From his book Essential Cinema.
The Steel Helmet
It's the REAL Korean Story!
A ragtag group of American stragglers battles against superior Communist troops in an abandoned Buddhist temple during the Korean War.
Combat isn’t a poetic ballad but a blow to the head, says Samuel Fuller; his riposte to Milestone’s A Walk in the Sun opens with the audience already besieged by artillery shells. The body-strewn aftermath of an ambush introduces the mauled terrain of the Korean War, the bestial sergeant (Gene Evans) stomps through it like bundled dynamite wrapped in a beard, a deranged guide for a deranged conflict. He’s joined by a munchkin dubbed Short Round (William Chun) and an Army medic (James Edwards), then runs into a lost American patrol surrounded by Red snipers. Among the dogfaces is a fellow World War II survivor (Richard Loo), a conscientious objector (Robert Hutton) lugging a mini-church organ, a radio operator (Richard…
Astounding that Fuller was able to get away with something so progressive back in the early 50's, a pretty aggressive attack on racism that points the finger at the complacent Americans who would more than likely make up most of the audience. Gene Evans is great as the wearer of the titular helmet, a gruff and experienced sergeant who seems to hate the company of others as much as he hates intolerance. Also features a character you almost never see in films from this era: Harold Fong as the enemy combatant whose logical arguments make more sense than some of the protagonists'. As he pokes and prods and whispers in the ears of the Americans, you definitely get the sense…
Excellent war movie that manages to get across both the lived in bagginess of Fuller's wartime anecdotal writing style with the taut low budget action direction to create something special.
As with so much of Fuller's work it is both contradictory and brave. Attacking American racism front on with no easy answers, just minority actors getting to agree with communist Korean complaints about American society before shrugging and getting on with being competent, rounded characters. At the same time it shows brutal violence against prisoners from the character who at first had seemed like your typical gruff officer baiting sergeant. A character who avoids a court martial through the officers death, not because his actions were being shown to be…
"If you die, I'll kill ya!". Fuller's supremely low-budget, shot in 10 days (though you wouldn't pick either) effort is a great war movie, of a genre I'm generally not too hot on. The eclectic group stuck together inside a Buddhist temple all bring complex and problematic ideas to the usually black-and-white world of Hollywood war, like the black medic, fighting for a country that discriminates him with Jim Crow laws in peace time. The performances are all solid and the action sequences well directed. A tight 85 minutes means there is little in the way of filler or dull moment, a real American war classic.
Human beings in a mob
What's a mob to a king? What's a king to a god?
What's a god to a non-believer? Who don't believe in anything?
We make it out alive. All right, all right
No church in the wild
To Sam Fuller, war is the great equalizer. When it rains bullets, there’s no conscious awareness of where it goes. It pierces the skin – regardless of age, creed, race, or religion– just the same. Still, if there were a war-zone equivalent to privilege, it would see a bullet ricochet through a soldier’s steel helmet, leaving behind just a trace scar. We’re not all bulletproof; some are just luckier than others.
As always with Fuller, more textured, more intense, and more progressive than you initially expect. He uses the Korean War to introduce themes and tone that later Vietnam War pictures will attempt to replicate, but they won't do it as well. "There is no end to this story."
It opens strong and stays strong. This really shows Fuller coming into his own, his third film and a great leap forward from Baron. I sense a kinship to Kubrick's Fear and Desire in terms of a troop of soldiers, mixed personalities, behind enemy lines. Steel Helmet however is executed with a much greater skill, logical since Fuller had two in his bag already.
I was really struck with the cinematography in Steel Helmet, and Fuller is here reunited with Ernest Miller from I Shot Jesse James. Baron of Arizona had its moments where James Wong Howe shone, but Steel Helmet is packed with beauty and allure, with intensity and warmth, with fear and desire (I don't quite know what I mean with those last ones, but it sounds good).
Samuel Fuller released his first masterpiece with STEEL HELMET, an action drama set during the then-current Korean War. In fact, the movie is most remarkable for its currency: it brings to the typically "safe" world of fiction filmmaking heated discussions of real cultural clashes between the United States and North Korea-and, more radically, between Americans. Many have noted the discussions of institutionalized racism, which are, like Fuller's unsentimental depiction of violence, far ahead of their time. The same can be said of Fuller's pulsating editing and use of close-ups, which boldly reveal the filmmaker's background as a war journalist. Writing recently about the close-ups in THE STEEL HELMET, Dave Kehr expressed the idea that, "these shots represented a pressing new urgency, a need to force his audience to identify completely with his protagonists and experience the drama of his films as his heroes did: as a series of difficult choices and conflicting emotions."
