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Samuel Fuller?s The Dark Page

The Stop Smiling Review

(Kingly Books)

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Monday, November 26, 2007

The Dark Page
By Samuel Fuller
(Kingly Books)

Review by Annie Nocenti

Subtlety was not Sam Fuller’s strong suit. He preferred a bold, ballsy statement that gripped the heart and didn’t ease up till the yarn was over. The Dark Page, a 1940s bestseller finally back in print, is no exception. The setting is 1930s New York City, and opens at a Lonely Hearts Ball. Newspaper editor Carl Chapman has it all: family, job, talent. That is, until he murders a lonely heart from his past. He covers up his crime, but it is his pride in his protégée reporter Lance McCleary, as well as his lust for higher circulation, that leads him to self-destructively set the bloodhound machinery of tabloid journalism on his own trail. It’s the kind of brilliant, satirical, bull’s-eye of a story idea that formed the kernel of everything Fuller wrote.

Legendary raconteur and maverick writer/director, Fuller gave cinema such masterpieces as Pickup on South Street and The Steel Helmet. It was his film The Big Red One that inspired Saving Private Ryan. His B-movies like Shock Corridor and The Naked Kiss are now classics. He tackled untouchable subjects from racism to pedophilia, not only for their sensationalist punch, but to reveal the deeper madness in society itself. Fuller was always considered a B-movie director in America, until the Cahiers du cinéma clan “outed” him as a master. The essence of Fuller’s powerful ability to tell a story comes from something most filmmakers lack — Fuller lived first, then wrote about it.

Sam Fuller was a city crime reporter at 17, and his years on the street following the scent of a story and elbow deep in printing ink inspired both this novel and his film Park Row. He served in World War II as rifleman, and his war journals brim with the drawings and anecdotes that are the raw material he would turn into his many war films.

The Dark Page
reveals an era both bygone and current. Littered with old-time words such as “mugwump” and “bushwaw” and dialogue that sings with tabloid lyricism such as “Lance, there’s nothing so pleasing to most tastes as a good mouthful of molasses. But not too thick. You hate this setup enough to make the story sing. And tears and ink will make any circulation jump…. What do you say, boy? Give Papa some nice molasses — a couple columns of it.” Fuller’s descriptions of Five Points and the Bowery are so vivid you can smell the horseshit, shoe polish and meat pies. When an old man clutches McCleary’s arm and says “I’m the black sheep of Gotham’s flock, the whisky breath of Stephen Foster… the Henry Astor of the Fly Market, Priest of the Parish, Murderer’s Alley, the Dead Rabbits….” McCleary’s retort is: “You’re full of hop.” The prose has a misty-eyed gaze to the past even as it stands sure-footed in the present, which gives it an unusual depth and power. When McCleary visits Bradford, an ancient newsman still scribbling the news on a white cuff and putting his copy out on linotype, it is as evocative and vivid a scene of a man’s love affair with the deep roots of the newspaper industry as you’ll ever read anywhere.

The Dark Page has a forward by director Wim Wenders, who used Fuller as an actor in his film The American Friend. Wender’s points out that Howard Hawks optioned The Dark Page with Cary Grant and Humphrey Bogart in mind for McCleary and Chapman. Damien Love has written an afterword, where he tells the legendary tale of how Fuller, off fighting with the 1st Infantry Division and between battles, sees a young soldier reading The Dark Page, and that’s how he first finds out it was even published. This event becomes a scene in The Big Red One.

Evocative of an era long gone yet utterly timely in its resonance of today’s ambition, media wars, sensationalism and duplicity of the press, The Dark Page is mesmeric, and bristles with a prickly wit. The novel echoes its author: hardboiled with a heart.

 

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