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Samuel Fuller; Writer, Movie Director

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Director Samuel Fuller, whose films reflected his experience as a Depression-era drifter, a World War II hero and a crime reporter, died Thursday. He was 86.

Fuller died of natural causes at his home in the Hollywood Hills, said family friend Joseph McBride. Fuller, who lived in France until recently, had suffered a stroke several years ago.

He became a copy boy for the New York Journal when he was 12 and a crime reporter for the San Diego Sun by the time he was 17. During the Depression, he lived a drifter’s life, crisscrossing the country aboard freight trains.

He wrote short stories and published several pulp novels, starting with “Burn Baby Burn” in 1935. The next year he became a screenwriter, and in 1938 collaborated on “Gangs of New York.”

During World War II, he fought in North Africa and Europe and was awarded the Bronze Star, the Silver Star and a Purple Heart. He returned to Hollywood after the war and, in 1949, directed his first film, “I Shot Jesse James.”

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Fuller wrote most of his screenplays and produced many of his own films, which often reflected his experiences.

“He was one of the most distinctive and courageous of all American filmmakers,” said Times critic Kevin Thomas. “ ‘Pickup on South Street’ [1953] is one of the most important films capturing the atmosphere of the McCarthy era. He was somebody I had profound admiration for. He was a critic’s filmmaker.”

His other films include “The Baron of Arizona” in 1950; “Hell and High Water” in 1954; “Run of the Arrow” and “China Gate” in 1957; “Verboten!” in 1959; “Merrill’s Marauders” in 1962; “Shock Corridor” in 1963; “Shark!” in 1969; “Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street” in 1972; and “The Big Red One” in 1980.

Retrospectives of Fuller’s films are often shown in Europe, where some consider him one of the most influential post-World War II directors.

He is survived by a wife and daughter.


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