On this day in 1912, the great independent filmmaker Samuel Fuller was born. He started his career as a journalist and soon started writing pulp novels and then in the 1930s, screenplays as a freelancer.
Apparently, Fuller wasn’t terribly impressed by what directors were doing with his screenplays. So he struck up a relationship with Robert Lippert. I’m still fascinating by how independent films got made at that time. Lippert was a major movie theater owner. So he was in a position to produce films and show them at his theaters. As long as the films were fairly cheap, he was sure to make a profit. So in 1949, he produced Fuller’s first film, I Shot Jesse James followed by The Baron of Arizona, which starred Vincent Price. But things really came together with The Steel Helmet, the first film made about the Korean War—released smack in the middle of it. (You can get The Criterion Collection The First Films of Samuel Fuller, which includes all three films.)
After the success of The Steel Helmet, Fuller was of great interest to the studios. He finally signed seven picture deal with 20th Century-Fox. His best known work was done after this period, however. This included Shock Corridor about a journalist who gets himself committed to a mental hospital to solve a murder, and The Naked Kiss about a prostitute who tries to change her life by working with handicapped kids. It’s sentimental pulp nonsense that works really, really well.
After that, he made a couple really good big-budget films: the autobiographical war film The Big Red One and White Dog. The first was highly successful but the second film was highly controversial and wasn’t released. It was thought to be racially inflammatory and the studio feared an NAACP boycott. It is understandable, but I think the group is often too timid. The conclusion of the film is that racism is not something that can be cured. My position on the matter is complicated and so I won’t go into it here.
After this, Fuller moved to France where he directed his last three films. Eventually he moved back to the United States and died at the age of 85 in Hollywood. He is well worth checking out.
Happy birthday Samuel Fuller!