Friday, February 1, 2013
The Crimson Kimono (1959)
The Crimson Kimono is a 1959 crime thriller written, produced and directed by Sam Fuller. It tries to be more than just a crime thriller, but it turns out to be one of his few failures.
Detective-Sergeant Charlie Bancroft (Glenn Corbett) and Detective Joe Kojaku (James Shigeta) are LA cops investigating the murder of stripper Sugar Torch. The investigation will take them into the heart of the Japanese section of Los Angeles. One of the key witnesses in the case is artist Chris Downs (Victoria Shaw). Both Charlie and Joe fall in love with her. She chooses Joe, which causes major problems between Charlie and Joe.
That’s pretty much it for the plot. Fuller gets so involved in the drama between Charlie and Joe that the crime thriller part of the movie gets pushed to one side. As a result the movie is more a social problem movie than a crime movie. And if there’s one thing I despise it’s Hollywood social problem movies. They’re almost always heavy-handed and cringe-inducingly earnest and this is no exception.
Fuller fails to generate any real excitement from the crime plot. He even fails (most unusually) to generate much visual interest. The two chase sequences that bookend the film are the only entertaining moments in the entire film. The opening sequence is vintage Fuller, which makes the rest of the movie seem even more disappointing.
Glenn Corbett is reasonably effective as Charlie. James Shigeta’s Joe comes across as self-pitying and self-centred, which is perhaps more the fault of the script than the fault of the actor. Victoria Shaw is dull as the girl they both love, Chris. The only really interesting character is Mac, a middle-aged artist who ends up having just about all the other characters crying on her shoulder. Anna Lee was a fine actress and she manages to make the dialogue sparkle in a way that the other actors fail to do.
The settings are fairly interesting, offering plenty of glimpses of Japanese-American culture.
Fuller’s script is excessively talky. Fuller had a gift for dialogue but even taking that into account I found myself wishing the characters would stop talking and do something.
Sam Leavitt’s cinematography is impressive but he doesn’t really get enough chances to show what he can really do.
I never thought I’d say this about a Sam Fuller movie, but this is a dull movie. Even with its short 82-minute running time it drags. Fuller really needed to give a lot more attention to the main crime plot, which was something he was good at, rather than getting bogged down in socially conscious melodrama, something he was not good at. The clumsy, corny, contrived ending doesn’t help matters.
This movie is included in the Sam Fuller Collection boxed set, in a reasonably good 16x9 enhanced widescreen print. The black-and-white picture is generally good although grainy at times. A short documentary is included on the disc.
Unless you’re a Sam Fuller completist (or you really dote on Hollywood social problem movies) I’d suggest giving this one a miss.