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House of Bamboo [Import USA Zone 1]
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Filmed in Japan, Sam Fuller's 1955 crime noir tells the story of Eddie Kenner (Robert Stack), a U.S. army operative sent to Tokyo as an investigator. A gang of American expatriates is robbing U.S. military ammunition and supply trains, and using military tactics to do it. They're a ruthless bunch, killing not only any troops and police that get in the way but also their own wounded. Working undercover, Kenner must gain the trust of ex-soldier Sandy Dawson (Robert Ryan), who now heads the gang. The beautiful Japanese wife of a slain gangster is all too willing to help.
One of Samuel Fuller's best, tough, sometimes nasty, but always exciting... unites three of his favorite topics: military comradeship, the underworld, and the Far East. --Chicago Reader
A lean, hard-boiled, sharp detective thriller with just a light touch of Madame Butterfly. --New York Times
A lean, hard-boiled, sharp detective thriller with just a light touch of Madame Butterfly. --New York Times --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition DVD.
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Sandy Dawson (Robert Ryan) heads up a gang of ex-servicemen in Tokyo who pull off robberies with military precision and complete ruthlessness. If anyone gets wounded, he's killed right then. The U.S. Army and the Japanese police join forces to crack the gang. They send in a ringer, Eddie Spanier (Robert Stack), to infiltrate the gang. Spanier is a false identity; he's actually an Army crime investigator. What follows is the story of Dawson's operation and how it works, and of Spanier gradually gaining Dawson's trust. The climax pits the two against against each other when Dawson at last learns of Spanier's real job.
The movie was shot in Tokyo and looks great. Anyone who has spent time there will recognize a number of locations. (One false note is when Samuel Fuller cuts to a scene that was actually filmed in Kamakura at the Great Buddha and at the Hachiman shrine.) Robert Ryan and, in a smaller role, Cameron Mitchell as Griff, his second in command, do first-rate jobs, especially Ryan. Sandy Dawson is a dangerous man, superficially polite and solicitous, but not far below the surface is a big ego, a streak of cruelty and what could be a hint of homoerotic feelings for Spanier. This isn't stressed, but it explains Dawson's actions concerning Spanier, and his intensity when he finds he has been betrayed. Dawson is also just a bit off. His last dialogue with a silent Griff is not that of a man who is in total command of his marbles. Ryan dominates the movie. Unfortunately, the movie is about the efforts to catch Ryan's character, and these efforts center on Robert Stack's character. Stack just isn't a good enough actor. Sam Fuller evidently wanted Stack to play Eddie Spanier like a real tough guy, but Stack can't carry it off. He "acts" like a tough guy would walk and move. He "acts" the way a tough guy would speak and sound. It's phony from the first sentence out of Stack's mouth, and it undercuts the effectiveness of the story.
The romance scenes between Stack and Shirley Yamaguchi seem stilted and almost unnecessary, but Fuller pumps up the tension on the action sequences. The train robbery, the robbery at the cement factory and the set up for the robbery of the bank bus are well handled. And the showdown between Dawson and Spanier, with the Tokyo police, at a children's fun park high on top of a business building is great. On balance, however, House of Bamboo's strong points seem to me to be a nice performance by Robert Ryan and some great scenery. The DVD picture is first rate.
Robert Stack plays an undercover cop who infiltrates Ryan's gang to find out exactly how the man murdered at the beginning of the film during the heist bought it. Thanks to not only colorful settings, but Ryan's great performance, this is better than it should be. The script is kind of ho-hum. Stack is OK, pretty good, not great; he's Robert Stack. He falls for the widow of the murdered guy; she's Japanese so Fuller brings in another (semi-)controversial element, interracial love (which he also did in Crimson Kimono).
Fuller's an original, no question. Whether that originality is always of high quality is questionable, but he does love to hit the viewer in the face with issues challenging social convention and in that respect, he's definitely worth watching. When he's great--as in Pickup on South Street, or Shock Corridor--where everything fits together and purrs like a Ford Cobra engine--he's unbeatable. Here, in House of Bamboo, he gets some of the issues in, but the story is nowhere near as strong as it could or should be.
