An unusual film from pulp noir director, Samuel Fuller, set in LA’s Little Tokyo. The search for the killer of a stripper brutally gunned down in late-night traffic on the streets of LA is the pretext for a deft study of race, love, jealousy, and friendship. Fuller’s signature expressionist lighting, jumpy takes, and jarring jazz score keep the viewer off-balance.
Fuller’s screenplay takes us from inner-city sleaze to a Shinto temple and back. There are intriguing conversations on art and painting, love and music, race and prejudice, loyalty and friendship, that not only propel the narrative but also give the major characters amazing depth and complexity for such a short film (82 mins). The thriller aspect is not neglected with an exciting surprise ending.
I am struck by Fuller’s humanity. Little Tokyo is not a just an exotic locale, it is place of genuine interest that is explored with intelligence and respect. There is a quiet hiatus in a Shinto temple where a peripheral character, a Japanese-American man, attends a memorial service for his son, a US soldier killed in action.
A strong performance by then new-comer, James Shigeta, as an LA cop, is complemented by solid support from Glenn Corbett as his police partner and ex-Army buddy. Victoria Shaw and Anna Lee shine as the female leads Chris and Mac, intelligent women of contrasting ying and yang persuasions: Chris the demure innocent abroad and love interest, and Mac as the hard-drinking painter and proto-feminist with a heart of gold. Fuller truly loved and respected women, taking the noir genre beyond the narrow misogyny of the femme-fatale stereotype.
Enjoy it on a wide-screen.