Samuel Fuller | I Shot Jesse James | Pickup on South Street | Verboten! | The Crimson Kimono | The Virginian: It Tolls for Thee | Shock Corridor | Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street | The Big Red One

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Samuel Fuller

Samuel Fuller is an American writer-director of films, and a novelist. For a discussion of his prose fiction, see here. His thriller novel Crown of India (1966) is especially good.

Common subjects in Fuller:

Villains: Information: Camera movement: Visual style:

I Shot Jesse James

I Shot Jesse James (1949) is the first film directed by Samuel Fuller.

I Shot Jesse James shows the influence of The Informer (John Ford, 1935), one of most acclaimed American films during its time. Both tell the story of a man who informs on his best friend, for money that he hopes will buy him a romantic future with a woman. In both, the informer protagonist is more animal-like and naive than conventional people. Both also co-star Preston Foster, who offers a contrasting good guy character opposed to the flawed hero.

Architecture

John Ireland is often photographed against unusual architectural constructions, throughout the movie: All of this architecture gives his character a unique presence. He is always being seen in complex, unusual locales, different from typical architecture. Outdoors, Ireland is shown riding against strange rock formations, on his trips to and from Jesse's farmhouse.

Jesse has his own unusual background: he is often photographed against the strange wall of the living room. This wall is full of strong horizontal lines - it looks different from most cinema sets in other movies. In front of the wall, behind Jesse, there are unusual curved objects, such as lamps. And also rectangular objects, like the fatal picture. Later, in Shock Corridor, Fuller will have the characters draw directly on the wall. The shapes behind Jesse are not quite as strange as the asylum pictures, but they are still both surreal and memorably geometric.

The hotel room, essentially created by the hero for his girlfriend, is also unusual. It has flower wallpaper, and the hero is shown filling it with flowers. Here, too, what is on the walls (pictures of flowers on the wallpaper), echoes what is in the room.

At the end, the hero is shown against a different kind of background. He is swallowed up in darkness, before the duel. This is a remarkable image. It is also a portrait of a man, who has so often been photographed against a complex architectural setting.

Architecture - and Joseph H. Lewis

Several architectural motifs in I Shot Jesse James echo the films of Joseph H. Lewis. Netted curtains, peaked roofs, staging through windows, alcoves, bank teller cages, jail cells with bars, camera movement staging on staircases: all are common in the films of Lewis. All of these motifs appear in Lewis, before Fuller. (Although the precise type of netted curtain in I Shot Jesse James only starts appearing in Lewis' TV shows of the 1960's.) The hero's gun fascination, in his joy at being given a gun by Jesse, also eerily echoes the gun obsessions of Lewis characters: see Gun Crazy and many other Lewis works.

It is hard to tell if all this is simply a coincidence. These could simply reflect a common steeping in Western film traditions.

The Crimson Kimono has a moving camera shot, which starts outdoors with the characters, and pulls back to bring the view inside a building. Such shots linking outdoors and inside are a Lewis trademark.

Underworld U.S.A. also echoes some of Lewis' gangster movies. The determined feds who use adding machines recall the Treasury investigators in Lewis' The Undercover Man (1949). That film also features a bookkeeper who wants to testify against the mob, and another witness with a little girl. And Lewis' The Big Combo (1955) contains a mobster's hidden room, a bit like the sliding doors to the mob room in Underworld U.S.A..

An Outsider

Bob Ford (John Ireland) acts and looks different from the other characters in the film. For most of the movie, he is the only man not in a tie. And the only one in cowboy gear, rather than in a Western suit. This makes him both look more glamorous and attractive - but also like a man who is completely disconnected from society. Everyone else has a stake in normal living - but Bob Ford is an outsider. His hair is also unkempt. He uses bad grammar, unlike everyone else.

Ireland also engages in impetuous action. He leaps over the guard rail at the bank. Later, he bursts into the room, and pulls out a drawer.

Ford is a strange mixture of virility, and outsider status.

Plot Echoes

The murder is echoed four times, in later scenes of the film: The last two scenes show the hero trying to reverse his earlier course. They allow him redemption from his earlier actions: scenes where he does the exact opposite of his killing of Jesse.

Ford's shooting in the last two scenes eerily echoes his killing of Jesse: but in both scenes, it saves lives, instead. These scenes allow him to use his shooting skills. They suggest that there is a good side to the hero's aggressive nature - properly guided, it can be employed to help people. Bob Ford is an unusual force throughout the film, representing aggressive, animal-like principles that the other characters are too civilized (or conformist) to embody.

