Film

Sam Fuller Gives Us the Bird in 'Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street'

A restoration of one of Fuller's obscurer free-for-alls, it's an odd bird.


Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street

Director: Samuel Fuller
Cast: Glenn Corbett, Christa Lang
Distributor: Olive Films
Year: 1974
Release date: 2016-04-19

You know you're in for something odd when the opening credits of Samuel Fuller's detective story, produced for German TV in 1974, depict the actors and most of the crew posing in gaudy carnival costumes and mugging for the camera -- and there's the white-haired Fuller himself, dressed as a clown while iconically smoking a cigar.

For years, Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street has only been available, and rarely, in the 102-minute version given a brief theatrical run in the US. Now on Blu-ray is the UCLA Film & TV Archive's digital restoration of a complete 123-minute director's cut, with added whimsical self-consciousness and digressions to emphasize Fuller's idea that the film is a genre parody and a game.

The story isn't important and indeed isn't very interesting. Sandy (Glenn Corbett) is an American detective trying to retrieve negatives of a US senator (voiced by Fuller) who's been set up by blackmailers. Sandy's partner is the "pigeon" shot in the opening sequence by one Charlie Umlaut (Eric P. Caspar), and Sandy follows a trail to a smirking pixie called Christa (Christa Lang, Fuller's wife), the actress employed by evil fencing master Mensur (Anton Diffring) to put diplomats in compromising positions. Gaining Christa's ambiguous confidence, Sandy infiltrates the group in his attempt to nab the boss and the negatives.

There's a lot of talk interspersed with explosions of action in various locations, such as a hospital where shots are fired in the baby nursery and a man in a wheelchair is thrown downstairs in a reference to Kiss of Death. Sandy kills at least three people in the course of his investigation, one of them in a clown suit. The plot was loosely inspired by Britain's Profumo affair (filmed as Scandal ), and the nice ending is, as a bonus essay points out, a variant on the ending of Fuller's 40 Guns.

There's oodles of local color, including the Cologne carnival and parade and a trip to Beethoven's house, where Fuller recalled sleeping under the piano as a soldier liberating the city of Bonn. Also present is Fuller's play with Godardian self-conscious insertions that comment on dialogue, such as historical photos and clips of Rio Bravo and Alphaville, another detective parody with Lang. This is cross-bred with the general air of New German Cinema. The glamorous Stéphane Audran, wife of Claude Chabrol, drops by for one scene as Dr. Bogdanovich, wink wink. Veteran character actor Alex D'Arcy makes his final appearance as one of several blackmailees, the only one who foils the plot.

This is a film to be enjoyed by fans already indoctrinated to Fuller's pulpy in-your-face style. Neophytes will be put off by the rambling story and what often feels like amateurishness. It was produced as an episode of the German police procedural Tatort, which is still going strong. This explains why Sieghardt Rupp appears as a distracting German cop who doesn't function well in the story, but he's a recurring character from the series. The dialogue has an improvisational quality, with actors stepping on each other's lines.

Rupp's character speaks German only, which the problematic subtitle option chooses not to translate; they only subtitle the English dialogue, and not always accurately. Still, viewers may wish to have the subtitles on because the sound is bad, having a damp and noisy quality. This isn't Fuller's doing, yet it will affect the viewer. Ironically, this isn't true for the trailer, which shows the whole story and includes clear sound, including a bit of French dialogue where Christa tells a diplomat he should be an actor and he replies that a diplomat is always an actor. This is relevant to the theme, where Christa describes herself as an actress and the whole plot involves masquerades by the main characters.

A closer examination of the image reveals that it's often beautiful in color, composition and movement, with a regular use of wide-angle lenses by Polish photographer Jerzy Lipman, who shot great black and white films for Andrzej Wajda and Roman Polanski. The pulsing music is by pioneering electronic group Can, billed as The Can. If only the sound were better, this would be a more pleasing piece of oddball in-jokery. Even as is, Fuller fans will welcome this release, which includes a two-hour documentary that interviews Lang, Wim Wender, Fuller's daughter and others. It's so well-done as to fascinate even those flummoxed by the feature.

For the curious who wish to compare, good-looking and clean-sounding prints of the tighter German TV version are currently on Youtube, in German with no subtitles; the clip of Rio Bravo is in better shape. A truly ideal disc would have included both versions.

5

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