The American Society of Cinematographers

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Caleb Deschanel
Presidents Desk
DVD Playback
Easy Rider
Samuel Fuller
ASC Close-Up
The Samuel Fuller Collection (1937-1961)
1.33:1 and 1.85:1
Dolby Digital Mono
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, $79.95

Before he became one of the most idiosyncratic and revered filmmakers of his generation, Samuel Fuller had two other careers: first, he was a crime reporter who covered the seamy side of urban life; then, he was a decorated soldier in World War II. The latter profession inspired many of his most famous movies, including The Steel Helmet, Fixed Bayonets and his magnum opus, The Big Red One, but Fuller’s work in the press was no less influential in shaping his directorial voice. With The Samuel Fuller Collection, Sony has collected seven pictures written and/or directed by Fuller that all, in one way or another, reflect his journalistic training and experiences. Two of the movies, Power of the Press (1943) and Scandal Sheet (1952) deal explicitly with the newspaper business, whereas the other five — It Happened in Hollywood (1937), Adventure in Sahara (1938), Shockproof (1949), The Crimson Kimono (1959) and Underworld U.S.A. (1961) — exhibit a reporter’s eye for detail and ear for dialogue.

The set kicks off with It Happened in Hollywood, a hokey but charming tale co-scripted by Fuller in which a silent movie cowboy (Richard Dix) struggles with Hollywood’s transition to sound. Although the overall thrust of the story is fairly formulaic, film industry in-jokes and expert cinematography by the legendary Joseph Walker, ASC (Frank Capra’s favored director of photography), make the picture worth a look. Another noteworthy cinematographer, Franz Planer, ASC (Roman Holiday, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea), shot Adventure in Sahara, a swiftly paced action film based on a story by Fuller. Planer’s strong contrasts and atmospheric chiaroscuro lighting perfectly express the strong moral conflicts in this tale of mutiny at a French Foreign Legion outpost.

Two more classics explore one of Fuller’s favorite subjects, the responsibility of the press.  Power of the Press (screenplay by Robert D. Andrews, story by Fuller) and Scandal Sheet (based on Fuller’s novel The Dark Page), photographed by John Stumar, ASC, and Burnett Guffey, ASC, respectively, are prescient Fuller melodramas that portray media more concerned with manufacturing and manipulating news than reporting it. Fuller’s fondness for hard-hitting stories ripped from the headlines reaches its apotheosis in two crime films he directed, The Crimson Kimono (photographed by Sam Leavitt, ASC, who lent a similarly edgy style to Anatomy of a Murder the same year) and Underworld, U.S.A. (shot by Oscar-winner Hal Mohr, ASC).  Kimono is, like most of Fuller’s movies, far ahead of its time — its treatment of an interracial love triangle is particularly daring — and Underworld, U.S.A. remains one of the most visceral and realistic mob movies ever made.

All of these movies are treasures for Fuller fans, but perhaps the most noteworthy discovery in the set is the dynamite film noir Shockproof. The film represents a collision of two diametrically opposed styles: co-writer Fuller (who shares screenplay credit with Helen Deutsch) known for his raw, gritty approach, and director Douglas Sirk, a master of Hollywood gloss. In spite of their differing sensibilities, both filmmakers’ voices are clearly evident in this story of a parole officer (Cornel Wilde) who falls for a beautiful ex-con (Patricia Knight) — the dissection of complex moral issues in an urban setting is all Fuller, and the overpowering intensity of the emotional content is beautifully conveyed by Sirk’s dense, ornate production design and hypnotic tracking shots. The director of photography is Columbia contract veteran Charles Lawton Jr., ASC, who shot more than 100 films in his career, including classics like Orson Welles’s The Lady from Shanghai and Budd Boetticher’s Ride Lonesome and Comanche Station. Lawton was a diverse craftsman capable of excellence in just about any style, and in Shockproof, he merges the angular shadows of noir with the kind of lush, glamour lighting Sirk generally preferred. The deep-focus compositions and high-contrast black-and-white photography are razor-sharp on this transfer, which perfectly captures the tonal range of Lawton’s work.  

The transfers of the other six features are solid as well although the source material on Crimson Kimono is a bit inconsistent (a minor complaint given the overall excellence of the package).  The monaural Dolby soundtracks are as crisp and clear as the images so that every Fuller wisecrack and punch lands with perfect sonic clarity. Four of the seven discs in the collection feature supplementary materials, including “Samuel Fuller, Storyteller,” an affectionate 24-minute documentary in which Fuller’s widow, Christa, and daughter, Samantha, comment on his life and work, with additional insights from filmmakers Curtis Hanson, Tim Robbins, Martin Scorsese and Wim Wenders. Robbins also contributes a seven-minute interview in which he thoughtfully analyzes Fuller’s philosophies and themes. There are additional interviews with Hanson and Scorsese as well, on The Crimson Kimono and Underworld, U.S.A., respectively.  Hanson’s nine-minute talk contextualizes Kimono within Fuller’s life and career, and Scorsese’s five-minute interview offers insights into Fuller’s visual style and his role as a genre director.

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