Fuller shows great imagination with the plotting of all four of these scenes. Their many echoes and reversals of earlier scenes show master craftsmanship in plotting. Such complex plotting is a Fuller trademark.

The Minstrel

The minstrel sings a song about a man's personal life, to a public audience containing that man. In this, I Shot Jesse James recalls I Walked With a Zombie (Jacques Tourneur, 1943).

Pickup on South Street

A Film noir?

Is Samuel Fuller's Pickup on South Street (1954) a film noir? One might point out that it was made after the main heyday of noir, although major noir films were still being made. The film involves international Communism and espionage, and this is also very different from the crime backgrounds of most noirs. Fuller is staunchly anti-Communist, and this gives a moral dimension to the film that is absent from most noir. The characters, especially the women, struggle heroically to prevent weapons secrets from falling into the hands of the Communists. This sort of moral point is simply not in most noir film's world view. They tend to take place with purely criminal matters in a world without much transcendent moral purpose.

For another, none of the women in the film are femme fatales. The glamorous looking heroine turns out to be the main male character's redeemer, not his destroyer. No one seems emotionally obsessed, and no romantic passion leads to death.

If the term "film noir" simply refers to any black and white non-whodunit crime film made in Hollywood in the 1940's and 1950's, then Fuller's film is automatically a film noir. Otherwise, one might point out that Fuller's work does not fall into standard aspects of noir themes or style. His work seems very different from true film noir. Fuller rarely uses the extreme angle photography found in Fritz Lang or Robert Siodmak. Night scenes do not involve high contrast.

Title

The title of this film echoes Raymond Chandler's prose mystery tale "Pickup on Noon Street" (1936). Later, Fuller will also create Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street (1972), so he likes this form of title.

Such street titles were also a feature of the semi-documentary film noir, such as Henry Hathaway's The House on 92nd Street (1945). That film, like Fuller's, deals with foreign spies trying to uncover important weapons secrets in New York City; in both, FBI agents try to counteract them.

Plot Echoes

Pickup on South Street is not as rich in plot echoes as I Shot Jesse James, where the murder is endlessly replayed. But it does open and close with parallel pickpocket scenes on a subway train. There are also two scenes in Moe's room, where people try to get information about the hero from her.

Plot Links to Other Fuller Films

The protagonist of Pickup on South Street is a crook, one who often performs unsympathetic acts. This echoes the criminal hero of I Shot Jesse James, and looks forward to the schemer of Shock Corridor.

The milieu of Pickup on South Street, the main setting of the underworld contrasted with views of the police, will recur in Underworld U.S.A.. Both films will show police conferences, at which high level strategy is discussed.

The villain is presented with a gun by his sinister superiors, in Pickup on South Street. In I Shot Jesse James, the hero is given a gift of a gun by Jesse. Both scenes ominously forecast violence.

Architecture

Characters in Pickup on South Street are often photographed against complex constructions: In Pickup on South Street numerous characters are photographed against such backgrounds: Hero, heroine, Moe. In this it differs from I Shot Jesse James, in which the hero was the only character associated with complex architecture.

Also unusual in Pickup on South Street are the two "elevators": the box with the beer at the shack, and the dumb waiter at the apartment.

Overhead Shots

Pickup on South Street includes a number of overhead shots. These tend to be steeply vertical, looking straight down on the setting below.

The dumb waiter scene is also shot vertically: but this time looking straight up, from below.

Suspense in the Men's Room

The subway men's room, recalls earlier semi-documentary crime films, which have suspense sequences in men's rooms: All of these films feature encounters between the hero and criminals in the men's room. The gleaming subway rest room in Fuller, seems brighter, better lit, more public and cleaner than those of its ancestors.

Characters

Moe is one of a number of older women characters in Fuller, who are tough, street smart, comic, and who have a quasi-maternal relationship with the hero. Moe's room is full of ties, like the dolls that decorate the home of the similar character in Underworld U.S.A..

Jay Loft-Lyn's microfilm clerk at the library, is notable as a non-stereotyped black character, at a fairly early date. (One might note that such microfilm machines are still being used in libraries in the 2000's; I have spent hundreds of hours reading microfilmed comics in them.)

The informer Lightning Louie anticipates Pagliacci in Shock Corridor. At least, they are both similar physical types.


