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20th Century Fox presents
"I never could figure a man who'd betray a friend. It must take some special kind of guy, a guy that gets a kick out of worming his way in and just when you get to like him, in goes the knife, right?"
DVD ReviewSamuel Fuller's House of Bamboo was a remake of an earlier noir, 1948's The Street with No Name. Unlike that film's "hooray for the FBI" premise, Fuller makes a more amoral, conflicted picture. The general setup in both films is the same: an undercover agent must infiltrate a violent gang, but finds himself inadvertantly compromised, putting himself in grave danger. This time, the undercover man is an Army MP named Eddie Kenner (Robert Stack), sent to join up with the gang of ex-GIs, led by Sandy Dawson (Robert Ryan). Ostensibly, Dawson and his flunkies run a string of pachinko parlors, but their real sideline is pulling off various brutal stick-up jobs around Tokyo.
This is clearly not based in reality (the yakuza were doing a fine job running the Japanese crime world on their own), but leaving that element out of it, the film remains a compelling experience due to its characters and setting. The Japanese surroundings and citizenry play as large a role as any of the characters, as the culture clash between America and Japan is always present and racism is seen from both sides. The relationship between Eddie and Mariko (Shirley Yamaguchi), the widow of one of Dawson's men, provides the film's main East-West clash. Eddie arrives in Japan the stereotypical American abroad: hostile to different cultures, shouting to try and make himself understood to Japanese citizens, and so on. He softens up over the course of the picture as he gains a measure of understanding about the culture and slowly falls in love with Mariko.
Trouble is, they're not the only ones in love. As discussed in the commentary track, Fuller wrote Dawson to be attracted to Eddie as well, despite Stack's general lack of spark or charisma. It's nothing blatantly overt, and audiences at the time missed it completely, but the attraction is really the only thing that explains Dawson's actions once Eddie joins the gang. It is Dawson's behavior towards Eddie that really results in his downfall; until Eddie shows up, the gang is running smoothly. Eddie's appearance causes immediate tensions between Dawson and his second in command, Griff (Cameron Mitchell), leading eventually to murder in one of the film's most memorable scenes.
The extent to which Dawson has lost the plot is evident in the quote leading this review; Dawson is a guy who has run his group like a military unit, with precision and a "dead men tell no tales" rule about leaving men wounded during a job. But his failure to live up to that rule, allowing Eddie to live despite being wounded in the midst of a caper, and then allowing feelings to get in the way of what is strictly business for both men, signifies his end. That end comes in a marvelously shot sequence in a kids' theme park atop a Tokyo building. To the end, Stack goes about his job like an automaton, leaving Dawson as the real loser, a guy who is killed by emotion and disloyalty, though he himself is hardly the most pleasant of human beings.
Robert Ryan is excellent as the confused Dawson, taking a possessive interest in Eddie even if he doesn't appear to understand why. It's the film's showpiece role, and he fills it well. Stack is blank-faced through much of the film, oblivious to most everything but his job and Mariko. It's a frustrating performance in some ways, but suits the character. Star Trek legend DeForest Kelley plays Charlie, a member of the gang, and he has a couple nice scenes. The rest of the cast is solid if unexceptional in what are undemanding roles.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: Presented in its original Cinemascope framing, the 2.55:1 picture looks clean and colorful, though there is some haloing present. It isn't enough to detract from what is a very nice transfer, though.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: The original 4-track stereo sounds clean and crisp; the frequent gunshots have a real punch. Spanish and French mono tracks are provided as well.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Laura, Call Northside 777, Panic in the Streets, Street With No Name
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Film scholars James Ursini and Alain Silver
Packaging: unmarked keepcase
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsThough an atypical noir in some ways, House of Bamboo has brutality and betrayal aplenty, and looks and sounds good in this Fox Noir Collection disc. A worthwhile addition to any noir fan's shelf.
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