Film Comment Back Issues 728x90 Film Society of Lincoln Center

Pulp Pick: China Gate

By Chuck Stephens

print Print

(Olive Films, $24.95)

China Gate Sam Fuller

Long the elusive Holy Grail for Fuller fanatics, China Gate—the two-fisted filmmaker’s magnificently CinemaScopic pre–Vietnam War mini-epic, “dedicated to France”—throws the director’s career-long concerns (racism, war, the simple valor and ugly stupidity of folks everywhere) into extraordinary relief. A concussion grenade of “oriental” eye makeup and endless gams, Angie Dickinson incinerates the screen as the Eurasian bargirl/smuggler extraordinaire “Lucky Legs,” determined to send her illegitimate son to America, and unwilling to let either the boy’s racist father Sgt. Brock (Gene Barry) or the ideological designs of guerilla Major Cham (Lee Van Cleef) get in her way. Nat “King” Cole provides moral fiber, battleground agony, and the film’s indelible title song. More noir than Apocalypse Now and far left of Platoon, China Gate is old-school Hollywood at its hottest political pitch, and cinematographer Joseph Biroc’s overgrown jungle-scapes and glistening visions of bleeding soldiers frozen in ferocious (and ferociously backlit) combat seal the deal. An absolute must-own.

# Close