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In Tokyo, a ruthless gang starts holding up U.S. ammunition trains, prepared to kill any of their own members wounded during a robbery. Down-at-heal ex-serviceman Eddie Spannier arrives from the States, apparently at the invitation of one such unfortunate. But Eddie isn't quite what he seems as he manages to make contact with Sandy Dawson, who is obviously running some sort of big operation, and his plan is helped by acquaintance with Mariko, the secret Japanese wife of the dead American. Written by
Jeremy Perkins <firstname.lastname@example.org>
According to Robert Stack, Fuller told an actor to go down "really low" when he passed a 50 gallon drum. Without informing the actor, the director had a sharpshooter on a parallel who shot over the guy's head and into the drum. After it blew up, the actor said, "Jesus Christ! Those were real bullets!" Fuller laconically replied, "Don't worry. He knew what he was doing." See more »
When Eddie Spanier (Robert Stack) is first knocked unconscious by members of Sandy Dawson's gang, Dawson tells one of his underlings to awaken him by tossing a bucket of ice on him. As he lies on the floor, however, Eddie flinches as soon as Dawson gives this command, before any ice actually hits Eddie's face. See more »
But ever since you saved this guy's neck, you've been acting funny, well I know what you're trying to do, but you're not going to get away with it, cuz I won't let you.
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I vacillate on whether the 20th Century Fox studio claim that HOUSE OF BAMBOO is film noir is really accurate or not. For one thing, it's in color. For another, it's shot in Cinemascope. Also given it's made in 1955, I have to think of it more like a new gas/electric car: it's a hybrid. But unlike most compact hybrids out these days, this one's a full-size truck.
There are action sequences that feel more like they belong in Frankenheimer's THE TRAIN or Sturges' THE GREAT ESCAPE than in a so called noir picture, but I'm not knocking them. They're well staged, and like the entire film, terrifically photographed. But then there is the use of silhouette and high contrast more akin to noir, and the story too feels more in that vein, although more on the sparse side; certainly not a Raymond Chandler THE BIG SLEEP kind of story! Honestly, I found it no less thin a story than Fritz Lang's THE BIG HEAT. As critical as the story is, if films were only that, I'd just be reading books. What's done visually plays a pretty big part in this format.
Speaking of the cinematography, some critics have stated the widescreen use is overkill here, but I must beg to differ. With so many modern films shot more and more like television, with only close-ups and two-shots, and barely a moment of establishing frame to see where everything is happening - and with action sequences and dance numbers shooting this way now - it was refreshing for me to see the entire frame used, with characters often at either end, and action allowed to play out wide, without fast moving camera-work to pump it up. Of course the problem is that many will view a DVD of the film now, where wide shots just look far away (unless you've got a large home theater screen). But that's not the fault of the filmmakers - Cinemascope was meant for the big screen.
When the camera does move, it's clever work. The blocking is also terrific and surprisingly fresh (or again perhaps just not used anymore and so fresh all over again to my eyes). Some say it's all too tricky, but it's far less tricky than all of the motion-control work we're used to seeing now, and often (in this film at least) more involving. Director Samuel Fuller is doing the right shots at the right time here, and that takes everything on screen up a notch.
I'm not sure why there's criticism over the location, but I found the setting in post-war Japan to be as crucial to HOUSE OF BAMBOO as post-war Vienna was to THE THIRD MAN, or for that matter Monument Valley to a John Ford western. Sometimes the setting becomes one of the characters, which when done right as it is here, can only be a plus for the picture. Fuller puts it all to good use. Perhaps it's the Hollywood techniques brought into play, but I can't think of another picture, including all of Kurosawa's work, that looks exactly like this. I'm not saying it's better, just a different take on the locations, and so enjoyable as such.
I'll make the argument that Kurosawa, for example, would film a Japan he knew, but overlooked images because he was used to them, just like I wouldn't take a picture of the Golden Gate bridge because I live 45 minutes away from it. But Fuller looks at it more like a tourist if you will, and so commits to film here things that are unique or uniquely shot. You have enough of these memorable images and you start to have a memorable film. If this were another kind of film, I might not think all those fascinating shots were of such importance. But if this is trying to be noir, then it's all about the atmosphere that the landscape and settings convey. Noir or not, it truly got me caught up in the story.
I have to admit being swayed by a great score from Leigh Harline (as conducted by none other than Lionel Newman), but that's what a good score should help to do: make a decent film good and a good film great. But I also must admit that if I just look at the pieces of this film, I would never rate it so highly. It's a case, for me at least, of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, of everything working together just right to make a solid piece of entertainment, noir or otherwise.
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