Samuel Fuller is in vintage form with Korean War drama "Fixed Bayonets!"
Updated: Jun 13, 2022
BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
Blu-ray full-frame, 1951, not rated (combat violence, but not explicit)
Best extra: A delightful commentary with film historian Michael Schlesinger, Samuel Fuller's widow, Christa Lang Fuller, and his daughter, Samantha Fuller
"FIXED BAYONETS!" was significant in the career of grossly under-appreciated writer/director Samuel Fuller for a few reasons.
It was the second film he made during the Korean War (and fourth overall), his first for a major studio and - no surprise - one of the first to show "the gritty, naturalistic, downbeat nature of warfare," says film historian Michael Schlesinger.
The son of Jewish immigrants, Fuller was working as a newspaper copyboy in New York City at age 12 and was a crime reporter at 17. He wrote pulp novels ("The Dark Page," "Brainquake") then saw heavy fighting as an infantryman in World War II: He landed in Africa, Sicily and Normandy, also fought in Belgium and Czechoslovakia, filmed the liberation of a German concentration camp and was awarded the Bronze Star, Silver Star and Purple Heart.
So when Fuller turned to making movies - "Pickup on South Street," "Shock Corridor," "The Big Red One" - they were about as in-your-face as they come.
"Fixed Bayonets!" is no exception. Set during the first winter of the Korean War, 48 men are ordered to stay behind and protect their division as it moves out under heavy enemy fire. When the lieutenant and two sergeants die, command falls to Corporal Denno (Richard Basehart), who wants no part of the job - or killing another man.
Schlesinger is joined by Fuller's widow, Christa Lang Fuller, and daughter, Samantha Fuller, on a wonderful commentary that leaves you with a real feel for the man and the movie.
After the release of "The Steel Helmet," his other Korean War film (also in 1951), Fuller was courted by all of the major studios. But while the other heads talked about money, 20th Century Fox's Darryl Zanuck was interested in stories, and that appealed to a "born storyteller" like Fuller, says Christa Lang Fuller. So did the fact that Zanuck also liked to chomp on a good cigar. They hit it off and Fuller signed a seven-picture deal.
Schlessinger discusses the tremendous set built by multi-Oscar winner Lyle Wheeler ("Gone With the Wind," "The King and I"), the camerawork of the great Lucien Ballard ("The Killing," "The Wild Bunch") and the 18-day shoot. It was a luxury for Fuller, who shot "Steel Helmet" in eight. Basehart, he says, was an accomplished stage actor who'd turned heads at the movies with "14 Hours," but will always be remembered for TV's "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea."
And everyone shares fond memories of Gene Evans, who co-stars as the aptly-named Sgt. Rock. Like Fuller, he was a combat veteran and the two became lifelong friends.
The icing is the 4K restoration courtesy of Kino Lorber. The print looks fantastic, with a solid grey scale, sharp contrasts, fine detail and a consistent grain.
Make room on your shelf. "Fixed Bayonets!" is a keeper.
- Craig Shapiro