Whereas Fox' "Forty Guns" lacked a needed commentary track, the studio's disc for "House of Bamboo" has film historians James Ursini and Alain Silver giving us a good overview of eccentric, and admittedly under-appreciated writer/director Samuel Fuller. Respected by the studio for delivering his films on time and on budget, Fuller's movies beholds a flagrant unconventionality that sets his approach to drama far apart from his more mainstream contemporaries.
Freely adapted from Harry Kleiner's script for "The Street with No Name" (1948), Fuller's reworking of that classic film noire plays down the procedural aspects of Kleiner's original narrative, and substitutes marvelous scenes or culture clashes between the Japanese, and transplanted American soldiers, who've either integrated themselves into the Asian culture (as with Robert Ryan's elegant and appreciative thug), or become even more ignorant - literally embodying the 'ugly American' stereotype.
Amid Fuller's usual flair for weird melodrama, even non-fans of his work will appreciate the exceptional use of actual Japanese locations, as production took place years before the country's massive economic boom. The CinemaScope photography is first-rate, and Fuller's style embraces a fascinating mix of superb action - namely the film's amazing rooftop confrontation at the end - and a docu-drama feel via the use of extant markets, shops, gambling halls, city streets, and waterfronts.
In their commentary track, Ursini and Silver engage in their familiar conversational style, and their spot-on observations are further boosted by information from their past interviews with Fuller. Recalling the director's own explanations of the film's key characters, we get an excellent sense of Fuller's sensibilities: characters rarely experience warm, humanistic relationships, and there's deliberate, homo-erotic subtext that adds an odd tension between leader Ryan, jealous right-hand man Cameron Mitchell, and new protégé Stack.
Fox' DVD also comes with two brief Movietone newsreels. The first shows Shirley Yamaguchi signing autographs before entering a soundstage, and being visited on set with Robert Stack and director Fuller by Fox bigwig, Buddy Adler. The second newsreel (missing its related soundtrack) shows Stack, Fuller and Yamaguchi "deplaning" in Japan, and Japanese intertitles titles (without English subtitles).
The DVD also includes an excellent Dolby 4.0 mix, with Leigh Harline's excellent score booming in stereo, and rear surrounds adding minor ambience.
© 2005 Mark R. Hasan