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  House of Bamboo Stacking The Odds
Year: 1955
Director: Samuel Fuller
Stars: Robert Ryan, Robert Stack, Shirley Yamaguchi, Cameron Mitchell, Brad Dexter, Sessue Hayakawa, Biff Elliot, Sandro Giglio, Elko Hanabusa, Harry Carey Jr, DeForest Kelley, Robert Quarry, Teru Shimada, Barry Coe, John Doucette
Genre: Drama, Thriller, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: In Japan, just outside Tokyo, there has been a robbery when a government supply train is stopped by a ruthless gang who strangle the crew and take a cache of weapons and ammunition from one of the carriages. Because one of the guards murdered was American, the US military police become involved and stage an investigation of their own, which is how they come to interrogate an American criminal on his deathbed (after being shot): he seems to have been part of the gang, but will only let on that his wife, the Japanese Mariko (Shirley Yamaguchi), was not involved. They have a lead, but in Tokyo a new arrival, American Eddie Kenner (Robert Stack), seeks Mariko...

House of Bamboo was trumpeted as the first Hollywood movie to be made in Japan, which while that was not strictly true, was accurate enough for a production that was the first to gain a fairly high profile. What this actually was turned out to be a remake of an old film noir from seven years before (and we complain about too recent remakes now!), Street with No Name, which had Richard Widmark in the lead. He could easily have played that again, but this time around Robert Ryan, who towers over the Japanese threateningly, was cast in the bad guy role as the leader of the American gang reaping the spoils from a post-war Japan with ruthless efficiency and no guilt.

That spoke to a certain racism on their part, a subject director Samuel Fuller would have been very interested in, but he didn't labour the point when it was cold, hard cash these ne'erdowells were after, and as much of it as they could possibly land. Stack rocks up in the capital and immediately tracks down Mariko as the spouse of his old buddy to find out more about him: that he roughs her up after a literal chase is an indication of the movie's tough guy ambitions, but Eddie is not what he seems. Once he has tried and failed to establish a protection racket on a one-man scale, Ryan puts him in his place, but that place appears to be as a member of his gang; his kind of guy.

However, we are privy to information about Eddie that doesn't exactly excuse his strongarm tactics, but does explain why he was so over the top on his arrival in Japan: the police are taking a very close interest in Eddie, because he is working for them. Yes, there's an informer in Ryan's gang, and considering his methodical, reasoned out approach to crime which includes shooting dead any member who is injured in his heists to prevent him spilling his guts to the law, that he does not recognise Eddie is his true flaw when Cameron Mitchell as the hotheaded right hand man proves enough of a distraction, reflects badly on this self-styled criminal mastermind. But then, the macho posturing throughout has that effect, manly men squaring off against each other like overgrown children, only with grown-up, sublimated sexual tension.

This irony may not have been lost on Fuller, but he played this pretty straight, including Eddie's burgeoning romance with Mariko. Yamaguchi was a major celebrity in Japan, partly thanks to a sensational early life as a major celebrity in China that ended with her fleeing a firing squad, but that fame did not quite translate to the West, despite trying hard; she was eventually deported from Hollywood in a humiliating turn of events, but moved into politics where she did very well. Stack of course was about to find lasting success as Elliott Ness in The Untouchables TV cop show, and indicated he might have had only one gear of acting because he was very similar here, certainly he had no chemistry with his leading lady and the stodgy lovey-dovey development of their relationship dragged down what could have been a swifter experience, though you did appreciate its hopeful, progressive nature. But if it was a curate's egg, the Technicolor, Cinemascope views of Tokyo were worth it, and the action-packed finale was highly entertaining (how many bullets did Ryan have on him, anyway?).

[Eureka release this on Blu-ray with these features:

1080p presentation on Blu-ray from Fox's 2K restoration. | Original, uncompressed, monaural soundtrack | Optional English SDH | Audio commentary with Film Historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman | Audio commentary with Film historians Alain Silver and James Ursini | Fuller at Fox - a video essay by David Cairns looking at Samuel Fuller's films produced for Twentieth Century Fox. | Original theatrical trailer | PLUS: A collector's booklet featuring an essay by film critic Richard Combs and the words of Samuel Fuller.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Samuel Fuller  (1911 - 1997)

Pioneering independent director, best known for his tough 60s thrillers. Fuller began his career in Hollywood in the mid-1930s, and after a spell in the army and many frustrated years as a writer, directed his first film in 1949, the Western I Shot Jesse James. Fuller's third film, The Steel Helmet, was the first movie to deal with the Korean war and was a huge success. Other films Fuller made in the 50s include Pickup on South Street, House of Bamboo and Run of the Arrow.

The 1960s saw Fuller deliver dark, ground-breaking thrillers like Underworld USA, Shock Corridor and the infamous The Naked Kiss, which divided critics with their mix of melodrama and brutal realism. Fuller subsequently found it hard to find employment in Hollywood and largely worked as an actor throughout the 70s. The 1980 war movie The Big Red One was something of a comeback, but his next film, the anti-racist White Dog caused yet more controversy, and it has rarely been seen in its intended form. Fuller's final feature was the 1989 crime drama Street of No Return, although he worked in TV until the mid-90s. Died in 1997 aged 86.

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