Samuel Fuller's 1959 crime thriller "The Crimson Kimono" has been released as a Twilight Time limited edition (3,000 units) Blu-ray. The film finds Fuller in full "triple threat" mode as director, producer and screenwriter. It's also fits comfortably into Fuller's oeuvre in that it's an off-beat story with quirky, well-defined characters and relationships. Set in Los Angeles, the movie opens with the shocking cold-blooded murder of a popular stripper by an unseen assassin. As with the works of Hitchcock, Fuller dismisses the notion that there is safety in numbers, as the victim is killed while fleeing her pursuer through crowded streets. The killer gets away and the story introduces us to the detectives assigned to the case. They are Det. Sgt. Charlie Bancroft (Glenn Corbett) and his partner Det. Joe Kojaku (James Shigeta), two Korean War veterans who served together in combat and who are now chummy enough to share a fashionable bachelor pad. They discover that a local artist, Chris Downs (Victoria Shaw), had some interaction with the stripper and is aware of a suspicious man she associated with. When Chris's sketch of the suspect ends up on the front pages, she finds herself the target of a failed assassination attempt. Charlie and Joe suggest that she can be safely hidden away in their apartment. Naturally, sparks begin to fly considering the three principal characters are extremely attractive. Charlie finds himself falling hard for Chris, but she is unaware of his feelings. Meanwhile, she expresses her desires for Joe, who clearly wants to reciprocate but is hesitant to humiliate the love-struck Charlie. If all this sounds like a high school romance it must be said that under Fuller' assured direction, it is anything but. The scene in which Chris and Joe slowly and almost reluctantly admit to their mutual attraction is superbly written and enacted by Shaw and Shigeta and brims with sexual tension.
The murder mystery is clearly the MacGuffin here. It's mostly a catalyst to bring this love triangle to life. Fuller places most of the action in L.A.'s Little Tokyo community and the film concentrates on the character's interactions with the Japanese-American population. The most interesting character is Joe, who is Japanese-American. When we first see him he is confident, witty and charismatic, all traits that are shared by Charlie. The Butch and Sundance-like relationship goes into a nosedive after Joe confesses his love for Chris. Although clearly heartbroken, Charlie keeps his reaction restrained, only to have the guilt-ridden Joe accuse him of latent racism. He's wrong but can't be convinced otherwise. A lifetime of battling to be socially accepted in a predominantly white society has brought out his own paranoia and reverse racism. It all leads to a tension-packed conclusion that mingles the strained relationship between the three characters and a chase for the killer through an exotic parade celebrating Japanese culture that plays out in similar style to the Junkanoo sequence in "Thunderball".
There is much to commend about this film, which- like most Fuller productions- was shot on a modest budget in B&W with actual locations favored over studio sets. Perhaps Fuller didn't have the funds to rely heavily on sets and thus filmed on location. In any event, this tactic adds immeasurable grit and realism to his movies. Glenn Corbett is likable and fine in an understated performance, Victoria Shaw is excellent as the woman who innocently becomes the instrument that divides two good friends and James Shigeta, who along with Corbett made his screen debut with this film, shows the skills that would quickly elevate him to international stardom. Anna Lee is outstanding as "Mac", an aging artist with a gruff personality who swizzles hard liquor and smokes stogies while churning out comments like "A man is just a man, but a good cigar is a smoke!"
The impressive release boasts a very fine transfer and some bonus
additions ported over from a previously-released DVD release. They
include an excellent documentary in which noted filmmakers and Fuller's
friends and family reflect on his hard-scrabble life and persona (he's
always seen puffing away on cigars that are long enough to serve as
inspirations for cartoons.) There is also a video featurette in which
director Curtis Hanson pays homage to the master. In addition to the
fine liner notes in the collector's booklet by Julie Kirgo, there are a
selection of trailers for the film, though they are brief enough to make
me wonder if they weren't actually TV spots. These are especially
interesting because they illustrate how the marketing of the film
undermined Fuller's quest for racial tolerance. In the movie, Fuller
wasn't allowed to go overboard in addressing the shameful days of WWII
when Japanese Americans were rounded up and forced into "relocation
camps", ironically the same term utilized by Nazi Germany for
imprisoning society's "undesirables". While people weren't executed in
the American camps, the Japanese Americans were forced to forfeit their
homes and careers even as their sons and brothers fought for the nation
in the famed nisei units, which were among the most valiant and
decorated of the war. Fuller makes an end run to prove this point by
including some seemingly superfluous scenes of monuments to the nisei
along with plaques commemorating their courage with quotes by noted
generals. However, the awful trailers and print ads for the film
centered on the novel attraction of a "Japanese boy" to a "beautiful
American girl"- despite the fact that the Shigeta character is as
American as apple pie. The implication seems to be that he isn't a real American
(wink, wink.) The poster for the film presents a passionate embrace
between the couple as though it has the same novelty as King Kong pawing
Fay Wray. Fuller was said to be upset by the ad campaign but it was too
late to do anything about it. Additionally, the hyperbole extends to
referring to Glenn Corbett as America's fastest rising young star,
overlooking the fact that this film was his screen debut and no one had
seen him prior to the movie's release.
In all, another outstanding Twilight Time release. Click here to order.