Worth seeing. Owning? I dunno.
When a gang of hoodlums robs a supply train carrying Japanese civilians and American military supplies across the Japanese countryside, the Criminal Investigation Division of the Military Police are called upon to investigate. Sergeant Keller (Robert Stack) goes undercover, posing as Eddie Spanier, old friend of a gangster killed on the job. His first order of business is to track down the dead man's anguished wife, Mariko (Shirley Yamaguchi), who knows nothing of her husband's work. Spanier's second order of business is to set himself up in the "protection" racket, where his attempts to extort money from pachinko parlors arouse the attention of the business' owner, an ex-G.I. named Sandy Dawson (Robert Ryan), who uses them as a front for his more sinister business dealing in stolen munitions. Dawson offers Spanier a position in his operation, and Mariko completes his cover by posing as Spanier's mistress, or "kimono girl".
The abundance of gorgeous cinematography in "House of Bamboo" makes it look expensive, but shooting in Japan actually allowed the film to be made fairly cheaply. Fuller's staging was influenced by Japanese cinema and Kabuki theater, which helps him cope with the widescreen format. This was one of the first films made in Japan after the war, and the colorful scenes of bustling Japanese streets and everyday life must have seemed exotic and novel to American audiences. Those scenes are still captivating. This screenplay takes a dim view of American military personnel, who are portrayed as predatory and culturally insensitive at best, a massive corrupting force at worst. Samuel Fuller always did like to make strong statements. The film's sympathy is with Mariko, although her characterization is basically chauvinistic. I have to give Sam Fuller credit, though, for pulling off a film that constantly criticizes its protagonist. Eddie Spanier is an ugly American. He exploits Mariko's vulnerability and confusion to involve her in a dangerous operation that dishonors her. He's a jerk. And Robert Stack's performance turns wooden as his character becomes less obnoxious and more romantic. Yet "House of Bamboo" succeeds. It's a beautiful film, and the story is good enough to string us along, so we can enjoy the exquisite color and composition.
The DVD (Fox Home Video 2005): This appears to be a restored print. The color is generally very good. But some momentary color shifts occur at the beginning and end of some scenes, which I attribute to the transfer. There are a few short bonus features plus a nice audio commentary. "Fox Movietone News: Behind-the-Scenes Footage" (2 minutes) is silent footage of Shirley Yamaguchi signing autographs and the cast, Sam Fuller, and producer Buddy Adler receiving flowers on the set. "Landing in Japan" (1 minute) is silent footage of Fuller and cast deplaning in Japan, perhaps a Japanese newsreel. "Fox Noir" are trailers for 4 other films. There are 2 theatrical trailers for this film: an English (2 minutes) and Spanish-language version (1 minute). Film historians Alain Silver and James Ursini do an interesting non-stop audio commentary for the film. They talk a lot about Samuel Fuller and the film's style, as well as themes, shots, characters, staging, and story. Subtitles for the film are available in English and Spanish. Dubbing is available in Spanish and French.
More importantly, ever graceful Japan is menacingly challenged by the brutal act of foreigners, in this case foreigners are the gang of ex-G.I. led by a crime lord Sandy Dawson, played by Robert Ryan. This conflict, beauty versus brutality, is heart of the cinema, and it is quite effectively presented. A strict code of honor and harshness of the manhood are sharply contrasted with the peaceful romance between Eddie Kenner, played by Robert Stack, and local girl Mariko, played by Shirley Yamaguch. This sociological contrast added considerble amount of poetic depth which is the hallmark of Fuller's major works.
Moreover, wide screen color image is breathtakingly beautiful, so we cannot look away from the screen even for a second. Every scene is carefully composed and stylized. This powerful aspect of HOUSE OF BAMBOO is all doing of director Sam Fuller. He is brutal, greedy, active, and also quite romantic. Many fans would much prefer better received films such as PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET or FORTY GUNS but I prefer HOUSE OF BAMBOO to these films, because it is simply beautiful and dramatically stylish. This is the real Samuel Fuller's film.