Sunday, March 6, 1994

Sam Fuller’s Wild, Wild West

I Shot Jesse James (1949) & Run of the Arrow (1956)

San Francisco Art Institute

These two early revisionist Westerns by American bad boy Sam Fuller point to what any lover of the genre has long known—that the genre has always invited iconoclasts (Peckinpah, Leone, Ray, Sirk, etc.) who have been delighted to puncture the prototypes it is now fashionable to debunk. I Shot Jesse James focuses on James’ assassin Bob Ford, “the dirty little coward who shot Mr. Howard (in the back),” as its hero. Fuller’s first film uses closeups to create an unbearable psychological intensity and tell the pathetic story of misplaced love and emotional inadequacy. Run of the Arrow interlaces typically absurd Fulleresque plot devices into a shocking morality tale. A disillusioned Confederate soldier (Rod Steiger) joins the Sioux following the Civil War so he can continue his personal vendetta against a group of corrupt Yankees. Fuller’s response to Sioux life puts to shame Hollywood’s recent attempts to balance the ledger.