Sam Fuller at LACMA: Have a wild weekend with Hollywood's orginal bad-boy filmmaker
If you want to see a film that might be a tad more demanding than Will Ferrell's "The Other Guys" this weekend, head over to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which is showing a host of great films directed by Sam Fuller, Hollywood's original bad-boy filmmaker. A gruff, wise-cracking curmudgeon who probably shot a dozen films for what it cost to make "The Other Guys," Fuller would've loved the idea that his B movies were getting such top billing at a classy museum. (Showtime details are here.)
The program is called "Fuller at Fox," the studio where Fuller made many of his best films. Legend has it that when Fuller was in demand by various studios, he asked everyone what they did with the profits from their films. Nearly everyone gave the dough to the banks and their shareholders. It was Fox czar Darryl Zanuck who, when asked what he did with the cash, told Fuller, "We make better movies." So Fuller signed up with Fox for seven films, the first one being "Fixed Bayonets!," a Korean War drama that's playing tonight on a double bill with perhaps Fuller's best film, the Richard Widmark-starring "Pickup on South Street." (If you see "Fixed Bayonets!," look for an impossibly young James Dean in a small role as a soldier named Doggie.)
On Saturday, the museum is screening "House of Bamboo," Fuller's first film shot in Japan, along with "Hell and High Water," which also stars Widmark, who did some of his best work in Fuller pictures. Even though Fuller was famous for doing what he pleased on his pictures, he knew who signed his paychecks. "High Water" costars Bella Darvi, a Polish no-talent actress who got the gig because she was Zanuck's mistress.
If you're not around this weekend, there will be more classic Fuller films playing at LACMA next weekend as well. I've always had a soft spot for Fuller, not just because he did what he wanted but because he's one of the rare filmmakers that started his career as a reporter, writing crime stories for the New York Evening Graphic before moving on to pen pulp novels and screenplays. He served in the infantry during World War II, an experience that gave him a seemingly endless supply of colorful stories to put into his films.
A host of filmmakers, from Jean-Luc Godard to Quentin Tarantino and Curtis Hanson, have been loyal fans of Fuller's work over the years. His approach to moviemaking is best summed up by what he tells Jean-Paul Belmondo in Godard's "Pierre Le Fou," in which Fuller, waving his cigar as he chats with Belmondo at a cocktail party, raspily explains: "Film is a battleground. Love, hate, violence, action, death. In a word--emotion."
Here's a great fight scene from "Pickup on South Street" that gives you a glimpse of the Fuller style in action: