Turner Classic Movies
Sam Fuller
Written by Diana Saenger   

Date of Birth: August 12, 1912

Place of Birth: Worcester, Massachusetts

Date of Death: October 30, 1977

Place of Death: Hollywood, California

Cause of Death: natural causes

sam_fuller200.jpgSamuel Michael Fuller was born to Jewish immigrants Benjamin Rabinovitch, from Russia and Rebecca Baum, from Poland. They changed their surname to Fuller after arriving in America. Samuel started to write for newspapers at age 12 and became the youngest reporter at age 17 to be in charge of the events section of the New York Journal, than a crime reporter for the New York Evening Graphic. By the 1930s he was writing pulp novels and ghostwriting screenplays.

World War II came along and like most gung-ho youths he joined the Army getting assigned to the 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division. He saw the world in landings at Africa, Czechoslovakia, Belgium, Normandy and Sicily but also saw heavy fighting and many casualties. While at the liberation of the German concentration camp at Falkenau in 1945, Fuller shot 16  mm footage and later used it to make the documentary Falkenau: The Impossible. He was awarded the Bronze Star, the Silver Star, and the Purple Heart for his war service. His experiences in the war became material in some of his films like The Big Red One (1980), which was a nickname of the 1st Infantry Division.

His first writing project was Hats Off in 1936, a musical comedy starring Mae Clark. His next writing project was one of four writers on It Happened in Hollywood. The 1937 film starred Cowboy actor Richard Nix and the lovely Fay Wray who would go on to have a successful Hollywood career. The movie was directed by Harry Lachman and is one of the films in the 2009 Sony Pictures Home Entertainment-released The Sam Fuller Collection. He was a screenwriter or story contributor on Gangs of New York (1938) Adventure in Sahara (1938) Federal Man-Hunt (1938) Bowery Boy (1940) Confirm or Deny (1941) Margin for Error (1943) Gangs of the Waterfront (1945) and Shockproof (1949).  

By this time Fuller's creative juices were flowing. His inspiration, he said, came from Van Gogh. And although he used it in his films, he claimed to hate violence. He wrote and stepped behind the camera in 1949 to direct I Shot Jesse James starring Preston Foster and Barbara Britton. He would go on to direct 29 films, and also star in and produce some of them. In 1982 Fuller wrote and directed a film called White Dog. Labeled as racist and highly controversial, the film was about dogs trained to attack people of color, and Paramount decided to shelve the film. Fuller was outraged and moved to France. The film was released there. He remained in France for many years and although he returned to the United States he never directed another American film.

Fuller's last screen play (as co-writer) and directing job  was  on the crime drama Street of No Return (1989) starring Keith Carradine. Fuller did write and direct a few TV show episodes after that.

Among his awards, Fuller won a Writer's Guild Award for the war drama The Steel Helmet (1951) and was nominated by the Director's Guild for the war drama Hell and High Water (1954).

Year unknown, Fuller married Martha Downes Fuller and they divorced in 1959. In 1967 he married Christa Lang, an actress and writer who starred in some of his films. They had one daughter, Samantha, who also appeared as a child in some of her father's films.

About his war-themed movies Fuller once said, "Film is a battleground. Love, hate, violence, action, death...In a word, emotion."

As a filmmaker, Fuller was not as well known as some of  the greats, but he left a rich and diverse chest of movies that both entertain and educate on several levels. Director Martin Scorsese praised Fuller's ability to capture action through camera movement. Both Quentin Tarantino and Jim Jarmusch have acknowledged that Fuller influenced their work.

Fuller's philosophy might be summed up in one of his quotes: "I grew up believing that people make things move, like the word 'movie.' The world, like a moving picture, was moving forward. I wanted to advance too, as rapidly as my quick mind and fast legs would carry me. I also grew up believing in truth - not just the word itself, but the deeper conviction that getting to the truth was a noble cause. My nature has always been to tell people the truth, even if they feel insulted. I care too much about people to bullshit them. If they're offended by the truth, why waste my time on them? When a young director comes to me for advice on a script, I don't pull any punches, especially if the thing's overwritten."

Sony's Fuller Collection also includes the films; The Crimson Kimono (1959), Underworld U.S.A. (1961), Adventure in Sahara (1938), Power of the Press (1943), Shockproof (1949) and Scandal Sheet (1952).

Photo credits: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment




Do you watch more Classic DVDs than newer films on DVD?

alliance of women film journalists
© 2017 Classic Movie Guide
Joomla! is Free Software released under the GNU/GPL License.