Sunday, April 16, 2017
Brandon's #85: Underworld U.S.A. (Sam Fuller, 1961)
"Sam Fuller made a film as good as he talked it." That was Martin Scorsese talking about his hero on the DVD for UNDERWORLD U.S.A., the movie that I think finds him comfy in that perfect balance between nutty and in complete control. I debated using THE STEEL HELMET or MERRILL'S MARAUDERS, even PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET, FORTY GUNS, WHITE DOG, THE BIG RED ONE, THE NAKED KISS, and RUN OF THE ARROW would suffice. Fuller had many famous peers worshipping him; Godard, Truffaut, Eastwood, Wenders, Rohmer, Spielberg, and Tarantino, who dedicated JACKIE BROWN to him in 1997, the year of his death. He was one of the best, not just celebrated for his unhinged approach to everything. There is a true balance to the chaos.
Fuller was a crime reporter at 17, ten years later he was fighting in the second Great War, where he earned a Bronze Star, Silver Star, and Purple Heart. He wrote pulp novels and screenplays before directing. His movies were alive and busy. The violence was always a little horrific and even scary. The characters were damaged goods, almost always doomed. He saw it all and spared us none of it, the ugliest of us especially.
I first saw a Fuller film when I was ten, THE BIG RED ONE, where I remembered two things: Mark Hamill and some guy getting his dick blown off. I've now seen most of his work, though I'd love to give SHOCK CORRIDOR, THE NAKED KISS, and HOUSE OF BAMBOO another glance. I chose UNDERWORLD U.S.A. for now. That's the beauty of this wing-it method.
It's a revenge-driven plot, of the chilliest order. The kind where our hero befriends and betrays, gets up real close and then turns the knife. If the mob wasn't so much worse we might actually object, but these are the kind of gangsters that wipe out women and children so it's easy to relish the carnage. In the midst of such evil, you kinda need a nut like Tolly to bring balance and order back. I think I probably prefer THE STEEL HELMET so maybe we will revisit our beloved Uncle Sam.