Verboten!

Verboten! (1959) looks at the American Occupation of Germany in 1945.

Park Row: Links

Verboten! has links to Park Row, Fuller's hymn to the early days of newspapers. The American Headquarters good guys, and the Neo-Nazi bad guys, remind one of the good and bad newspapers in Park Row: Newspapers are seen as the foundation of Democracy in Park Row. So it is not too surprising that Fuller in Verboten! presents the struggle between Dictatorship and Democracy in the same light.

Evil Protests

In many films, protests tend to be both for liberal causes, such as Civil Rights, and also viewed sympathetically by the film. But in Samuel Fuller, protests sometimes are for evil ends, and viewed negatively by the director. Case in point: The Neo-Nazis protesting against the Americans in Verboten!. This anticipates the sinister pro-Hitler protest shown and condemned in The Big Red One. And also the anti-Civil Rights protestor in the asylum in Shock Corridor.

The protest leads to one of the political debates that run through Fuller. Here, the hero gives a full exposition of the American point of view.

Marching

Fuller films contain images of weary, marching foot-soldiers: see Merrill's Marauders. In Verboten!, we see an exhausted German soldier walking home after the war.

The American veteran hero has leg trouble, and walks with a cane. This recalls China Gate, and the horrible foot trap that attacks a marching soldier.

Camera Movement and What It Reveals

The heroine is first discovered unexpectedly, in a camera movement that sweeps around the train car. This shot is perhaps linked to shots in other Fuller, in which women are shown to be unexpectedly present in scenes, through camera movements that reveal them.

When the meeting between the mayor and the US Army Captain ends, the camera pulls back to reveal that the hero and the Neo-Nazi villain had also been present. The audience does not know this before. This too has some similarities with the "women unexpectedly present" camera movements in other Fuller.


The Crimson Kimono

This excellent film shows several of Fuller's strong points as a filmmaker: These are recurrent elements in Fuller's best films.

It is also typical of Fuller's best work, in that he wrote the screenplay himself, and that that the film was self-initiated project. Such films tend to be more creative than the commissioned projects Fuller did for Fox, for example, which often have screenplays written by others.

The film has links to Fuller's Underworld U.S.A.:

The film has links to Fuller's Shock Corridor:

Visual Style

Much of The Crimson Kimono involves three distinct kinds of shots: frontal spectacle shots, camera movement, and dialogue shots.

All three types of shots are often constructed frontally. This same frontal approach was sometimes used by Edward L. Cahn.

1) Spectacle shots include the targeting of the heroine at the sorority house near the start; and the shots of the paraders at the very end, after the killer has been captured. These are shots of purely visual interest, often of groups of people or objects without motion. They tend to be prettily composed. When Fuller wants to show a spectacle, he often shoots it from the front, with the spectacle parallel to the plane of the frame.

2) The camera movements are related in technique to the spectacle shots, although they are also far more complex. Camera movements often begin or end with such a frontal spectacle shot. Or have such a shot in the middle.

Camera movement tends to be complex. The shots are held for a fairly long time. They often involve the movements of characters: entering a room, crossing a street, chasing a crook. They are ingeniously put together. In fact, most of them can be considered as art objects, separate, jewel like shots designed to please with their imagination. Camera movement is not a continuous commentary on action throughout, as it is, say, in Max Ophuls' final films, or in Otto Preminger's Fallen Angel.

Some camera movements tend to start out frontally, then move straight backward, towards the viewer. This preserves the frontality of the shot. Examples: the mid section of the early "cross the street" shot. After the initial pan, the camera is parallel to both the street and the big building. Then the camera moves backward, keeping itself still parallel to the building and the street.

A shot at the police station follows one officer deeper and deeper into a room, where the heroine is studying mug shots. The shot keeps revealing more and more of the grid of pictures and posters on the wall behind. The many different views of this wall, all with more and more of its beautiful rectilinear grid in view, in one of the most beautiful in the film. It is like a Mondrian in motion.

The most amazing camera movement shot in the film is the doll show. The camera keeps moving backward, showing more and more of the doll show, as the actors move around in intricate patterns. This is a triumph of visual complexity. This is like the shot at the police station with the wall grid, but even more complex.

Fuller does sometimes use high level angles in his spectacle shots or camera movements. This especially true in the shot of the street leading to the temple, and in the doll show. These have the effect of suggesting a map of the street, and a floor plan diagram of the doll show. Even here, this high level angle creates a harmonious sort of visual beauty, combined with a clear, logical overview of the area. There is no attempt to make a baroque, or disorienting view, as in so much extreme-angle photography in noir.

