HOUSE OF BAMBOO (1955)

House of Bamboo 1955 Back in 1948, Harry Kleiner wrote The Street With No Name, which became an instant classic in the film noir realm. The film, starring the almighty Richard Widmark and Mark Stevens, was an unofficial sequel to House on 92nd Street, both films backed by the feds. Maverick director Samuel Fuller convinced Kleiner to pen a loose remake of The Street With No Name set in Japan – expanding on the plot of an undercover fed infiltrating a treacherous underworld. The result was House of Bamboo, a film often considered to be the first picture to depict Japanese folks as normal people, working slobs just like Americans. It has its flaws here and there, but overall it’s a terrific film marked with the brute violence, tabloid sensibilities, and strong politics that Fuller would become known for. Robert Stack plays Eddie Spanier, a rough and tumble Yank thrown into postwar Tokyo, with its shantie houses, labyrinthine marketplaces, and clanging pachinko joints. After stumbling through a kabuki theater and bathhouse, Eddie locates Mariko (Shirley Yamaguchi), the wife of a crook killed during a recent botched robbery. Eddie says he’s old pals with her husband and that he traveled to Tokyo to work with him. It’s all a front, of course. Eddie is really an army-cop whose assignment is to go under deep cover within a gang who’s been pulling high profile crimes, including a train heist in which a whole lotta ammunition and weapons were snatched. Eddie starts walking around town, shaking down pachinko house owners, until he falls flat on his face in front of crime boss Sandy Dawson. The image of burly Robert Stack being punched through a rice paper door is something else. Fresh off his Oscar nomination for Crossfire, Robert Ryan plays Dawson passionately as a sensitive and cunning crook. Eddie’s initiation into Dawson’s gang goes down much like Stiles does a background check on Gene Cordell in The Street With No Name. There’s some framing involved and a manufactured criminal record. The further undercover he goes, the more Mariko falls in love with Eddie. There’s some strong romantic moments in the film, particularly when Mariko is nursing Eddie back to health. He can’t get too close, however, since he’s there on a mission, not to roll around in the bamboo with a widow. The interracial relationship between Eddie and Mariko takes backseat to the relationship of Eddie and Dawson. I don’t buy any theories of homoerotic subtext though. It’s a macho, protective relationship with Dawson acting as a patriarch over his entire gang of thieves. When he thinks Mariko’s two-timing Eddie, for example, he beats on her something fierce. When he suspects his former right-hand-man of being a rat, he shoots him dead without flinching. Then he mourns over the body, wishing it didn’t have to be this way. It’s a solid, multi-faceted performance by the great Robert Ryan. He carries most of the emotional weight in the film, commanding the screen while Stack’s character feels awfully hollow. Fuller shot in CinemaScope to present a tremendously vivid portrait of Tokyo. From the opening shots of Mt. Fuji to the cramped marketplaces, Fuller paints a portrait of postwar Japan that’s both dark and alluring. The film was shot by cinematographer Joseph MacDonald, who, along with Kleiner, worked on The Street With No Name. Some of the scenes, such as the heists, almost look like their shot guerrilla style. The sense of immediacy and danger is wildly potent during the opening train robbery and a later attempt to knock off a mobile bank. Fuller delivers a nice collision of East and West – mirroring the interracial relationship. During a serene fan dance, the women suddenly burst into a jitterbugging party. The hoods in the film all dress like American gangsters, completely aloof to the fact that their residing in Tokyo. They stick out like sore thumbs within the small Japanese house with all their rice paper doors and other Japanese accoutrements. The thrilling final scene is strongly Hitchcockian in nature, just how I like em. It’s set on a rooftop carnival, complete with petting zoo and a strange, revolving globe lined with benches. Some of the shots during this segment are downright stunning. It’s pure, dramatic, and breathtaking cinema.

Patrick Cooper

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