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Hollywood at the Margins

Samuel Fuller, Phil Karlson, and Joseph H. Lewis

3. 1946 to 1975

2. 1946–1955

  1. Haden Guest

Published Online: 13 NOV 2011

DOI: 10.1002/9780470671153.wbhaf052

The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film

The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film

How to Cite

Guest, H. 2011. Hollywood at the Margins. The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film. 3:2:48.

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 13 NOV 2011


Three of the more distinctive and original visual stylists of the postwar American cinema — Samuel Fuller (1912–1997), Phil Karlson (1908–1985), and Joseph H. Lewis (1907–2000) — it is revealing and important to note — similarly began at the lowest rungs of the hierarchical Hollywood studio system, crafting formulaic “B” pictures for Poverty Row studios during the mid to late 1930s. This shared experience in Depression-era genre filmmaking had a more profound and shaping influence upon the subsequent course of the three filmmakers' careers than is typically recognized or understood. Early and successful tenures within studio departments focused specifically on story construction — with Fuller working through much of the 1930s as a successful and highly sought-after screenwriter and both Karlson and Lewis as editors — helped shape the kind of intensely visual and rigorously structured storytelling defined by their best-known films (Fuller 2002, 87–105; Fuller et al. 1986, 63–68; McCarthy & Thompson 1975, 328–330; Nevins 1998, 6–21). Moreover, the deep understanding of narrative structure and popular genres these directors gained from their apprentice years informed the bold reinvention of genre formulas that became an important signature of their finest work, from Fuller's proto-feminist Western Forty Guns (1957) to Karlson's minimalist heist film Kansas City Confidential (1952), to Lewis's psychosexually overripe crime films Gun Crazy (1950) and The Big Combo (1955). The similar experiences of the three directors working with the extremely limited budgets and tight schedules typical of studio era B production also proved invaluable to the control and relative creative autonomy they were all able to forge for themselves in the 1940s and 1950s as they successfully navigated between studio and independently produced projects.


  • Samuel Fuller;
  • Joseph H. Lewis;
  • Phil Karlson;
  • B film;
  • classical hollywood cinema;
  • auteurism