The First Films of Samuel Fuller [3 Discs] [Criterion Collection] [DVD]

Samuel Fuller was not the sort of guy who seemed like one of America's great filmmakers -- he was a sawed-off former reporter and Army veteran whose tastes ran the stuff of pulp novels and lurid magazine fiction. But for all his roughhouse populism, Fuller was a director with a keen eye, a talent for dialogue that always rang true, a surprising social conscience and a bold vigor when it came to telling a story. Fuller directed his first three films for the low-budget studio Lippert Pictures, and the Criterion Collection has brought them to DVD as part of their Eclipse series in a three disc box set simply titled The First Films Of Samuel Fuller. The set includes two idiosyncratic dramas set in the Old West, I Shot Jesse James and The Baron of Arizona, and the powerful Korean War story The Steel Helmet, which is where Fuller's pure beef, no filler style emerges in its full flower for the first time. All three films have been transferred to disc in their original full frame aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and look excellent (especially The Baron of Arizona, which was photographed by the legendary cinematographer James Wong Howe); while Poverty Row productions of the 1940's and 50's often suffer from poorly archived elements when they emerge on DVD, the prints used for these discs look clean and well cared for, and all three films have been given transfers that make the most of the images. The audio for all three films has been mastered in Dolby Digital Mono and the quality is quite good, especially considering the vintage (and budgets) of these pictures. These films are all in English with optional English subtitles but no multiple language options. As is the custom for Eclipse releases, no bonus materials have been included for this set, though each film's slim case includes a short, well-written essay on the picture, and this certainly represents the best quality video releases of these films to date. While Samuel Fuller's work would get stronger and more audacious with time, the three pictures included in The First Films Of Samuel Fuller represent a gifted director with a powerful vision, and anyone with a taste for his work will be pleased with this set.
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The First Films of Samuel Fuller [3 Discs] [Criterion Collection] (DVD)  (Black & White)  1949 - Larger Front
  • The First Films of Samuel Fuller [3 Discs] [Criterion Collection] (DVD) (Black & White) 1949
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Overview

Synopsis

I Shot Jesse James
This dark, gloomy Western chronicles the shame and self-destruction of Bob Ford, the real-life James Gang member that murdered Jesse James for the reward money. In this fictionalized account, James (Reed Hadley) tends to Ford (John Ireland) after he is wounded during a heist. When Ford's longtime love, Cynthy (Barbara Britton), gains a new admirer, he decides that settling down and buying a farm is the only way to win her for himself. He learns that the governor issued a 10,000-dollar reward and amnesty for Jesse's murder, and, after some deliberation, shoots his savior in the back when the outlaw turns to straighten a painting. Neither the government nor Cynthy takes kindly to his treachery: Ford is jailed, collects only 500 dollars, and is dumped. He is reduced to re-enacting the infamous murder in a stage show, hearing a traveling minstrel sing about his dirty deed, and running from the would-be gunfighters that hope to kill the man who shot Jesse James. The film follows Ford's vain attempts to achieve redemption and win back Cynthia's heart. I Shot Jesse James suffered through several casting related problems. Producer Robert L. Lippert refused to hire Lawrence Tierney, director Fuller's first choice to portray Ford. Barbara Woodell replaced Ann Doran as Jesse James' wife only days before production. Lastly, casting director, Yolanda Molinari's, name was misspelled "Yolondo" in the film's opening credits, making many believe that she was a man. ~ Aubry Anne D'Arminio, Rovi

The Baron of Arizona
Samuel Fuller wrote and directed this lively drama based on the real-life adventures of James Addison Reavis, one of the most ambitious swindlers of the 19th Century. In 1871, Reavis (played by Vincent Price) began hatching an elaborate scheme to claim the Arizona territory (then three decades away from statehood) as his own. At the time, land grants established during Spanish rule of Arizona were still valid, and one rainy evening Reavis visited Pepito Peralta (Vladimir Sokoloff) and his daughter Sofia (Karen Kester) with some exciting news. While working as a real estate clerk, Reavis found documents which granted ownership of nearly the whole of the Arizona territory to one Miguel Peralta, who was named Baron of the new land by Spain's rulers, and as his heir Sofia will become Baroness when she reaches adulthood, giving her claim to the territory. After giving Pepito and Sofia money and hiring a governess (Beulah Bondi) to educate the girl in a manner befitting the Barony, Reavis sailed for Spain on business; unknown to the Peraltas, Reavis posed first as a monk and then as a gypsy in order to revise old land grant documents to conform with his story. Several years later, Reavis returned to Pepito and Sofia's home, and asked the young woman (now played by Ellen Drew) to marry him. Once wed, Reavis presented his carefully forged paperwork to the Arizona authorities which gave him and his bride royal claim to the land; however, not everyone believed Reavis's elaborate tale, and John Griff (Reed Hadley), an expert in falsified documents, was brought in to examine the evidence. The Baron of Arizona gave Vincent Price a rare leading role in a non-horror vehicle, and he cited it as one of his favorite performances on film. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi

The Steel Helmet
Writer and director Samuel Fuller enjoyed his first box-office and critical success with this hard-boiled but human tale of men at war, informed by his own experiences in the armed forces. Zack (Gene Evans) is a gruff U.S. Army sergeant who is the lone survivor of an attack on his outfit in North Korea. Rescued by a friendly Korean orphan he dubs Short Round (William Chun), Zack tries to make his way back to friendly territory with the boy as his guide. Zack crosses paths with Thompson (James Edwards), an African-American medic who like Zack narrowly escaped death after an enemy attack, and as they make their way through the jungle they encounter a platoon led by Lt. Driscoll (Steve Brodie), a humorless by-the-books type who has no use for Zack. Zack, Thompson and Driscoll's men -- among them Japanese-American "Buddhahead" Tanaka (Richard Loo), former conscientious objector Bronte (Robert Hutton) and nervous grunt Baldie (Richard Monahan) -- make their way to an abandoned Buddhist temple to set up an observation post, but they soon run afoul of the enemy. Shot in a mere ten days, with the battle scenes staged in Los Angeles' Griffith Park, The Steel Helmet captured the tension and gritty circumstances of war with commendable accuracy and Evans delivered a superb performance in his first starring role as Zack. The film proved controversial in some quarters due to scenes in which Fuller's characters discuss racism against Asians and Blacks in the United States, though the film manages to be resolutely patriotic at the same time. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi

Cast & Crew

  • Image coming soon
    Preston S. Foster - John Kelley
  • Barbara Britton
    Barbara Britton - Cynthy Waters
  • John Ireland
    John Ireland - Bob Ford
  • Reed Hadley
    Reed Hadley - Jesse James
  • J. Edward Bromberg
    J. Edward Bromberg - Kane
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