Archive for The Big Red One

Flashforwards to ‘Nam

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on August 21, 2019 by dcairns
Angkor Watt rear projection, always a good thing.

Been watching lots of Sam Fuller films and reading lots of interviews plus his autobio so now I have his voice in my head.

CHINA GATE is the one that ought, by rights, to be on the forthcoming Masters of Cinema FULLER AT FOX box set but isn’t — but we get 40 GUNS instead, an indie production shot on the Fox lot and released through that company, and that’s a better picture. Still, CHINA GATE is interesting — there aren’t many Viet Nam war movies made before the Viet Nam War officially started.

A crack squad of French Foreign Legionaires are sent on a mission to blow up a Viet Minh ammo dump, which didn’t interest me. Fuller making his hero a fairly despicable racist was sort of interesting, and making his villain more appealing in nearly every way was also a bold choice. Angie Dickinson already shows strong signs of being a Hawksian woman par excellence. But in a movie that seeks to condemn racism, it’s a bit of a handicap to have “half-Chinese” characters played by Dickinson and Lee Van Cleef. The film means well, is on the right side of the race question, but the means of production aren’t.

Speaking of which, Fuller seems to have been even more constrained by his schedule than usual. Ace editors Doane Harrison and Gene Fowler Jr. resort to blowing shots up optically to add a spurious sense of more coverage, which combines with the frequent stock shots to give the film a patched-together feel, with the grain changing from shot to shot.

My favourite bit of Fullerian madness comes when a Hungarian legionnaire wakes up in the jungle and sees a Red Army soldier standing before him, staring blankly ahead. What’s he doing here? Our man jumps up and slugs the guy, at which point he turns into Nat King Cole and hits him back.

OK, so I should explain that Nat King Cole plays one of the French Foreign Legion guys, see? Our Hungarian was having a sort of night terror / waking dream. The transformation is done with SFX: the Red Army hallucination drops out of frame when he’s socked, and when he straightens up again it’s Nat. See also the superb transformation in Bava’s SHOCK aka BEYOND THE DOOR II.

I also liked the reference to Nat having been in the Big Red One, and then an image — a decapitated Buddha — that directly anticipates the shattered crucifix Fuller uses at the opening of his masterpieciest film, THE BIG RED ONE.

Fuller is one filmmaker who can LITERALLY be called an iconoclast.

CHINA GATE stars Professor Clayton Forrester; Feathers; Sunrise Kid; Alvin Karpis; Sabata; Cheezy / Count de Roquefort; Marquis Robert de la Cheyniest; and Hannibal Chew.

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Steal from the Best

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on May 15, 2018 by dcairns

Really enjoyed James Gray’s THE LOST CITY OF Z — I’m not sure how much it amounts to, but as an impressively classical, slow-moving adventure and as a bold departure from his usual genre, it deserves praise.

Three swipes.

An abandoned boat calls to mind AGUIRRE, WRATH OF GOD, though Gray doesn’t go so far to have it wedged in the branches of a tree, hovering above the waterline. That would be too much.A WWI battlefield sports a damaged statue of Christ on the cross — clearly a nod to the opening scenes of Sam Fuller’s THE BIG RED ONE, though this figure isn’t minus an arm. Again, that would be going too far. And, when Charlie Hunnam leaves on his final mission to the jungles of Bolivia, he leans from the train window and Gray cuts to shots filmed as if from his POV, tracking rapidly through the bedrooms of his wife and children. A blatant borrowing from the ending of Fellini’s I VITELLONI, a favourite scene of mine. I’m sufficiently impressed by the cheek shown, the obscurity of the reference, and its aptness, that I’ll allow this. Though I think Fellini’s decision to use train noise throughout his sequence is superior to Gray’s choice to score the scene orchestrally.

The Madness of War

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 2, 2014 by dcairns

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An entry in Movies Silently’s super-blogathon, the Snoopathon. Subject: ESPIONAGE!

