Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Jason goes to Noir City--Day 6

Okay, after Tuesday's enjoyable but debatable night of noir comedy, we needed a return to classic, hard-boiled noir. And who better to lead us there than Samuel Fuller? Wednesday was a double-bill of his flicks.

HOUSE OF BAMBOO (1955): Who says noir needs to be in Black and White? Who says it needs to be set in America? Not Sam Fuller, that's who! He sets this in post-war Japan, in glorious color and wide screen Cinemascope. It opens with a robbery of a U.S. Army munitions train, where several machine guns and smoke pots are stolen. Perhaps the only thing that bugged me is that while the smoke pots are used, the machine guns never are. It makes a promise of machine gun violence in the beginning, and then doesn't deliver. But it does deliver a cool story, as later the same gang makes another raid and a wounded gang member is shot by his own men--leave no one behind to become a prisoner who can talk. Then enter Eddie Spanier (Robert Stack), the fallen gang member's former army buddy, who arrives in Tokyo just two weeks later. Finding his friend dead and nowhere to go in Japan, he starts a small-time protection racket, only to quickly be roughed up by the real gangsters. In fact, it's a gang of ex-GI's, all with dishonorable discharges and more than a few spots on their records. It's run by Sandy Dawson (Robert Ryan), who takes quite a liking to Spanier, and soon Spanier is Sandy's "ichiban" (number one guy). But Spanier has his own secrets, and quite a game of cat and mouse ensues with quite an impressive finale at an amusement park. It's half hard-boiled crime noir, and half fish-out-of-water comedy, as Spanier adjusts to the strange world. His interactions with Mariko (Shirley Yamaguchi) are particularly amusing.

UNDERWORLD U.S.A. (1961): Okay, so this one is black and white, and set in the classic noir setting of...well, UNDERWORLD, U.S.A. 14 year old Tolly Devlin (David Kent) witnesses his father being beaten to death by some thugs. His dad was a criminal, and Tolly was already well on his way to being one, too. In fact, he already knows the criminal code well enough that when the investigator from the D.A.'s office asks him if he recognized the guys, he insists he ain't no snitch. Fact is, he has a long term plan. 20 years later (an now played by Cliff Robertson), he gets the names of all the guys, finds out they're three of the biggest crime lords, controlling drugs, prostitution, and labor unions in the city. And he sets out to become part of their gang and take them all down. Along the way, he of course picks up a dame, Cuddles (Dolores Dorn) who at first is just a dame (or a broad, I forget the technical distinction), but eventually...well, not to give anything away but this might have to least romantic marriage proposal ever--I loved it. And I loved this slice of American crime, revenge, and commentary on the hypocrisy of the powerful.

Total Running Time: 203
My Total Minutes: 262,561
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