Film Reviews

House of Bamboo (1955) – Blu-ray Review

Eureka Entertainment’s Masters of Cinema collection focuses in early December on the work of Samuel Fuller, with a release of his 1954 film Hell and High Water, and a same-day release for his 1955 follow-up House of Bamboo.

Incidentally, the latter is broadly a remake of the 1948 film The Street with No Name – starring Richard Widmark, lead for the former.  House of Bamboo is a very different film, presenting more as film noir, and detective story.  It also comes across – despite lush visuals – as even more B-movie in its sensibility.  This may be due, in part, to casting, as our lead is Robert Stack – best known now for TV’s The Untouchables, beginning later in the decade.  The film is more violent, and contains at least the implication of greater sexual charge and, as such, is even more of a genre work.

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The film deals with the aftermath of an armed robbery on a military train in Japan.  The ammunition stolen is then used in further robberies, one leading to the death of an American implicated with the culprits.  With Army inspectors already on the case, due to the death of a Sergeant during the initial raid, they get to the victim just before he passes, and glean information about the gang with which he was working.  Eddie Kenner (Robert Stack) then goes undercover in Japan under the alias Eddie Spanier to try to get information on the gangster Sandy Dawson (Robert Ryan).

With Dawson a no-nonsense boss who kills any of his gang who get wounded, in order to ensure they cannot be captured for information, there are palpable dangers inherent to Eddie moving into this world.  In the course of his investigation, Eddie falls in love with Mariko (Shirley Yamaguchi), a women whose husband was killed by Dawson’s gang.  She is able to help him by getting information to his partner.  With Dawson’s work starting to be compromised by the leak of information, he becomes keen to find the source.  Can Eddie keep his cover, and what will be the consequences for him if he can’t?

With a full HD presentation of a 2k restoration, this is a beautiful transfer, complemented by a decent stereo audio track (advertised as mono).  Colours are vibrant and blacks deep, with minimal grain.  This is fine treatment for a film that is very entertaining in every way.

In terms of bonus features, this appears to be identical to the five-film set Eureka put out as part of this range last year to mark Samuel Fuller’s time at 20th Century Fox.  There are two commentaries, neither of which appears to have been new at the time of that release, but neither do they sound particularly dated.  Both are two-handers from film historians.  The first features Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman, the second Alain Silver and James Ursini.  They manage both to cover the same ground without any real repetition.  Both deal with historical context, Fuller’s career, stories of the actors, and make observations on what we are seeing, and how it fits both into the filmmaker’s body of work, and the movie industry of the time.

Despite having a similar focus they have completely different tone – with the former being far more fun, having more humour and interplay between the hosts, and the latter being far more scholarly in feel – and cover almost completely different stories and observations.  Both are evidence that two-handers generally flow better than solo efforts, and really do concentrate the minds of the participants.  Neither is ground-breaking in approach, but both are entertaining.

‘Fuller at Fox’ is a 26-minute feature produced for the aforementioned box set from last year – also titled ‘Fuller at Fox’.  Although covering extensively (for the running time) the five films of that set (including the two released this month), it has the general stiffness of the audio essay, with David Cairns sounding at all times like he is reading, and with no sense of spontaneity or life in his voice.  It is fine.

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Rounding off the onscreen bonuses is a trailer from 1955.  If nothing else, the contrast in picture quality reminds us what a wonderful job has been done with this restoration.  Additionally, this releases comes with a 20-page collector’s booklet, featuring an essay by film critic Richard Combs (‘Under the Gaze of the Buddha: House of Bamboo & China Gate’) covering about six pages, with the rest of it taken up by information about the film, along with the word of Samuel Fuller.  This is roughly analogous to the standard of the booklet in the Hell and High Water release, with the essay being more extensive in the other work, but the words of Fuller being more focused; as, this time, they appear in a cohesive essay (‘Cherry Blossoms and Whirligigs’).

This is probably a stronger film and release than its sister offering.  The film is pacier and more entertaining, with a far greater sense of peril than Hell and High Water could muster.  The extras are of a similar standard, but at least they look like they were produced in the last decade.  Although it seems more sensible to get the full box set, if available, this represents a decent addition to the Masters of Cinema range.

House of Bamboo is out now on Blu-ray from Eureka Entertainment.

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