Other camera movements are at eye level. Fuller is very happy to shoot them this way. The movement of the camera is key here, not some extreme angle.

When Corbett and Fuller encounter a staircase, Fuller does not shoot up it at baroque angles, as nearly all noir directors would do. Instead, his camera gracefully follows Corbett up the stairs, in a beautiful and exciting rising camera movement. Once again, the camera movement is a gorgeous and imaginative spectacle. It is not a trigger for noir tilted-angled, architecturally-centered compositions.

None of the camera movements in The Crimson Kimono are as long or elaborate as the ten minute take in Forty Guns. But they share a similar aesthetic, emphasizing spectacle, ingenuity of staging, and a graceful visual moving camera visual style. These are distinct set pieces, viewed in some ways by Fuller as independent art objects within the over all matrix of the film.

3) Dialogue shots tend to be frontal as well. They tend to be very plain, visually. Fuller will arrange his actors in a plane, set the camera up directly in front of them, and shoot their dialogue. He usually does not try to create some brilliant composition. Or make any special emphasis on architecture. Characters in Fritz Lang are often deeply embedded in a composition deriving from the architecture. Much of film noir has followed this Lang tradition: Anthony Mann, Robert Siodmak, Robert Aldrich, Orson Welles, Joseph Losey, for example. Fuller's complete avoidance of this tradition is one reason that The Crimson Kimono looks so much unlike mainstream film noir.

Fuller does not tilt his camera very much in dialogue shots. This is also different from much of film noir.

The S-Shapes

Some of the compositions in the film involve S-shapes. A shot, showing City Hall reflected in a store window in Little Tokyo, has S-shaped regions surrounding the plate glass with the reflection. This shot is one of Fuller's cleverest compositions linking City Hall and the Japanese district in Los Angeles.

Much of the camera movement at the doll show (the highlight of the film) can be described as S-shapes. The camera keeps framing the corridors at the show, together with "empty" wall space framing the characters, as S-forms. These S-shaped regions are the spaces occupied by the characters, while the tables with dolls around them block out the regions outside the S. Fuller shows great ingenuity, in constantly discovering or creating new S-shaped regions, as he moves his camera around at the show.


The Virginian: It Tolls for Thee

It Tolls for Thee (1962) is an episode of the television Western series, The Virginian. Around 75 minutes long, it is of the length of many feature films. It Tolls for Thee is pleasant enough, but never becomes any sort of major Fuller.

Visual Style

The show is nicely filmed in color. The brilliantly colored red costumes of Pippa Scott and James Drury are notable.

There is a good camera movement, as Pippa Scott in her flamboyant red dress moves through various rooms of the party. The shot turns a right-angle corner, in its middle.

Shots show the world as if seen through binoculars. The screen is masked off, as if in a silent film. This is a common effect in the films of Raoul Walsh. It also recalls the view in Fuller's Forty Guns. The last such shot has the masking border suddenly widen out, till it disappears in the edges of the frame, and we are back to a full, ordinary image. It is a somewhat surprising transition. We think we are watching the world through binoculars, a diegetic effect - and all of a sudden, we are in an abstract film transition, a non-diegetic figure of style.

SPOILERS AHEAD.

Journalism

The best parts of It Tolls for Thee occur in the first half hour. These include a look at early US journalism, with a focus on the Western US. These scenes seem like a direct supplement to Fuller's earlier look at the great history of the newspaper in Park Row. They also include a woman newspaper publisher, also like Park Row. Newsprint supplies arrive at the train station, but unlike Park Row, they are not hijacked. These sections are far from any sort of masterpiece, but they are gripping and enjoyable. Unfortunately, Fuller largely drops this subject after the mid-point of It Tolls for Thee.

Links to I Shot Jesse James

Also nice in the early sections: people getting ready for a big party. This includes a "cowboy taking a bath while visiting with other cowboys" scene: a direct echo of I Shot Jesse James. These scenes are as light and comic as I Shot Jesse James was tense and tragic. Still, they add nice touches to the film. There is also a comic song about one of the cowboys, sung to his face: a comic echo of the classic ballad sequence in I Shot Jesse James, also sung to the hero's face.

