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With: Gene Barry, Angie Dickinson, Nat 'King' Cole, Paul Dubov, Lee Van Cleef, George Givot, Gerald Milton, Neyle Morrow, Marcel Dalio, Maurice Marsac, Warren Hsieh, Paul Busch, James Hong, William Soo Hoo, Walter Soo Hoo
Written by: Samuel Fuller
Directed by: Samuel Fuller
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 97
Date: 22/05/1957

China Gate (1957)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Surly 'Gate'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The blood & guts, bullets & typewriters filmmaker Samuel Fuller turned in one of his best films with China Gate, a story of the Vietnam War long before the U.S.A. became involved. The story centers around one of Fuller's greatest female character, "Lucky Legs," played by a young and very potent Angie Dickinson. She's a mixed-race, hard-luck case. She had a son with an American solder, Sgt. Brock (Gene Barry), but when the child came out more Asian than Caucasian, he fled.

Now Lucky Legs is helping out with the war effort as much as she can, and dreams of getting her son to the U.S.A. where he can live a better life. An opportunity comes up when she's asked to guide a group of soldiers through enemy lines to the Chinese border to blow up a supply of bombs. If she succeeds, her son gets passage out. Unfortunately, her ex, Sgt. Brock, is one of the soldiers, which instantly causes friction on the mission.

Fuller populates his platoon with types from all over the world, including one black character, played by superstar Nat "King" Cole (who sings a song called "China Gate"). Fuller treats them warmly, but without sentiment. When one character falls from a cliff and breaks his back, the situation is handled almost clinically. "I don't like anyone to watch me die," the victim says, adding that he hopes he never has to come back to this place. He asks them to move along, but they respond that they can't go anywhere because "we can't bury you alive."

The men have their strong beliefs. The war effort isn't one of them. Some of the men are there to get away from other problems, but no one particularly believes in what he's doing. The men get a great deal more riled up when they find out about Sgt. Brock's racism and prejudice against his own son; they begin to stare at him coldly and avoid his company.

Lucky Legs is a most fascinating character. She's vulnerable, and quickly opens her heart when she thinks it's safe, but she's also tough and with a hard exterior. She knows all about her sex appeal and uses it easily, matter-of-factly, like the men use their guns. At the enemy camp, Major Cham (Lee Van Cleef) is in love with her. She uses this very plainly and openly, but without giving up anything of herself in the process.

Fuller's camera drifts through the jungle like one of his characters. It forms natural barriers shadows from the trees and from ruins and rubble. Sadly, his budget did not allow for much in the way of special effects or other luxury items, and some badly-placed stock footage nearly ruins the effect from time to time (this is only emphasized by the ultra-clarity of the Blu-ray).

Like Fuller's other great war movies, he uses China Gate to discuss concerns other than war itself. It's just background dressing for him, and it helps that he was actually a soldier in WWII and was familiar with the sights and sounds of war. (War, in itself, is not interesting to him.) But even then, Fuller was aware that telling a good story was far more important than voicing his social agendas. And certainly, with his tough, sensational filmmaking style, he was one of the greatest storytellers of the 20th century.

Olive Films' Blu-ray comes with no extras. Though it's thrilling to at last have this widescreen movie available at all, fans should know that there's some wear and tear still apparent from the source material, i.e. scratches on the film stock. But these don't detract from a terrific movie. (A DVD is also available.)

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