Wham, bam, thank you, Sam.
Through the exclamatory prose and plumes of cigar smoke, a passion for life, people and stories blazes forth from Hollywood maverick Samuel Fuller’s autobiography, A Third Face: My Tale Of Writing, Fighting And Filmmaking. Passion begets passion here in daughter Samantha’s heartfelt tribute, where a life well-lived emerges – movingly – as a life well-loved.
Well-told, too. As a teenage street-corner copyboy, Fuller learnt great stories are all in the telling, a lesson Samantha channels smartly. She returns dad’s story to the source by asking friends and fans to read from his memoir, their readings illustrated with photos, movie clips and Sam’s own rare archive footage.
Mark Hamill and William Friedkin nail Fuller’s cigar-seared voice affectionately but Fuller’s headline-font style grabs your ears regardless of who’s reading it. Other speakers are well-chosen: Bill Duke narrates Fuller’s take-down of the Ku Klux Klan, Constance Towers revisits her visceral role in 1964’s The Naked Kiss and a cigar-chewing Wim Wenders recounts a lovely wartime anecdote involving Marlene Dietrich.
The process threatens to reduce the featured movies to faint sketches but this is a film focused on the life, after all. And like Sam says, it’s “a helluva tale”: a one-man map of the American 20th century.
As a young crime reporter, Fuller consorted with gangsters; as an infantryman in World War Two, he survived D-Day and liberated the Falkenau concentration camp, horrific experiences illustrated by 16mm footage and his long-nurtured, studio-hacked belter The Big Red One (1980). On moving into film, Fuller wrote and directed just like he screamed headlines as a kid, attacking self-styled “ballsy yarns” (Forty Guns, Shock Corridor) passionately.
If Samantha skips over late-life struggles, preferring to celebrate achievements rather than lament decline, you can’t blame her. There’s much to celebrate, including Fuller’s love for his family. “I wanted my girl to be proud of her daddy,” he wrote. In return, she does him proud.