House of Bamboo (1955) Samuel Fuller
Fox Film Noir DVD
House of Bamboo is a rarity of film noir in that it was shot not only in CinemaScope, but also in DeLuxe Color. It’s also set in Tokyo and was supposedly the first American movie shot in Japan after World War II. All this and more makes House of Bamboo an atypical – yet totally satisfying – film noir.
Early in the film, an American named Webber (Biff Elliot), who has stolen weapons from a military train traveling from Kyoto to Tokyo, is shot, refusing to reveal the names of the other members of his gang. He does, however, let slip that he’s married to a Japanese woman named Mariko (Shirley Yamaguchi, above). The authorities find a letter to Webber from a just-released convict named Eddie Spanier (Robert Stack, above), who’s also looking for Mariko.
As Eddie begins knocking on doors in Tokyo, he finds a few well-placed fists from Sandy Dawson (Robert Ryan, above, middle) and his band of outlaws (including DeForrest Kelley, a.k.a. Dr. McCoy from Star Trek, far left, standing) who run several pachinko (sort of the Japanese equivalent to an American slot machine) parlors. Sandy is also into more high-stakes ventures, so he’s always looking for good workers, preferably former military types. Sandy likes Eddie’s toughness and asks Eddie to come work for him. Sandy’s second-in-command – a guy named Griff (Cameron Mitchell) – suspects something’s up with Eddie and immediately distrusts him. (Isn’t there always a guy named Griff in just about every Sam Fuller film?)
What most audiences then (and maybe even now) didn’t understand is how much House of Bamboo explores gay relationships. Sandy’s relationship with Griff clearly does deeper than that of friends or partners in crime, evident in Griff’s emotional outbursts directed against Sandy’s favoritism of Eddie. Sandy also is never seen with a woman while most of the other men in his gang have a few “kimono girls” around. One scene in particular between Sandy and Griff is both touching and frightening. In it we see the depth of Sandy’s feelings for Griff and the harsh realities of Sandy’s expectations. The film’s screaming DeLuxe colors also seem to trumpet emotion and energy.
The film’s finale – on a giant wheel/carousel atop a department store – is a strange, yet effective (and probably metaphorical) shoot-out scene that I wish had gone on a bit longer. If you ever find yourself stuck in a film noir rut and want to try something different, House of Bamboo could be just what you’re looking for.