BRANNAVAN GNANALINGAM reports from the Wellington Film Society. This week: Fuller’s Big Valley.

SAMUEL FULLER seems to be so ambivalent about everything, that you have no idea how to take some of his films. As a commentator on this website astutely noticed about Pickup on South Street, there appeared to be a lot of male-on-female violence. However, this is also the director who turned similar violence in The Naked Kiss into a searing indictment on the treatment of women. Yet this is also the director whose depiction of Charity Hackett in Park Row was anything but charitable. In Forty Guns, Fuller again has a strong female character, and seems to subject her too, to punishment. But this is Sam Fuller – and you can’t seem to pin down his ideological position on anything really.

The film’s centrepiece is of course Barbara Stanwyck. Stanwyck whose career appeared to stall after that archetypal femme fatale performance in Double Indemnity thirteen years before, still retains that undeniable attraction. Though Fuller doesn’t pull any punches in suggesting she has aged. But then again, so too has the film’s male protagonist – a world-weary Wyatt Earp-like figure played by Barry Sullivan (Griff Bonnell). These are figures who don’t fit into the mythology of the West any more, they’ve already got the land, they’ve already killed too many people, and they want out.

This is a total deconstruction of the West told in the typical Fullerian way. It can feel utterly lightweight and wildly melodramatic, but underneath it all, Fuller knows what he is doing even if he doesn’t maintain a constant mood. Don’t expect a consistency of tone like the nostalgia of Ford, the style of Leone or the hysteria of Ray. This has the tense set-pieces (the ambush for example), the occasionally unsettling editing, the outrageous shots (Stanwyck being dragged by a horse during a twister), the moral and ethical obligations. And there are the utterly laughable moments – the romance between Griff’s brother, Wes, and Louvenia, the local gunsmith, and the song numbers for example are particularly silly. But then again they’re not. The ending too is typical Fuller – totally ridiculous especially considering how the climax had worked, but somehow understandable. But this is Stanwyck’s film – her sultry presence, and refusal to do anything except on her own terms makes her a particularly powerful character throughout. And while, you could argue that she is punished at the end, it’s her dominating performance throughout that remains the indelible one.

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The Auckland Film Society to raise some much needed cash is doing a fundraiser courtesy of Gamewizz Digital Entertainment, and offering a brilliant Fuller four-DVD set for only $32.50! The films are Forty Guns, Pickup on South Street, Shock Corridor, and The Naked Kiss, four of Fuller’s most well-known and iconic films. The Wellington Film Society is taking orders up until September 10. If you are interested, place an order at the Film Society desk prior to screenings on Mondays at the Paramount. The deal is also available to Hamilton Film Society members, and also reportedly to Palmerston North members. This is a perfect chance to pick up some of the key works by one of the cinema’s great iconoclasts for a very cheap price.