Samuel Fuller (1912-1997) is best known for his three war films: Steel Helmet (1951), one of the first Hollywood movies about the Korean War; China Gate (1957), one of the first dealing with the French war in Indochina; and The Big Red One (1980), a semi-autobiographical World War II pic. Fuller served as an infantryman in North Africa and Europe with the First Infantry Division in the war.
Fuller was known for his low budget films and for including plenty of graphic violence in his war movies. That’s the case in China Gate, which he produced, wrote, and directed, and which recently was released in Blu-ray by Olive Films in DVD.
Set in northern Vietnam in 1954, the decidedly anti-communist movie tells the story of a Eurasian bar girl played by the heavily made-up Angie Dickinson (below) and her quest to get her half American son out of the country as the French are about to be defeated. To do so, she volunteers to lead a mission of French Legionairres (which includes her the father of her son who disavowed him because of his Asian features) to the China Gate after a French officer tells her that once they get there, he can smuggle the boy out of Vietnam.
“Passionately, urgently anti-racist,” New York Times critic Dave Kehr wrote, “the film features Caucasian actors in its two most prominent Asian roles. Appearing with Ms. Dickinson is Lee Van Cleef as a cruel and cynical Viet Minh officer.”