Unfortunately, most of the rest of the show is taken up by a kidnapping and chase plot. This story-line has little inherent interest. There is an interesting if brief encounter with a banker, which also seems like a mild, cheerful variant of the bank robbery in I Shot Jesse James.

The Debate

Fuller jazzes the second half up with philosophical debates between his learned-yet-rotten criminal mastermind (Lee Marvin, no less), and kidnapped judge Lee J. Cobb. Fuller tries to give Marvin's outlaw a complex backstory and some decent philosophical dialogue. But none of this is actually compelling or first rate. The skills of Fuller and his actors make this mildly interesting, but it never achieves real substance.

The subject of the debates is violence, and whether it is justifiable. This is certainly an important topic: It Tolls for Thee was made right in the middle of the non-violent Civil Rights revolution of Martin Luther King. However, Fuller's discussion never goes very deep. We keep hearing the judge is a hypocrite, because he allegedly has violence in his empire-building past. But we never learn of what said violence consisted. It might be as harmless as shooting an outlaw gang, or serious as murder of farmers and seizing their land. Who knows? This gives the whole discussion an abstract quality, bereft of any concrete actions to evaluate.

In any case, Fuller never breaches the subject of non-violent resistance. He only discusses "violence".

Mastermind: Links to House of Bamboo

Marvin's criminal mastermind recalls Robert Ryan and his gang in House of Bamboo, as does the violent discipline he inflicts on his men. Both film's masterminds have elaborate criminal schemes, perfectly executed. Marvin also shoots a man in the back, recalling I Shot Jesse James.

Shock Corridor

I Shot Jesse James: Links

Shock Corridor (1963) has a number of links with Fuller's first feature, I Shot Jesse James. Both films:

Underworld U.S.A.: Links

Plot germs for Shock Corridor can also be found in Fuller's Underworld U.S.A. (1961). In that film, the hero goes looking for a witness to his father's murder - inside a prison hospital. The hospital resembles the insane asylum in Shock Corridor. We also see the dormitories in both the prison and an earlier reform school: which resemble the dorms and beds in Shock Corridor.

The hero of Underworld U.S.A. finds the witness, and gets the truth about his father's murder - quite like the three witnesses Johnny interrogates in Shock Corridor.

The "threeness" of the plot in Shock Corridor has an antecedent in Underworld U.S.A.: the hero learns there are three murderers. From this point on, the hero has to hunt down and attack thre three killers: just as the plot skeleton of Shock Corridor has the hero hunting down three witnesses.

Plot "Flaws"

The two main plot premises of Shock Corridor are flawed (at least by conventional standards of believability): Paradoxically, the flaws in Shock Corridor actually benefit the picture. For one thing, they give the film originality. You've never seen anything like this before.

For another, they remove any sense of guilt from the protagonist. Unlike Bob Ford in I Shot Jesse James, the reporter in Shock Corridor has done nothing wrong.

Characters

Dr. Cristo's characterization seems modeled on Richard Widmark's character in The Cobweb (Vincente Minnelli, 1955). Both are head psychiatrists of mental institutions, both treat young men patients. Both are portrayed as highly competent, yet ultimately confused. Both are strongly macho men, who seem to be challenging their patients man-to-man, to start accepting reality, as part of their treatment. Both seem like experts, yet also as "real men" as the era saw them, regular guys who have no pretense. Both are explicitly family men, with wives and children.

Pagliacci can't sing worth a darn. His character recalls some real life "singers" who were famous for inadvertently mangling opera, such as Florence Foster Jenkins. The actor must have worked long and hard, to get this "bad". Peter Breck shows himself competent at carrying a tune, in his one brief performance of an aria. This makes an odd contrast.

Hari Rhodes gives one of the best performances. His speeches draw on a long tradition of black oratory, both political, and in the church.

Peter Breck's scenes where he lets go, and becomes physically violent, are remarkably uninhibited. They anticipate Breck's illness scenes in his other greatest film and role: the "Night of the Wolf" episode of The Big Valley (Joseph H. Lewis, 1965). In both films, Breck acts with his whole body. He conveys intense emotions. Breck was mainly a television actor, whose career one suspects is off-radar to most film historians. The "O.B.I.T." episode of The Outer Limits (Gerd Oswald, 1964) is also a notable film. Breck gets to show his range here, by playing the Voice of Reason. Also worthwhile: such The Big Valley episodes as "The Way to Kill a Killer" (Joseph M. Newman) and "Hide the Children" (Arthur H. Nadel). Both of these latter films have Civil Rights themes, like Shock Corridor.


Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street

Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street (1972) is Fuller's playful homage to the private eye genre.

Fuller and Godard

Fuller had appeared as himself in Jean-Luc Godard's Pierrot le fou (1965), and Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street shows the influence of Godard. It has wild titles, with giant letters that flash on the screen, just like a Godard title sequence, or the words that interrupt and punctuate his films. Fuller has always been wildly inventive. But Pigeon has a playful, tongue in cheek quality that reminds one of Pierrot and other Godard movies. Of course, much of Godard's rush of invention was inspired by Fuller's films, so their is a circle of inspiration here: 1950's Fuller influencing 1960's Godard, who in turn influences 1970's Fuller.

The location filming here also recalls Godard, and the French New Wave. Most of Fuller's Hollywood films had been shot on studio sets. Here Fuller has taken to the streets. This was a general change in filmmaking practice in the 1970's, not just restricted to Fuller. But still, Fuller's use of location seems especially Godardian. Fuller, like Godard, often follows his characters along urban streets. There is a documentary like quality to these scenes, in both Godard and Fuller. Just as Godard's Breathless (1959) showed the streets of Paris, and Le Petit soldat (1960) Geneva, so does Fuller's film display Köln. The many cafe sequences in Godard are echoed by the restaurant scenes in Fuller.

Even Godard's interiors, which emphasize props against white walls, find an echo in the early hotel scene in this film. Godard's use of hanging painting masterpieces on the walls as cultural references is also employed by Fuller here. It is a whole Godard movie Fuller is making here, employing every Godard technique he can lay his hands on. Fuller had always loved to play with the grammar of film. Here he has a whole new set of toys to play with.

A shot out of a huge hospital window recalls the similar large apartment windows in Antonioni's L'Eclisse (1961).

Fuller Traditions

The fight on the hospital stairs here recalls the earlier subway scene in Fuller's Pickup on South Street (1954).

The scenes with the babies in the hospital recall the children's ward in The Naked Kiss (1964), and Sandy's love of babies in Underworld U.S.A.. Fuller also juxtaposed the innocence of children and the corruption of adults in Underworld U.S.A. (1961).

Fuller had always enjoyed including religious symbols and architecture in his films. One thinks of the monastery in The Baron of Arizona (1950), the crucifix in The Big Red One, and the Buddhist temples and statues in The Steel Helmet (1951) and The Crimson Kimono. Here Köln Cathedral plays a prominent role.


The Big Red One

The Big Red One (1980) has recently been reconstructed, with much of the footage cut (against Fuller's wishes) in its first release restored. By any standard, this is a considerable improvement.

However, I am baffled both by this film, and its enthusiastic critical response. Much of the movie is just combat scenes, relentless looks at the main characters firing at the Germans, and the Germans firing back at them. I could rarely see anything interesting or significant about this depressing footage. There is no educational value to the film, few of the documentary-like scenes that have been of such substance in previous Fuller works. There is little plot - just a string of incidents - and we learn almost nothing about the characters or inner lives the five main soldiers followed throughout the film. And the film's visual style rarely seems distinguished. Consequently, Fuller is playing against the strengths that distinguish his best work as a filmmaker.

The films does have some above-average scenes. The early scene of the Americans and the French trying to be allies, despite a vicious pro-Nazi Vichy general, is impressive. This has both the off-trail drama and historical insight that recall Fuller at his best. Such peace time interludes as the welcome from the Sicilian women, and the birth of a baby, are also nicely done. A brief scene with Christa Lang as an opportunistic, corrupt German aristocrat has both the historical background and characterization that is so sorely lacking in much of the rest of the film. A battle in an insane asylum is at least off-trail, reminding us that Fuller made Shock Corridor, and also featuring an all-too-brief good performance by Stéphane Audran, representing the New Wave (she is the talented star and wife of Claude Chabrol). Fuller also evokes some of the fanatic support Hitler had from many Germans, including a truly sinister pro-Hitler protest, a scene I have never seen in any other film.

In general, I really dislike war movies. I regard having to see combat on screen as a thoroughly unpleasant experience. Fuller deserves credit for not making the combat in this film seem like "fun", or some sort of cheap video game: it is harrowing and nightmarish. This film seems morally and politically inoffensive. It does not glorify war, or serves as a recruiting poster. But it is not especially creative or interesting either, a few good scenes aside.