There’s an eye-opening bit in Sam Fuller’s epic war memoir, THE BIG RED ONE, where Lee Marvin’s soldiers raid a Nazi base in a Belgian insane asylum. Amid the skirmish, dazed inmates carry on eating, oblivious to the firestorm around them — an unlikely concept, given that mad people (and people with learning difficulties, who are also included in this fictitious Walloon-y bin) would be likely to be MORE upset by submachine-guns blazing away over the dinner table than even such as I. Then one inmate snatches up a gun from a fallen soldier and gleefully wastes a couple of his fellow patients, crying, “I am like you! I am sane!” And we recognize, hopefully, that Fuller has one foot planted firmly in the terrain of allegory, and is Making a Point. In a scenario where some people are peacefully eating dinner and some are shooting each other, who is crazy? And if the killers are the sane ones, how else should one prove one’s sanity?

(My dad once replaced the wiring in a mental hospital, and met a chap on his way out who had been issued a Certificate of Sanity to help him find work. My dad felt vaguely jealous. HE doesn’t have a Certificate of Sanity.)

The other most obvious films about madness and war which come to mind are CATCH 22, which is TOO obvious to discuss here, and KING OF HEARTS, which some people like but I find twee. Alan Bates and Genevieve Bujold are both lovely, but the film seeks to set war (bad) and madness (lovely) as opposites, and has to lie through its teeth to do so. Or maybe it’s just total ignorance bout mental illness, I don’t know. The point is related to Fuller’s — mad people don’t make wars — but it’s not really true, as CATCH 22 can demonstrate.

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So I had worries about Raymond Bernard’s UN AMIE VIENDRA CE SOIR… (A FRIEND WILL COME TONIGHT…) would tackle its subject, an insane asylum in the dying days of Nazi-occupied France. But, since I knew Bernard’s work from his Pathe-Natan super-productions CROIX DES BOIS and LES MISERABLES, I shouldn’t have worried. The only weaknesses in this 1946 movie are that, coming right after the war, it portrays its German characters in broadly stereotyped terms, and contains a little too much triumphal material on the heroes of the Resistance. Both those stances are broadly true and respectable, but rather simple and uninteresting dramatically — but one can see why the French would have needed to hear them in ’46.

The film’s strengths are in its unsentimental portrayal of the mad, and the crafty plotting which sees a number of imposters planted amid the staff, inmates and neighbours of the asylum. There’s a Jewish fugitive, a British parachutist, a couple of Resistance fighters, a German spy, and one Resistance leader whose true identity is known only by… but that would be telling.

The actors who may or may not be playing those roles include the great Michel Simon, in the guise of a sweet-natured innocent with Boudou beard, who rejects the existence of evil and has declared himself President of his own republic of one, and romantic Madeleine Sologne, embarking on a tentative romance with a Swiss doctor, Paul Bernard (a favourite of Jean Gremillon). Oh, and Howard Vernon, whose experience in covert shenanigans here would doubtless stand him in good stead for his future collaborations with Jesus Franco.

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The treatment of madness allows for some humour, but I think that’s permissible — the movie is quite clear that mental illness is not a delightful escape from reality, but often a torment and something which makes the sufferer unable to function socially. The treatment of war is a touch bloodless, except in the startling references to Nazi death camps and the campaign of sterilisation and extermination, preceding the war, carried out in the name of eugenics and exciting no major opposition from outside Germany, which rid the world of those whose physical and mental disabilities had them classified as “life unfit for life.”

Both the spying and deceit, and the insanity, are great excuses for Bernard to deliver up his trademark Dutch tilts, a staple of his filmmaking since at least the early 30s (LES MIS is full of them). I haven’t seen THE CHESS PLAYER (1927) so I dunno if he was leaning to the side even then, but I know it intercuts a piano recital with military activity — something repeated here.

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The movie, which I think is a great one, may also be suggesting that the strife of war will send France itself, and possibly its director in person, mad. Raymond Bernard was Jewish, and had spent the war in hiding, in fear for his life, while his father, the writer Tristan Bernard, was interned at the camp at Drancy, which ruined his health and led to his death just after this film was released.

Eclipse Series 4: Raymond Bernard (Wooden Crosses / Les Miserables) (The Criterion Collection)