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Samuel Fuller

Fuller in Normandy, France in 1987
Born Samuel Michael Fuller
August 12, 1912(1912-08-12)
Worcester, Massachusetts
Died October 30, 1997 (aged 85)
Hollywood, Los Angeles, California
Occupation Director, screenwriter
Years active 1936-1994
Spouse(s) Martha Downes Fuller (?-1959)
Christa Lang (1967-1997)

Samuel Michael Fuller (August 12, 1912 – October 30, 1997) was an American screenwriter and film director known for low-budget genre movies with controversial themes.


Personal life

He was born Samuel Michael Fuller in Worcester, Massachusetts, the son of Benjamin Rabinovitch, a Jewish immigrant from Russia, and Rebecca Baum, a Jewish immigrant from Poland. After immigrating to America, the family's surname was changed from Rabinovitch to "Fuller" possibly by inspiration of a Doctor who arrived in America on the Mayflower.[1] At the age of 12, he began working in journalism as a newspaper copyboy. He became a crime reporter in New York City at age 17, working for the New York Evening Graphic. He broke the story of Jeanne Eagels' death.[2] He wrote pulp novels and screenplays from the mid-1930s onwards. Fuller also became a screenplay ghostwriter but would never tell interviewers which screenplays that he ghost-wrote explaining "that's what a ghost writer is for".[citation needed]

During World War II, Fuller joined the United States Army infantry. He was assigned to the 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, and saw heavy fighting. He was involved in landings in Africa, Sicily, and Normandy and also saw action in Belgium and Czechoslovakia. In 1945 he was present at the liberation of the German concentration camp at Falkenau and shot 16 mm footage which was used later in the documenatary Falkenau: The Impossible. For his service, he was awarded the Bronze Star, the Silver Star, and the Purple Heart.[3] Fuller used his wartime experiences as material in his films, especially in The Big Red One (1980), a nickname of the 1st Infantry Division.

After his controversial film "White Dog" was shelved by Paramount pictures, Fuller moved to France, and never directed another American film.[4][5] Fuller eventually returned to America. He died of natural causes in his California home. In November 1997, the Directors Guild held a three hour memorial in his honor, hosted by Curtis Hanson, his long time friend and co-writer on White Dog. He was survived by his wife Christa and daughter Samantha.[6]


Writing and directing

Hats Off (1936) marked Fuller's first credit as a screenwriter. Fuller wrote many screenplays throughout his career, but he is best remembered[citation needed] as a director. He was unimpressed with Douglas Sirk's direction of his Shockproof screenplay, and he accomplished the move to direction after being asked to write three films by Robert Lippert. Fuller agreed to write them if he would be allowed to direct them as well, with no extra fee for direction, to which Lippert agreed. Fuller's first film under this arrangement was I Shot Jesse James (1949) [7] followed by Baron of Arizona with Vincent Price.

Fuller's third film, The Steel Helmet, established him as a major force. One of the first films about the Korean War, he wrote it based on tales from returning Korean veterans and his own World War II experiences. The film was attacked by reporter Victor Riesel for being pro-communist and anti-American whilst another critc Westford Pedravy wrote that he was secretly fincanced by the Reds.[8] Fuller had a major argument with the US Army that provided stock footage for the film. When army officials objected to his American characters executing a prisoner of war, Fuller replied he had seen it done during his own military duty. A compromise was reached when the Lieutenant threatens the Sergeant with a court martial.

Fuller was sought by the major studios to join them. He asked each of them what they did with the profits from their films.[citation needed] All of them gave advice on tax shelters, except for Darryl F. Zanuck of 20th Century Fox, who replied "we make better movies", the answer Fuller was seeking. Zanuck signed Fuller for a contract for seven films, the first being another Korean War film, Fixed Bayonets!, in order to head off other studio competition copying The Steel Helmet. The US Army assigned Medal of Honor recipient Raymond Harvey as Fuller's technical advisor.

The proposed seventh film Tigrero, based on a book by Sasha Siemel, is the subject of 1994 a documentary by Mika Kaurismäki, Tigrero: A Film That Was Never Made, that featured Fuller and Jim Jarmusch visiting the proposed Amazon locations of the film. Film Fuller shot on that location at the time was featured in his Shock Corridor.

Fuller's favourite film was Park Row[citation needed], a story of American journalism. Zanuck had wanted to adapt it into a musical but Fuller refused.[9] Instead he started his own production company with his profits to make the film on his own. Park Row was a labor of love and served as a tribute to the journalists he knew as a newsboy. His flourishes of style on a very low budget led many critics to call the film Fuller's version of Citizen Kane.

