I finally had the opportunity to obtain a copy of Fuller’s neglected ‘Run of the Arrow’. The print was a little fuzzy and the sound was not always clear but the film was still well worth the wait.
Even a brief synopsis of the film will strike fans as something that could’ve only come from Fuller. ‘A bitter Confederate veteran joins a Sioux tribe to keep his war against the Union going.’(From TCM.com) What makes this brief summary so quintessentially Fuller goes back to a remark about Fuller’s characters all being anarchists operating against institutions. At the same time the synopsis too simple in that it does not emphasize how deep Rod Stieger’s O’ Meara’s status as an outsider runs. His character isn’t a typical confederate but and Irish immigrant with a grudge against the Union. This seemingly minor detail reveals Fuller’s attention to history. The character’s back-story is not explained in much detail but anyone who remembers a key sequence in Martin Scorsese(one of Fuller’s most noted followers)‘s Gangs of New York where the viewer follows Irish immigrants off the boat, then onto the draft lines and finally revealing coffins being unloading off another boat. It’s seemingly minor choices like making a character Irish that unveils whole new level of bitter aggression in O’ Meara’s personal war. Moreso details like this are testament to what makes Fuller such an authentic voice in American cinema.
Steiger’s Private O’ Meara fights in the Civil War down to literally the last bullet, with him firing the last shot of the war. The bullet will be utilized later late in the film to a tremendous effect. Much to his disappointment his fellow Southerners seem content with the fall of the South, prompting O’Meara to join the Sioux where he is excepted for a while and finally brought into conflict with the union again as it expands into Sioux territory. To talk about O’Meara’s battle with the union would to discuss ‘what’ the film is about but discussing ‘how’ the film is about is even more enlightening with the film unfolding as series of failed attempts on O’Meara’s for him to be a part of something. I heard it said in a documentary on Fuller that his films were hard hitting but never cynical. I might argue that Run of The Arrow might be the sole exception with O’Meara’s failure to integrate with anyone feels synonymous with the nation’s own failed attempts to become truly unified. On the other hand there might still be an ambiguity to the ending, in the end O’Mearea leaves the Sioux when he falls to watch a Union soldier being skinned alive, perhaps this moment is actually testament to O’Meara’s hatred not running as deep as he had anticipated. The moments in which O’Meara actually relates to other characters are all later undercut by said character reaching a violent end. The two key examples are one conversation with an estranged Indian know as Walking Coyote and the second with the one sympathetic Union captain. The first exchange is particularity odd and again something that could’ve only come from Fuller in which Walking Coyote reminiscences about a simpler time but simpler times also include being nostalgic about outdated execution methods. The second is a somber debate between O’Meara and the captain where they argue their cases for the Union vs the Confederacy. The two oddly share a mutual respect for each other and Fuller does not seem to take a stance with either character, this somber discussion introduces a great ambiguity to the film and without verbalizing it directly Fuller seems to ask ‘What is keeping these two level heading and intelligent characters from finding a common ground’ ? This section becomes even more powerful when considering that Union captains last words in which he reminds his troop not to start a war over him…will be ignored.
One aspect that stands out about Run of the Arrow is that its camera work is oddly sombre especially compared to films like ‘Shock Corridor’ or ‘Pickup on South Street’. The reasoning behind that I believe lies in the subject matter. In the two former films Fuller is invoking a sense of madness invoked by the American Unconscious. This film Fuller treats in more solemn manner reinforcing the work as something of a historical documentation and like John Ford he treats the common people that the history books forgot about with the same respect that he goes Grant and Lee who are briefly seen early in the film. On the subject of Fuller’s examination of history I wanted to talk about his use of O’Meara’s bullet in more detail. Aside from the skillful use of having a shot from the bullet bookend and the film (and having it fired into the same character no less) and O’Meara’s personal war the significance placed on the object almost feels like Fuller reporting on a historical artifact and enlightening onlookers about its complex back-story. Even if the film is fictionalized the significance of the bullet if the event had exist is right in line with Fuller’s reporting where he never missed an opportunity to discuss human absurdities throughout the course of history. For evidence see his discussion with Richarc Shickel on the ‘White Dog’ Criterion where he discusses gladiator battles, as an example of mankind’s inherit violence. Likewise one could just imagine Fuller talking about the bullet that ended the civil war and was used again in a conflict with Indians as a testament to the ongoing aggression that conspired in the birth of a nation, and that’s exactly what this film reveals.