Cult Movie: Sam Fuller celebrated by new box set

Sam Fuller's Underworld USA is a grim and shadowy tale of criminal revenge
Ralph McLean

Sam Fuller at Columbia 1937–1961

AS A director and writer, Sam Fuller always had the feel of a hard-bitten journalist sniffing out stories and telling them in as simple a way as possible.

That’s unsurprising given the fact that the guy started out as a copy boy for the New York Journal before he was even a teenager. From there he graduated to the position of crime reporter on the New York Evening Graphic before turning his attention to the world of film-making, serving and being highly honoured in the Second World War and making some of the most powerful and provocative films America had ever seen upon his return.

Always considered a little too straightforward and frill-free to qualify as a proper auteur by some, Fuller can still claim influence over all manner of film makers who’ve come in his wake.

The likes of Jean Luc Godard, Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino have spoken freely for their love of the man’s work – and, watching the new box set of his earliest work from Powerhouse DVD, it’s easy to see why.

Samuel Fuller At Columbia 1931–1961 is a lovingly compiled collection of the no-nonsense movie maker’s work. Watching the seven films contained within is a great way to remind yourself of just how outspoken and hard-hitting much of the maverick director’s output really was.

These may not be his finest moments behind a camera – for that, I would suggest you pursue his wildly exciting mid-60’s B movie offerings like Shock Corridor and Naked Kiss – but they show you the roots of his genius and as such are invaluable.

Everything the man touched as both a writer and director for Columbia is included here, with Underworld USA from 1961 probably the pick of the bunch.

A grim and shadowy tale of criminal revenge played out with full Film Noir style trappings, it’s a punchy and powerful mini masterpiece of mood and mayhem.

Scorsese is so in love with it he delivers an impassioned piece on the film for one of the set's excellent extras.

There are other delights here such as Power Of The Press, which sees the writer Fuller on home turf as he tells the simple but gripping tale of a newspaper struggling to get the truth out whatever the costs.

Released in 1943 it is notable for its actual use of the term 'fake news'. Scandal Sheet (1952) covers similar ground as murder comes to a newspaper office, while he also pens the likes of Shockproof (1949) for the king of melodrama Douglas Sirk and the LA-set crime tale The Crimson Kimono (1959).

Even the slightly anaemic offerings such as It Happened In Hollywood, which is little more than a slightly twee satire, are not without merit.

Strictly limited to just 6,000 copies worldwide, boasting crystal clear high definition transfers of all the films and loaded with insightful and well-judged extras, this is the monumental boxset for a true maverick movie maker by which all others should be judged.

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