Fuller followed this with Pickup on South Street (1953), a film noir starring Richard Widmark, which became one of his best-known films. Other films Fuller directed in the 1950s include House of Bamboo, Forty Guns, and China Gate, which led to protests from the French government and a friendship with Romain Gary. After leaving Fox, Fuller made Run of the Arrow, Verboten!, and Merrill's Marauders. In 1959 he wrote and directed the The Crimson Kimono.

Fuller's films throughout the 1950s and early 1960s generally were lower-budget genre movies that explored controversial subjects. Shock Corridor (1963) is set in a psychiatric hospital, while The Naked Kiss (1964) features a prostitute attempting to change her life by working in a pediatric ward.

Between 1967 and 1980, Fuller directed only two films, the Mexican-produced Shark (1969) and Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street (1972), which featured his wife Christa Lang. Fuller asked the Director's Guild to remove his name from the credits of Shark.[citation needed] He returned in 1980 with the epic The Big Red One, the semi-autobiographical story of a platoon of soldiers and their harrowing experiences during World War II. The film won critical praise but failed at the box office.

"Shelve the film without letting anyone see it? I was dumbfounded. It’s difficult to express the hurt of having a finished film locked away in a vault, never to be screened for an audience. It’s like someone putting your newborn baby in a goddamned maximum-security prison forever ... Moving to France for a while would alleviate some of the pain and doubt that I had to live with because of White Dog."

 —White Dog: Sam Fuller Unmuzzled, Samuel Fuller, as quoted by J Hoberman, Criterion Collection[5]

In 1981, he was selected to direct the film White Dog, based on a novel by Romain Gary.[4] The controversial film depicts the struggle of a black dog trainer trying to deprogram a "white dog," a stray that was programmed to viciously attack any black person. He readily agreed to work on the film, having focused much of his career on racial issues.[10] Already familiar with the novel and with the concept of "white dogs," he was tasked with "reconceptualizing" the film to have the conflict depicted in the book occur within the dog rather than the people.[5] He used the film as a platform to deliver an anti-racial message through the films examination of the question of whether racism is a treatable problem or an incurable disease.[4][11]

During filming, Paramount Pictures grew increasingly concerned that the film would offend African-American viewers and brought in two consultants to review the work and offer their approval on the way black characters were depicted.[5][10][12] One felt the film had no racist connotations, while the other, Willis Edwards, vice president of the Hollywood NAACP chapter, felt the film was inflammatory and should never have been made.[10] The two men provided a write-up of their views for the studio executives, which were passed to producer Jon Davison along with warnings that the studio was afraid the film would be boycotted. Fuller was not told of these discussions nor given the notes until two weeks before filming was slated to conclude. Known for being a staunch integrationist and for his regularly giving black actors non-stereotypical roles, Fuller was furious, finding studio's actions insulting. He reportedly had both representatives banned from the set afterwards, though he did integrate some of the suggested changes into the film.[10][12] After the film's completion, Paramount refused to release it, declaring that it didn't have enough earnings potential to go against the threatened NAACP boycotts and possible bad publicity.[4][5][10][13]

After Fuller's move to France, he never directed another American film. He directed two theatrical French Films, Les Voleurs de la nuit in 1984 and Street of No Return in 1989. He directed his last film, Madonne et le dragon, in 1990, and he wrote his last screenplay, Girls in Prison, in 1994.


Fuller made a cameo appearance in Jean-Luc Godard's Pierrot le fou (1965), where he famously intones: Film is like a battleground... Love, hate, action, violence, death. In one word, emotion![14] He plays a film director in Dennis Hopper's ill-fated The Last Movie (1971);[15] an Army colonel in Steven Spielberg's 1941 (1979); a war correspondent in his own The Big Red One (scene deleted in the original release, restored in the reconstructed version)[16] and a cameraman in Wim Wenders' The State of Things (1982). He portrays an American gangster in two films set in Germany: The American Friend by Wenders and Helsinki Napoli All Night Long by Mika Kaurismäki. He also appeared in Larry Cohen's A Return to Salem's Lot (1987). His last work in film was as an actor in The End of Violence (1997).

Style and theme

Fuller's work is generally included in the primitive style.[citation needed] It has been noted it is based in the narrative tabloid style of filmmaking.[17] This was the result of his often lower budgets, but also reflected Fuller's pulp-inspired writing. The dialogue in his films has been criticized by some as heavy-handed or over-the-top.

