House of Bamboo
Fox Home Entertainment
Date: June 7, 2005
Review posted: June 20, 2005
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Movietone News: Vintage
behind-the-scenes footage – shown here without sound – showing Fuller
and company deplaning in Japan, as well as on-set footage.
The original vintage theatrical trailer.
Trailer: A vintage
trailer for the film’s original Spanish language release. The small
differences and similarities are interesting.
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.
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