Samuel Fuller released his first masterpiece with THE STEEL HELMET, an action drama set during the then-current Korean War. In fact, the movie is most remarkable for its currency: it brings to the typically "safe" world of fiction filmmaking heated discussions of real cultural clashes between the United States and North Korea-and, more radically, between Americans. Many have noted the discussions of institutionalized racism, which are, like Fuller's unsentimental depiction of violence, far ahead of their time. The same can be said of Fuller's pulsating editing and use of close-ups, which boldly reveal the filmmaker's background as a war journalist. Writing about the close-ups in THE STEEL HELMET, Dave Kehr expressed the idea that, "these shots represented a pressing new urgency, a need to force his audience to identify completely with his protagonists and experience the drama of his films as his heroes did: as a series of difficult choices and conflicting emotions."
"In October 1950, Fuller made his film in ten days with twenty-five extras who were UCLA students and a plywood tank, in a studio using mist, and exteriors shot in Griffith Park for $104,000. According to Ben Mankiewicz of Turner Classic Movies, Fuller wrote the script in a week."
The French New Wavers (particularly Godard) would rip this page right from Fuller's book: write, produce, and shoot fast. Somehow, despite the hurried nature of production, Fuller is able to give us three-dimensional characters and illustrate the desperation and depravity of war. Additionally, the diverse cast adds a layer of realism to this low-budget war film that doubles as a meditation on the hypocrisies of the systemic racism found in the United States. Although perhaps a bit too apologetic at times, The Steel Helmet is a shamefully overlooked film, as a lot of what it says about the tragedy of war rings true today.
Fuller's gruff, nihilistic world view and hard won masculinity are embodied in the grizzled WWII veteran Played by Evans as a tired, misanthropic survivor driven by equal measures of sheer persistence and dyed in the wool patriotism. The group of outcasts and stragglers he picks up on his way towards a grandly futile finale reflect the detritus of American society, those deemed barely eligible for polite company but thoroughly suitable for the expendable infantry core. The bleak, cynical depiction of the madness and chaps of war culminates in a fierce, unrelentingly tense showdown against the aptly incongruous backdrop of a Buddhist temple, the tranquility and enlightenment of which is destroyed under the incessant blaze of gun fire, explosions, and hatred. Fuller's most crushing blow comes in the fate of the film's most courageous, optimistic character, "Short Round", a bleak reminder that such untainted humanity has no place in war.
Sam Fuller's first major accomplishment (1950) is a grim piece of agitprop set in the Korean War, where a battle-worn American sergeant (Gene Evans) forms a survival pact with a Korean orphan. Fuller's powerful direction turns a trite story into a vivid study of national and personal identity. Loud and terse, the film still achieves some remarkably subtle effects.
Deep. Way ahead of its time. It confronts issues of racism like no other film of the time, while, at the same time, being a solid, realistic war flick. The strength is in its writing and acting - it's quite low budget, but it's easily one of Sam Fuller's best films - if not his best.
Obviously a big influence on Spielberg in many ways. Extremely gritty war film, especially for the time period. With a small budget and short shooting schedule (though it doesn't show one bit), Samuel Fuller and crew crafted one of my (new) favorite war films, a genre I've been obsessed with since I was a teenager.
Quite a remarkable film to see Fuller's cinejournalism so fully formed and taking on a raw subject. Positively daring a backlash. It is informative for what it says about WW2 vets as it must have been as travelogue to show people something of Korea.
The races are slammed together to give off sparks but his black American and Japanese American are the heroes whilst the enemy soldier shows a finer intelligence even if he finally outwits himself. Zack in the middle of the movie is a fine conception. A man who can walk from a firing squad but who can't take some horrors. Won't take them more like. The initial sequence is a cinematic wonder of tension to go beside the opening seduction/ pick pocketing scene in Pickup on South Street.
Fuller is a favourite because he snarls.
Missing films I can't locate on Letterboxd:
Blonde Ambition (1981)
I Like to Watch / Caballero (1982)
Mona the Virgin…
I decided to combine the entry-level art house, mid-level art house, and patriciancore images floating around /tv/ into one list...…