A movie review of “A Fuller Life”: Samantha Fuller directed this illuminating documentary about her father, the late writer-director Samuel Fuller. Rating: 4 stars out of 4.

Share story

The line between a filmmaker and his films, and a writer-director and his collaborators, all but disappears in “A Fuller Life,” a loving and illuminating documentary about an American original, Samuel Fuller.

Fuller, who began writing for Hollywood movies in the 1930s and later directed such stark classics as “The Steel Helmet,” “The Naked Kiss” and “Shock Corridor,” has been the subject of filmed portraits before.

“A Fuller Life” is different from the usual clip-heavy retrospective interspersed with comments from old friends and colleagues. There’s a Sam Fuller behind the camera this time — i.e., Samantha Fuller, the subject’s daughter, who came along when Samuel was 62.

Movie Review ★★★★  

A Fuller Life,’ a documentary directed by Samantha Fuller, from a screenplay by Samuel Fuller (excerpts from his book “A Third Face”) and Samantha Fuller. 80 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. Grand Illusion, through Thursday.

Samantha reveals a great deal of unseen footage from her father’s personal film archive — much of it shot by his own hand while an infantryman during World War II. She also pieces together, using other materials, his formative years and final adventures. (Fuller died at age 85 in 1997.)

But the fascinating engine of this movie is the sound of Fuller’s own words: selections from his posthumous autobiography, “A Third Face,” read by actors with whom he worked closely (Mark Hamill, Constance Towers, Bill Duke) and various admiring directors (Wim Wenders, Joe Dante, William Friedkin). The expressiveness in their voices speaks volumes about what they knew of the man.

Fuller’s teenage adventures as a crime reporter in New York City are recounted, as are his Steinbeckian travels to see America during the Great Depression. His wartime experiences in Europe and North Africa — often stunning footage Fuller was ordered to film, including the liberation of the Falkenau concentration camp — shed light on his great war movies, especially the autobiographical “The Big Red One.”

Encounters with the Ku Klux Klan, J. Edgar Hoover and more become pivotal moments. Fuller’s cigar-chomping style and old-school, hard-hitting prose — and images — thrill all over again.