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House of Bamboo  (1955)

 

Rating: NR

Distributor: Fox Home Entertainment

Release Date: June 7, 2005
Review posted: June 20, 2005

 

Reviewed by Dylan Grant

 

SYNOPSIS

 

Sandy Dawson (Robert Ryan) has assembled a platoon of ex-Army thugs to run pachinko parlors while pulling off bloody heists and armed robberies.  The murder of a friend brings Eddie Spanier (Robert Stack) into the group, along with his beautiful mistress (Shirley Yamaguchi).  But Spanier’s behavior grows treacherous, and his loyalties become questionable, leading to a breathless, murderous conclusion high above Tokyo.

 

CRITIQUE

 

With House of Bamboo, Samuel Fuller made of the first Hollywood films – if not the first – filmed in Japan after World War II.  Opening the film with a startling shot of Mount Fuji framed through the boots of a dead U.S. soldier, Fuller follows through with his classically tabloid opening, offering one of his most tense films, filled with some genuinely shocking moments.

 

The film is shot as though Japan were being discovered for the first time, and in a sense it was.  The War was over, and Japan was not the same country it had been before.  Their society was changing, opening, and into this walks Eddie Spanier.  Played by Robert Stack, Spanier is the stereotypical ugly American.  Just looking at him we can see how much he stands out; he is the only man in Japan dressed the way he is.  He does not speak a word of Japanese, and he never tries to.  When he runs into someone who does not speak English, Spanier raises his voice, as though the language barrier can be broken down through sheer volume.  As we soon learn, Eddie is supposed to stand out; he is working with the Army to solve the murder we witnessed in the opening scene.  Stack, most commonly remembered as Elliot Ness on The Untouchables, or as the host of Unsolved Mysteries, gives a strong, nuanced performance here.  He plays a character that must be both detective and criminal, and Stack is perfect in the role.

 

Spanier falls in with Dawson, played with menacing brilliance by Robert Ryan.  Dawson and his crew plan their robberies like military combat operations.  They are a rogue squad, war leftovers putting their soldiering skills to a use for which Uncle Sam probably never intended.  Ryan is superb as Dawson, some of his best moments coming after he realizes he has been double-crossed.  There is a scene late in the film where Dawson realizes that not only has he been betrayed, but he has killed the wrong man because of it: Ryan plays the scene with an intense gravity.  Among Dawson’s crew, the standout is Griff, played to psychotic perfection by Cameron Mitchell.  Griff, Dawson’s right hand man, slowly becomes unhinged as Spanier ingratiates himself more and more into the group.  Mitchell’s performance is as compelling as anything else in the film.

 

Though Fuller is credited with writing only “Additional Dialogue,” one can only suspect that he was far more involved in the writing.  House of Bamboo is vintage Fuller, his unsentimental, tabloid style soundly imprinted on the film from first scene to last.  The climactic scene, at a rooftop amusement park, is one of the great set pieces of all time, and there are outbursts of violence that are quite shocking.  There are also instances where we expect an outburst of violence that never comes, something all the more tense.  House of Bamboo is part of the film noir tradition without being typically noir.  Absent are the dark shadows and expressionistic lighting; Fuller gives us noir in broad daylight.  The influences this film has had on others are obvious from the first viewing.

 

THE VIDEO

 

House of Bamboo is presented in the original 2.35:1 widescreen format.  The transfer is pristine, beautifully preserving the Cinemascope photography, as well as the vibrant use of color in the film.  The blacks and white are solid, and the overall picture is free of any defects.

 

THE AUDIO

 

This DVD is presented in English 4.0 Surround sound, and the presentation truly does the film justice.  The presentation comes through sharply through all channels, and it is particularly strong in the many Tokyo street scenes.

 

THE EXTRAS

 

Commentary by Film Historians Alain Silver and James Ursini: The two cinema scholars discuss Fuller’s techniques, as well as the place of House of Bamboo in his larger body of work.  An interesting track.

 

Fox Movietone News: Vintage behind-the-scenes footage – shown here without sound – showing Fuller and company deplaning in Japan, as well as on-set footage.

 

Trailer: The original vintage theatrical trailer.

 

Spanish Trailer: A vintage trailer for the film’s original Spanish language release.  The small differences and similarities are interesting.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

 

House of Bamboo is one of the more interesting films in the Fuller canon.  The story is tense, and the performances are strong across the board.  The bonus material, particularly the commentary, is detailed, giving us insight into Fuller and his way of working.

 

VERDICT: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 

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:: DVD Ratings

 

THE MOVIE

8

THE VIDEO

9

THE AUDIO

8

THE EXTRAS

8

OVERALL

8

 

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