China Gate (Samuel Fuller / U.S., 1957):

"Korea got cold, Indochina got hot," from the newshound's thrusting inquiry arise such coups, Samuel Fuller is always ahead of the game. The overture is a brisk lecture on Ho Chi Minh, followed by a tour of a bombed-out soundstage-village that culminates in the grand sight of Lucky Legs at the Bar de la Chance. (Angie Dickinson is introduced gams first before her close-up haloed by a bamboo hat, what better way to fill the Cinemascope rectangle?) Casablanca, even before the Marseillaise emanates from a Viet Minh Victrola—the tough Eurasian smuggler and the racist American mercenary (Gene Barry) are the reunited lovers, the future of their little son (Warren Hsieh) is the impetus for the sabotage mission, nothing less than "the whole western world" hangs in the balance. Into the jungle march the legionnaires, a wacky bunch: The burly grunt apologizes for taking his time dying from a mangled spine, the Hungarian private stabs the same Soviet guard every night in his dreams, the French windbag waxes nostalgic about "Pig Alley" until a hail of bullets cuts his monologue short. "China Gate, China Gate, many dreams and many hearts you separate," croons Nat King Cole as the Big Red One veteran from New York, inordinately proud of his imperialist rifle as he traipses through the rubble, moppet and puppy and avidly tracking camera by his side. (The plangent voice must be muted in a harrowing gag, an abrupt zoom and a silent scream as his boot sinks onto a spike trap.) Fuller's commies like Cummings' kumrads, a matter of love; the jumbo Buddha from The Steel Helmet is here decapitated, the heroine contemplates the ammunition depot with the teacher-turned-partisan (Lee Van Cleef) like "the butcher house before the slaughter." Godard (Camera-Oeil) and Coppola (Apocalypse Now) profit from this splendid paroxysm, with its beautifully cracked conviction of foreign policy as a case of mixed-race reconciliation. Cinematography by Joseph Biroc. With Paul Dubov, Marcel Dalio, George Givot, Gerald Milton, Neyle Morrow, and James Hong. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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