuller as a major stylistic influence,30 especially Luc Moullet31 His visual style and rhythm were seen as distinctly American, and praised for their energetic simplicity Martin Scorsese praised Fuller's ability to capture action through camera movementcitation needed In the 1996 documentary The Typewriter, the Rifle & the Movie Camera Quentin Tarantino and Jim Jarmusch credited Fuller as influential upon their works32 Most recently, his wife Christa Lang produced a documentary directed by their daughter Samantha about him A Fuller Life uses footage he captured himself with celebrities such as James Franco reading from his autobiography33

In the mid-1980s, Fuller was the first international director guest at the Midnight Sun Film Festival34 The festival's hometown, Sodankylä, Finland, named a street "Samuel Fullerin katu," Samuel Fuller's street

The moving image collection of Samuel Fuller is housed at the Academy Film Archive35 The Academy Film Archive has preserved several of Samuel Fuller's films, including "The Crimson Kimono," Underworld USA," and "Pickup On South Street"36

Directoral filmographyedit

This list of feature films directed by Fuller is believed to be complete

  • I Shot Jesse James 1949
  • The Baron of Arizona 1950
  • The Steel Helmet 1951
  • Fixed Bayonets! 1951
  • Park Row 1952
  • Pickup on South Street 1953
  • Hell and High Water 1954
  • House of Bamboo 1955
  • China Gate 1957
  • Run of the Arrow 1957
  • Forty Guns 1957
  • Verboten! 1959
  • The Crimson Kimono 1959
  • Underworld USA 1961
  • Merrill's Marauders 1962
  • Shock Corridor 1963
  • The Naked Kiss 1964
  • Shark! 1969
  • Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street 1973
  • The Big Red One 1980
  • White Dog 1982
  • Thieves After Dark 1984
  • Street of No Return 1989
  • The Madonna and the Dragon 1990
  • The Big Red One: The Reconstruction 2004


  1. ^ Samuel Fuller, with Christa Fuller and Jerome Rudes, A Third Face: My Tale of Writing, Fighting, and Filmmaking Hal Leonard Corporation, 2002 p7
  2. ^ p7 Fuller, Samuel A Third Face Alfred A Knopf 2002
  3. ^ Liukkonen, Petri "Samuel Fuller" Books and Writers kirjastoscifi Finland: Kuusankoski Public Library Archived from the original on 10 February 2015 
  4. ^ p51 Fuller
  5. ^ "Library of Congress LCCN Permalink for 44009240" locgov 
  6. ^ "Cinematic Treasures Named To National Film Registry" Library of Congress 17 December 2014 Retrieved 3 January 2017 
  7. ^ Biography at Litwebnet
  8. ^ http://warchroniclecom/16th_infantry/historiantales_wwii/16th_Infantry_1798_1946/ChapterIpdfbcsi_scan_d20c301d7a026bb4=0&bcsi_scan_filename=ChapterIpdf
  9. ^ Eclipse Series 5: The First Films of Samuel Fuller from The Criterion Collection website
  10. ^ The Men Who Made the Movies: Sam Fuller, Turner Classic Movies 2002
  11. ^ p262 Fuller
  12. ^ Fuller, Samuel A Third Face 2002: Alfred A Knopf
  13. ^ Schick, Elizabeth A December 1998 Current Biography Yearbook 1999 HW Wilson p 641 ISBN 978-0-8242-0957-5 Retrieved April 12, 2011 
  14. ^ Fuller, Samuel A Third Face Alfred A Knopf 2002
  15. ^ p120 Dombrowski, Lisa The Films of Samuel Fuller: If You Die, I'll Kill You Wesleyan University Press, March 31, 2008
  16. ^ p 142 Dobrowski
  17. ^ a b c d e Hoberman, J November 28, 2008 "White Dog: Sam Fuller Unmuzzled" The Criterion Collection Retrieved January 26, 2009 
  18. ^ a b c d Kehr, Dave November 29, 1991 "Fuller's fable 'White Dog' has its day at last" Chicago Tribune: C ISSN 1085-6706 
  19. ^ a b c d e Dombrowski, Lisa Nov–Dec 2008 "Every Dog Has Its Day: The Muzzling of Samuel Fuller's White Dog" Film Comment 44 6: 46–49 
  20. ^ Moran, Kim December 12, 2008 "Movies on DVD: White Dog" Entertainment Weekly 1025: 56 ISSN 1049-0434 
  21. ^ a b Taylor, Charles November 2, 2008 "White Dog 1982" New York Times New York City: MT 16 
  22. ^ a b Doherty, Thomas August 8, 2008 "Sam the Man" The Chronicle Review 54 48: B11 
  23. ^ "Berlinale: 1984 Programme" berlinalede Retrieved January 4, 2011 
  24. ^ Brody, Richard 2008 Everything is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-LucGodard Metropolitan Books p 246 ISBN 0-8050-6886-4 
  25. ^ Cigars and Cinema with Sam Fuller, an interview from geraldpearycom
  26. ^ The Big Red One a film by Samuel Fuller
  27. ^ Dombrowski, Lisa 2008 If You Die, I'll Kill You: the Films of Samuel Fuller Wesleyan University Press p 8 
  28. ^ The Narrative Tabloid of Samuel Fuller by Grant Tracey, from imagesjournalcom
  29. ^ Thomas, Kevin November 24, 1997 "Celebrating Fuller to the Fullest, at Last" Los Angeles Times p F1 
  30. ^ Scope Book Review Michael Brian Faucette
  31. ^ Moullet, Luc "Sam Fuller-sur les brisees de Marlowe" Cahiers du Cinema93, March 1959
  32. ^ MrBlonde-22 June 28, 1996 "The Typewriter, the Rifle & the Movie Camera 1996" IMDb 
  33. ^ "The Soapbox Office Podcast: Episode 2: Bowling For Tigrero" wwwsoapboxofficecom Retrieved 2016-06-28 
  34. ^ History of the Midnight Sun Film Festival
  35. ^ "Sam Fuller Collection" Academy Film Archive 
  36. ^ "Preserved Projects" Academy Film Archive 

Further readingedit

  • Amiel, Olivier Samuel Fuller Paris: Henri Veyrier, 1985
    • A detailed biography of Fuller, describing his narrative style, mise en scene, production, the critical and commercial reception of his films, and his ambitions in directing and screenwriting
  • Dombroski, Lisa, If You Die, I'll Kill You: the Films of Samuel Fuller, Wesleyan University Press, 2008
  • Fuller, Samuel with Christa Lang Fuller and Jerome Henry Rudes A Third Face : My Tale of Writing, Fighting and Filmmaking New York: A Knopf, 2002
    • Sam Fuller's autobiography
  • Server, Lee Sam Fuller Film Is a Battleground Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc 1994
    • The Subtitle describes the contents: 'A Critical Study, with Interviews, a Filmography and a Bibliography' Includes an extended interview with Fuller himself, and shorter reminiscences of collaborators, such as Vincent Price, Richard Widmark, Constance Towers and Robert Stack

External linksedit

  • Biography portal
  • United States Army portal
  • Samuel Fuller on Internet Movie Database
  • American Film Institute interview from fathomcom
  • Jonathan Rosenbaum interview
  • Foco - Revista de Cinema, special edition devoted to Samuel Fuller
  • Article – Portuguese Magazine
  • Cinema's Beautiful Blowhard, Appreciation of Fuller by Meakin Armstrong in Guernica Magazine

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