- Samuel Fuller Interviews ed. by Gerald Peary
Samuel Fuller Interviews is part of Mississippi’s Conversations with Filmmakers Series consisting, for the most part, of previously published interviews. Such a collection succeeds or fails depending upon the nature of the questions and the filmmaker’s ability to answer them. Happily, this slender volume includes such interviewers as StigBjorkman, Tom Ryan, a group of film scholars at the 1969 Edinburgh Festival, and Peary himself, who could field the kind of questions—generally about camera movement and characterization—that allowed Fuller to play to his strengths. As a novice director, Fuller chose intense close-ups in his first film, I Shot Jesse James (1949), because he envisioned a psychological western in which facial expressions reflected states of mind. Robert Ford, Jesse James’s killer, is portrayed as harboring homoerotic feelings for the outlaw, as evidenced, among other scenes, in the one in which Jesse (Reed Hadley) is taking a bath while Ford (John Ireland) pours buckets of water into the tub, all the while staring at Jesse’s back, after Jesse gives him a pistol as a present, as if it were a target. Then Jesse says, “There’s my back. Here, scrub it,” as if Ford were a valet. Fuller had an almost pathological hatred of Jesse James. “I despise Mr. James,” he told Eric Sherman and Martin Rubin in 1968. He also confided earlier to StigBjorkman “in case we ever meet after I die, I will hit him as soon as I see him” (9). Fuller took great delight in telling his interviewer about James’s penchant for cross dressing, noting that James would masquerade as a woman and lure soldiers to a brothel where they would be killed and robbed. Although such details are obviously absent in I Shot Jesse James, Ford’s declaration of love for James at the end makes a certain amount of sense in the light of James’s androgyny, provided one can get past the casting of Ireland as Ford and Hadley as James. Fuller also told Richard Schickel in a 1982 unpublished interview, included in the present volume, that his sympathies lay with Ford.
Only one interview is a disappointment: François Guerif’s “Interview with Samuel Fuller: ‘I Was at the Premiere of Dracula.’” Guerif asked Fuller how he ended up playing a Nazi hunter in A Return to Salem’s Lot (1987), a horror film about vampires who have taken over a New England town. Answer: “He [director Larry Cohen]) wrote the part for me.” Fuller [End Page 66] went on to utter generalities about the horror film, noting how terrified he was when he attended the premiere of Dracula (1930) with his mother, and that when it came to horror, ”Universal invented everything.” Not quite. At RKO, Val Lewton pioneered a new kind of horror, in which the unseen and imagined provided the frissons, not Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, the Mummy, or the Wolf Man. Since the horror film was not a subject about which Fuller knew or cared much, one wonders why it was the topic of an interview. A Return to Salem’s Lot is hardly a film for which Fuller will be remembered as an actor. Fuller was more memorable when he played himself in Godard’s Pierrot le fou and the director in Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie. Fuller says practically nothing about A Return to Salem’s Lot in his autobiography, A Third Face, except that while the younger actors complained about the cold and the food during the Vermont shoot, he was thrilled just to be on a movie set.
Fuller soon switched from claustrophobic close-ups to mobile camera, of which the tracking shot in Forty Guns (1957) is the prime example. The camera follows a character from the bedroom down the stairs where he meets his brother, as the two of them walk to the telegraph office, so that by the end of the shot, the camera has traversed the entire street. Fuller admitted to Richard Thompson in 1976...