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Samuel Fuller: A Third Face: My Tale Of Writing, Fighting, And Filmmaking

Coming from a rough-and-tumble background in tabloid crime reporting and pulp fiction, the late B-movie giant Sam Fuller believed in a lean, mean economy of expression; he never wasted a frame on anything other than the essence of truth. So it's significant that his sprawling, passionate, deeply inspiring autobiography, A Third Face, runs for nearly 600 pages, doesn't have an ounce of fat on its bones, and moves with the speed and force of a prizefighter's clenched fist. Fuller was never regarded as a particularly subtle director, but his searing filmography—which includes The Steel Helmet, Shock Corridor, Pickup On South Street, The Naked Kiss, and The Big Red One, among other classics—reveal a man who believed strongly in his "yarns" and had an intuitive grasp of the raw power of images. His storytelling fervor and salty, distinctive narrative voice translate so purely and directly to prose that his memoirs play like the movie of his life, the ultimate 20th-century opus, financed by the most exorbitant budget in film history. With cameos from figures as far-flung as Jack Dempsey, Al Capone, Marlene Dietrich, George Patton, Jim Morrison, and Jean-Luc Godard, Fuller's wayward journey takes him from the ink veins of Park Row to the carnage at Omaha Beach to the runway of avant-garde fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto. From boyhood, Fuller had an ingrained journalist ethic, but where others experienced the world through newspapers, he was determined to experience it for newspapers. As a teenager, Fuller talked himself into a dream job as a copy boy for a Hearst publication, where he gleaned enough about reporting to land a writing job at the fledgling New York Evening Graphic, a sensationalist crime rag that put him close to murders, suicides, and several grueling executions. During the Great Depression, he hitchhiked across the country, collecting freelance money on reports and cartoons and often sleeping on a cardboard mattress in the makeshift shantytowns that housed the urban poor during the period. He made extra money turning out hardboiled fiction, but when WWII came along, he dropped his fledgling career to join the U.S. Army, and was assigned to fight on the front lines for the first infantry division, called The Big Red One. As he and his fellow "dogfaces" scrapped their way through North Africa, Sicily, Czechoslovakia, and Omaha Beach on D-Day, Fuller bore witness to shocking atrocities on the battlefield and in a concentration camp, leaving him with images forever tattooed on his brain. When he finally resumed his pursuits in Hollywood, Fuller's ripe sense of horror and deep compassion for the common foot soldier made him an ideal candidate for war pictures, but he was equally skilled in other genres, such as Westerns (I Shot Jesse James), gangster melodramas (Underworld U.S.A.), and stark social dramas (Shock Corridor, The Naked Kiss). Yet in Fuller's mind, his entire career was mostly a prelude to 1980's The Big Red One, a first-person account of his experiences as a soldier, which started as a 1,000-page script and a four-and-a-half hour final cut before the studio whittled it away to less than two hours. Fuller claims his version still exists somewhere in the Warner Bros. vault, but until it's revived, the harrowing middle section of A Third Face will have to suffice. Finished with seamless continuity after his death by his wife Christa and his friend Jerome Henry Rudes, the book tours a full life with great intimacy and verve, with 171 photographs captioned like a personal slideshow. Five years after a death he knew was imminent when he started writing his memoirs, Fuller has finally delivered his most gripping yarn.


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