Combustible Celluloid
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With: Glenn Corbett, Christa Lang, Sieghardt Rupp, Anton Diffring, Stéphane Audran, Eric P. Caspar, William Ray, Alexander D'Arcy, Anthony Chinn, Verena Reichel, Hans-Christoph Blumenberg
Written by: Samuel Fuller
Directed by: Samuel Fuller
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 127
Date: 04/19/2016

Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street (1973)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Bird Brains

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Between 1949 and 1964, Samuel Fuller directed seventeen of the damnedest movies you ever saw. Then, between 1964 and 1980 he made only three, and they were barely, if at all, released in the United States. I suppose that's the life of a maverick, an artist who does things his own way. Now the rarest of those three has been fully restored and released on a new Blu-ray from Olive Films, and it has one of the greatest titles a movie ever had: Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street. The movie itself is more problematic.

I'll put it simply. If you're a fan of crime movies, you'll find this movie completely baffling, and perhaps boring. If you're a fan of Samuel Fuller, you'll probably find this one of his "lesser" movies. If you're something like an obsessive fan of Samuel Fuller, a scholar — or a film critic — you may find something worthwhile here.

Financed by, and made for, German TV, the movie's plot is complicated, but it starts with an American private eye, Sandy (Glenn Corbett), sporting a big, Burt Reynolds mustache and a turtleneck. He's in Germany to avenge his partner, killed over incriminating blackmail photos. (He's the "dead pigeon" of the title.) Sandy teams up with Christa (Christa Lang, Fuller's wife), who is masterful in the art of seduction, to — I guess — take more photos, and hopefully find out who's behind it all. Stéphane Audran, a veteran of Luis Bunuel films, appears as "Dr. Bogdanovich" (presumably named after Fuller's pal, filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich).

Fuller's finished cut runs two hours and eight minutes; a truncated version played very briefly in American theaters, but was gone before anyone could even say the title. This full-length version feels awfully long, but the constant weirdness makes it rather mesmerizing. Fuller uses lots of zooms and odd cutting techniques borrowed from the filmmakers of the French New Wave (who, in turn, borrowed them from Fuller). He invents some truly strange sequences, from a shootout in a maternity ward, to the final showdown, which is one of the most (purposely?) pathetic in cinema history, the hero clumsily hurling an arsenal of weapons at the villain. In one scene, Sandy ducks into a movie theater playing Rio Bravo dubbed in German; in two seconds flat, he begins cheering for John Wayne ("get 'em Duke!"). In another, a clown runs around yelling about how he's on smack.

It more or less tries to recall private eye movies, but quickly disintegrates, refusing to follow any of the rules of that genre. As a regular movie, Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street only barely works, but as a Sam Fuller movie, it somehow encompasses his lovably gruff personality. And, at least it's better than his previous outing, Shark! (1969), which had been taken away from him and drastically re-edited by the studio. It just goes to show that, even though a maverick may not be polished or professional, if given his own prerogative, he can deliver something truly unique, and — in its own odd way — special.

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