The Steel Helmet

Director: Samuel Fuller
Screenwriters: Samuel Fuller

Institute History

  • 1988 Sundance Film Festival


“Besides being a slow, awful movie, Steel Helmet and its insane hero, a big-faced character fighting a war against everybody but a little Korean boy, exemplifies the way Fuller touches everything with iconoclasm, turning it into black comedy . . . “Once you’ve seen any of the uncut scenes or heard the blunt cartoon names (Short Round, Lucky Legs), it is impossible to forget the grotesque artist, the wackiness of his films. . .“All of his war films, loaded with fatuous brotherhood, show this unstomachable condescension of whites toward blacks, Orientals and Sioux, plus (Nat King) Cole’s type of demented happiness at being part of the white man’s inane projects, such as capturing a pointless pagoda in endless, scrubby woods. Apart from the madness for Oriental art work that has an undressed look and has been dropped onto an unlikely spot by a helicopter (after being constructed overnight by a single blind carpenter), the craziness of these propagandist films is that the white hero is such trash: unprincipled, stupid, loud-mouthed, mean, thinking nothing about mauling women or any man a foot shorter . . .

“With its mangy, anonymous sets, lower class heroes who treat themselves as sages, and the primitivism (the lack of cutting, rawness with actors, whole violent episodes shot in one take), Steel Helmet antedates Godard’s equally propagandist work . . . below both careers is this obsession with renegades, people straddling two worlds, the sane and the insane (Shock Corridor), the bourgeois and the revolutionary (La Chinoise). . .Fuller is one of the first to try for poetic purity through a merging of unlimited sadism, done candidly and close up, with stretches of pastoral nostalgia in which there are flickers of myth.”
—Manny Farber, Artforum, 1969

“Politics does not concern me in my pictures. If you write a story where the red is a villain, you’re a reactionary; if he isn’t, you’re isn’t, you’re a commie. when I made Steel Helmet one columnist said: “How does a red get to make pictures in Hollywood?” The Daily Worker said it was financed by General Douglas McArthur. I’m not interested in who’s a red or an anti-commie. If I feel the hero should be a fascist, I’ll make him a fascist. If he should be a leftist, then I’ll make him one. I’m just interested in characters.”
—Samuel Fuller, Edinburgh, 1969

— Manny Farber, Artforum, 1969

Screening Details

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