Sam Fuller at work on Run of the Arrow
She's a Dead Pigeon on Beethovenstreet, but she was feeding the live ones in Balboa Park recently when she and her husband were here in San Diego promoting their latest movie. She’s Christa Lang, star of Dead Pigeon, and her husband is director Sam Fuller, well-known for his slam-bang. gutsy, sprawling, brawling westerns and war movies. While my friends and I waited for our interview with Fuller, we visited with Christa, a winsome. German-born actress.
She related how she nearly starred in a real-life, Sam Fuller-type scene. Her husband had been “stabbed in the back” by a producer during the filming of Riata in Spain. It seems the producer, in a successful effort to have Fuller fired, showed the Warner Brothers executives some uncut, rough footage from the film. Enraged that her husband, who writes as well as directs, was snatched away from his creation, she imagined herself in a nightmare situation. She would stride into the Warner offices and, guns drawn, blast both producer and executives as coldly as she shoots Glenn Corbett in Dead Pigeon. One can imagine Miss Lang playing such a role after seeing her as the cool, blackmailing seductress in the film.
In fact, however, Christa wouldn’t harm a pigeon's feather. Warm, friendly, and open, she has been suffering, as she puts it, from culture shock. At sixteen she left Germany for Paris where she later met Fuller. Since their marriage, they have lived in a number of countries: Spain, Mexico, France, and the United States. The Fullers now reside in Los Angeles.
While Christa was explaining that above all Dead Pigeon was not to be taken seriously — it's a comedy — Sam called from the bedroom. “Honey, I'll be there in a minute.” A minute later we were introduced to Samuel Fuller.
READER: How do you do? I’m Mary Moreau.
FULLER: Like in Jeanne Moreau?
READER: I'm Duncan Shepherd.
FULLER: That's spelled like a shepherd?
READER: I'm Alan Pesin.
FULLER: How do you spell that? P.E...S...I...N.
READER: Yes. Pesin.
FULLER: That’s an odd name. It's a good name for a heavy.
READER: Like your use of Dr. Bogdanovich in the Dead Pigeon on Beethovenstreet sex shop scene?
FULLER: You caught that. Bogdanovich was supposed to be in that sex shop scene. So was Chabrol, Truffaut, and Godard. Peter called from London and asked me to postpone the scene for a day. I couldn't. We only had the shop for two hours. Chabrol and Truffaut were busy shooting. Godard was mixed up in something which I don't want to get involved in discussing. So I said, well, what the hell. Stephane Audran came. She was reading to star in Bunuel's Discreet Charm, but she took a plane, came in. I knocked that scene off, and she went back to Paris that night. Dead Pigeon is the first German-financed picture with a German crew and German cast, with the exception of Glenn Corbett, shot in English. All hell broke loose. The German studio at first said no. Well, let's reverse it. A German director coming to California, going to Paramount, using Paramount money and a Paramount crew, American cast, and wanting to shoot it in German. They would throw him right through the stage door without opening it. But I fought and won, and that was that.
READER: In general all of your past is in studio films or with people with great backgrounds in studio films, cinematographers like Biroc, MacDonald, and Cortez. What was the difference in approaching Dead Pigeon and getting it to look the way you wanted it to?
FULLER: It didn't. It’s not even the photographer’s fault. I never worked with this kind of a crew before. I didn't like the crew. But the man who photographed it is an expert. A Polish cameraman called Jerzy Lipman. He did Knife in the Water for Roman Polanski and Kanal for Wajda. But he doesn't speak English, and I don't speak Polish.
READER: You do an exact repeat of a shot from your own Pickup on South Street where you pull a man down the stairs by his legs.
FULLER: The man who played it in Dead Pigeon, Eric Gaspar, is a very nervous man. He came for an interview and said. “I'm Swiss, but I live in Germany. I'm a German actor. Shakespeare. Moliere too. I saw your film Pickup. I like very much. The dragging down the stairs. It was so good." So I say OK. You have the job on the condition that you're dragged down the stairs. He was terrified, but he did it.
READER: You also have someone knock a wheelchair down the stairs. Is that in reminiscence of Kiss of Death?
FULLER: You mean Hathaway's. Oh no. The closest I ever came to Hathaway was when Dennis Hopper asked me to do The Last Movie and play myself. The character's name was Sam. If I didn't do it, Dennis was going to get my friend Henry Hathaway to do it. I said, “That does it. A man with that face playing me!” So I took the part.
READER: It seems to us that there is a great similarity in your picking of male actors of a certain physical type, very slick dark-haired, glossy, frozen kind of faces, very unpleasant types: Barry Sullivan, James Best, Gene Barry, Cliff Robertson, Anthony Eisley, Peter Breck.
FULLER: I never gave it much thought, but you're right. Gene Evans, Cliff Robertson, Widmark. They're kind of frozen-faced fellows. You know, you're right.
READER: This isn't conscious, going for that type?
FULLER: No, I don't know. A man will come in for an interview, or else I'll have an idea who I want. I never gave it too much thought. My big thrill is getting recognition from certain directors in Europe where they would run my pictures, and almost with a pointer, explain things, reading things into them I never paid any attention to.
READER: Can we ask you about Riata? We wondered if any of your footage was used in The Deadly Trackers which gives you story credit.
FULLER: None of my footage was used. Neither is it my script. The reason my name is on it is because Fouad Said and the Warner execs wanted it on the end of the picture. I said no, but they told me I would get residuals when it played on television. Well, I said OK, but now I'm sorry I said OK, residuals or not.
READER: What was your script like?
FULLER: My germ in one sentence is: What happens when a sheriff, whose son has been brutally killed during a bank hold-up. goes out to hunt for the killer, planning to shoot him on sight, and meets a Mexican sheriff, whose job it is to bring the killer back alive. It's the story of two men, an American lawman and a Mexican lawman, and the fight between them. The Mexican needs the American for tracking, while the American steals horses, rides them to death, and. to keep going, lives on peyote. This is the story of why a man, 100 years ago. takes a narcotic, and what it does to him. It lifts him up and naturally he sees things in a different way, but he keeps going. Now this is the story of these two men, Mexican and Texan, both knowing that whenever they come across the killer, they will have to shoot each other. However, through an action scene, the Mexican is killed and the Texan's conscience hits him. Instead of killing his child's murderer, the whole last half of the picture shows him taking the killer back to the Mexican town for the dead Mexican lawman. The killer, who is tied down to his horse, tries to break the sheriff. The sheriff won't let him piss and won't let him shit. And the killer is bloated. His kidneys are busting. It's a rough film. Once the sheriff has to go over and take the killer's pecker out and hold it for him, and then he says. “No more.” Riata is the story of this sheriff, and everyone thinks his conscience has gotten to him: he's not going to be a murderer. He finally brings the killer back to the Mexican village. Now the American has done what the Mexican wanted him to do. He blows the killer's head off and rides away. And that's the movie I wrote!
READER: Thank you, Mr. Fuller.
FULLER: Thank you.