Samuel Michael Fuller (August 12, 1912 – October 30, 1997) was an American film director.
Fuller was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, the son of Benjamin Rabinovitch (a Jewish immigrant from Russia) and Rebecca Baum (a Jewish immigrant from Poland). At the time of his birth, the family had already changed their surname to "Fuller". At the age of 12, he began working in journalism. His first newspaper job was as a copyboy. He became a crime reporter in New York City at age 17, working for the New York Evening Graphic. He broke the story of Jeanne Eagels' death. He wrote pulp novels and screenplays from the mid-1930s onwards. Fuller also became a screenplay ghost writer but would never tell interviewers which screenplays that he ghost wrote explaining "that's what a ghost writer is for".
During World War II, Fuller joined the U.S. Army infantry. He was assigned to the 16th Infantry Regiment (United States), 1st Infantry Division, and saw heavy fighting. He was involved in landings in Africa, Sicily, and Normandy. He also saw action in Belgium and Czechoslovakia. For his service, he was awarded the Bronze Star, the Silver Star, and the Purple Heart. He used his wartime experiences as material in his films, especially in the 1980 film The Big Red One (a nickname of the 1st Infantry Division).
Hats Off (1936) marked Fuller's first credit as a screenwriter. Fuller wrote many screenplays throughout his career, but he is best remembered as a director. Fuller accomplished the move to direction (he was unimpressed with Douglas Sirk's direction of his Shockproof screenplay ) by being approached by Robert Lippert to write three films for his company. Fuller offered to write them if he would be allowed to direct them, with no extra fee for direction. Lippert agreed, his first film was I Shot Jesse James (1949) followed by Baron of Arizona with Vincent Price.
His third film The Steel Helmet established him as a major force. One of the first films about the Korean War, Fuller wrote it based on tales from returning Korean veterans and his own World War II experiences. The film was attacked by the Communist Party in the USA for being too "right wing" and by the American Legion for being "left wing". Fuller had a major argument with the U.S. Army that provided stock footage for the film. The army objected to his American characters executing a prisoner of war, Fuller replied that he had seen it done in his own military experience. A compromise was reached when the Lieutenant (Robert Hutton) threatens the Sergeant (Gene Evans) with a court martial.
Fuller was sought by the major studios to join them. Fuller asked each of them what they did with the profits from their films. All of them gave advice on tax shelters, except for Darryl F. Zanuck of 20th Century Fox who replied "we make better movies", the answer Fuller was looking for. Zanuck signed Fuller for a contract for seven films, the first being another Korean War film Fixed Bayonets! in order to head off other studio competition copying The Steel Helmet. The U.S. Army assigned Medal of Honor recipient Raymond Harvey as Fuller's technical advisor. The two got on famously.
The proposed seventh film Tigrero based on a book by Sasha Siemel is the subject of 1994 a documentary by Mika Kaurismäki. Tigrero: A Film That Was Never Made that featured Fuller and Jim Jarmusch visiting the proposed Amazon locations of the film. Film that Fuller shot on that location at the time featured in his Shock Corridor.
Fuller's favourite film was Park Row a story of American journalism. Zanuck had wanted to turn it into a musical that Fuller refused to do. Instead Fuller started his own production company with his profits to make the film on his own. Park Row was a labour of love to Fuller as a tribute to the journalists he knew as a newsboy. His flourishes of style on a very low budget lead many critics to call the film Fuller's version of Citizen Kane.
He followed these with Pickup on South Street (1953), which remains his most well-known film. This film was condemned by the FBI as Communist propaganda and condemned by the Communist Party as anti-Communist propaganda. Other films that Fuller directed in the 1950s include: House of Bamboo, Forty Guns, and China Gate let led to protests from the French Government and a friendship with Romain Gary. After leaving Fox, Fuller made Run of the Arrow, Verboten!, and Merrill's Marauders. In 1959 he wrote and directed the ahead-of-its-time L.A. noir The Crimson Kimono.
Fuller's work throughout the 1950s and early 1960s followed a basic format: lower-budget genre movies that nonetheless explored controversial topics. Shock Corridor (1963) is set in a psychiatric hospital, while The Naked Kiss (1964) features a prostitute attempting to change her life by working in a pediatric ward.
Between 1967 and 1980, Fuller directed only two films, the Mexican-produced Shark (1969) and Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street (1972). Fuller asked the Director's Guild to remove his name from the credits of Shark. Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street featured his wife, Christa Lang. Fuller returned in 1980 with The Big Red One, which won critical praise but failed at the box office. The film was later restored to full length and re-released. He followed this film with the controversial White Dog (1982), which the studio refused to release until 1991. In 1983 Fuller moved to France and would only have two more theatrical releases, Les Voleurs de la nuit (Thieves After Dark) (1984) and Street of No Return (1989), both were produced outside the United States. He directed his last film, Madonne et le dragon in 1990. He wrote his last film, Girls in Prison, in 1994.
He makes a cameo appearance in Jean-Luc Godard's Pierrot le fou (1965), where he famously intones: Film is like a battleground... Love, hate, action, violence, death. In one word, emotion! He plays a film director in Dennis Hopper's ill-fated The Last Movie (1971) and a cameraman in Wim Wenders' The State of Things (1982). Fuller also appeared in Larry Cohen's A Return to Salem's Lot (1987). His last work in film was as an actor: in 1997 he appeared in The End of Violence .
Fuller's work is generally included in the primitive style. This was the result of his often lower budgets, but also reflected Fuller's pulp-inspired writing. The dialogue in his films has been criticized by some as heavy-handed or over-the-top.
Fuller often featured marginalized characters in his films. The protagonist of Pickup on South Street is a pickpocket who keeps his beer in the East River because he cannot afford a refrigerator. Shock Corridor concerns the patients of a mental hospital. Underworld U.S.A. (1961) focuses on an orphaned victim of mobsters. The leading ladies of Pickup on South Street, China Gate, and The Naked Kiss are prostitutes. These characters sometimes find retribution for the injustices against them. White Dog and The Crimson Kimono (1959) have definite anti-racist elements. The Steel Helmet, set during the Korean War, contains dialogue about the internment of Japanese-Americans and the segregation of the American military in World War 2, and features a racially mixed cast.
Although Fuller's films were not considered great cinema in their times, they gained critical respect in the late 1960s. Fuller welcomed the new-found esteem, appearing in films of other directors and associating himself with younger filmmakers.
The French New Wave claimed Fuller as a major stylistic influence. His visual style and rhythm were seen as distinctly American, and praised for their energetic simplicity. Martin Scorsese praised Fuller's ability to capture action through camera movement. Recently, Quentin Tarantino and Jim Jarmusch credited Fuller as influential upon their works.
In the mid-1980s, Fuller was the first international director guest at the Midnight Sun Film Festival. The festival's hometown, Sodankylä, Finland, named a street "Samuel Fullerin katu", Samuel Fuller's street.