By the late-Sixties, Sam Fuller's career output had slowed down considerably, but the previous decade yielded a prolific spurt of crime, war, and western films that bore his stamp of explosive emotions, stylized dialogue, and an aura of genuine, inimitable weirdness. That X Factor is perhaps what grabbed the attention of the original Cahiers du cinema critics. Fuller's direct involvement in writing, directing, and producing many of his films make it clear he fell under the auteur moniker; as Hitchcock fixated on the ice cool blonde archetype who nudges an ordinary man into extraordinary circumstances, Fuller's characters often participated in extreme behaviour, and his direction within traditional genres was anything but conventional.
The release of "Sam Fuller's Forty Guns" - billed just like that on film, and validating the auteur geeks - is a mini-celebration for western fans, reinvigorated with some eccentric touches. Long, beautifully composed wide shots counter-point some kinetically edited action scenes; and a rabidly aggressive female lead (Barbara Stanwyck) flirting with a partially emasculated nemesis/lover (Barry Sullivan) are major highlights. Our black-clad matriarch even gets her own theme song - a sleepy vocal number performed on-camera - and the metaphors that pepper Fuller's prose are sometimes outrageously sexual.
Though no extras grace this disc, the gorgeous CinemaScope version is actually on Side B (erroneously stamped as being on Side A), and the reverse side contains an older pan & scan transfer. The mono mix holds some rich sound effects, and Harry Sukman's operatic score conveys an appropriate level of ridiculous melodrama.
Much of Fuller's work deserves the label of Guilty Pleasure - the opening showdown uses massive close-ups later appropriated by spaghetti western maestro Sergio Leone, and action master George Cosmatos - but there's a lot to admire in the structure of Fuller's non-nonsense narratives, and his knack for delivering some marvelously edited action.
© 2005 Mark R. Hasan
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