Fuller often featured marginalized characters in his films. The protagonist of Pickup on South Street is a pickpocket who keeps his beer in the East River instead of a refrigerator. Shock Corridor concerns the patients of a mental hospital. Underworld U.S.A. (1961) focuses on an orphaned victim of mobsters. The leading ladies of Pickup on South Street, China Gate, and The Naked Kiss are prostitutes. These characters sometimes find retribution for the injustices against them. White Dog and The Crimson Kimono (1959) have definite anti-racist elements. The Steel Helmet, set during the Korean War, contains dialogue about the internment of Japanese-Americans and the segregation of the American military in World War II, and features a racially mixed cast.


Although Fuller's films were not considered great cinema in their times, they gained critical respect in the late 1960s. Fuller welcomed the new-found esteem, appearing in films of other directors and associating himself with younger filmmakers.

The French New Wave claimed Fuller as a major stylistic influence.[citation needed] His visual style and rhythm were seen as distinctly American, and praised for their energetic simplicity. Martin Scorsese praised Fuller's ability to capture action through camera movement.[citation needed] Recently, Quentin Tarantino and Jim Jarmusch credited Fuller as influential upon their works.[citation needed]

In the mid-1980s, Fuller was the first international director guest at the Midnight Sun Film Festival.[18] The festival's hometown, Sodankylä, Finland, named a street "Samuel Fullerin katu", Samuel Fuller's street.

Further reading

  • Amiel, Olivier. Samuel Fuller. Paris: Henri Veyrier, 1985.
    • A detailed biography of Fuller, describing his narrative style, mise en scene, production, the critical and commercial reception of his films, and his ambitions in directing and screenwriting.
  • Dombroski, Lisa, If You Die, I'll Kill You: the Films of Samuel Fuller, Wesleyan University Press, 2008.
  • Fuller, Samuel with Christa Lang Fuller and Jerome Henry Rudes. A Third Face : My Tale of Writing, Fighting and Filmmaking. New York: A. Knopf, 2002
    • Sam Fuller's autobiography
  • Server, Lee. Sam Fuller. Film Is a Batttleground. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. 1994.
    • The Subtitle describes the contents: 'A Critical Study, with Interviews, a Filmography and a Bibliography'. Includes an extended interview with Fuller himself, and shorter reminiscences of collaborators, such as Vincent Price, Richard Widmark, Constance Towers and Robert Stack.


  1. ^ p.7 Fuller, Samuel. A Third Face. Alfred A Knopf (2002)
  2. ^ p.51 Fuller
  3. ^ Biography at
  4. ^ a b c d Kehr, Dave (November 29, 1991). "Fuller's fable `White Dog' has its day at last". Chicago Tribune: C. ISSN 1085-6706. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Hoberman, J (2008-11-28). "White Dog: Sam Fuller Unmuzzled". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 2009-01-26. 
  6. ^ Thomas, Kevin (November 24, 1997). "Celebrating Fuller to the Fullest, at Last". Los Angeles Times. p. F1. 
  7. ^ Eclipse Series 5: The First Films of Samuel Fuller from The Criterion Collection website
  8. ^ p.262 Fuller
  9. ^ Fuller, Samuel. A Third Face. Alfred A Knopf (2002)
  10. ^ a b c d e Dombrowski, Lisa (Nov/Dec2008). "Every Dog Has Its Day: The Muzzling of Samuel Fuller's White Dog". Film Comment (6): 46–49. 
  11. ^ Moran, Kim (December 12, 2008). "Movies on DVD: White Dog". Entertainment Weekly (1025): 56. ISSN 1049-0434. 
  12. ^ a b Taylor, Charles (November 2, 2008). "White Dog 1982". New York Times (New York, New York): p. MT. 16. 
  13. ^ Doherty, Thomas (August 8, 2008). "Sam the Man". The Chronicle Review 54 (48): B11. 
  14. ^ Brody, Richard (2008). Everything is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard. Metropolitan Books. pp. 246. ISBN 0-8050-6886-4. 
  15. ^ Cigars and Cinema with Sam Fuller, an interview from
  16. ^ The Big Red One a film by Samuel Fuller
  17. ^ The Narrative Tabloid of Samuel Fuller by Grant Tracey, from
  18. ^ History of the Midnight Sun Film Festival

External links

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