The Naked Kiss (1964) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
20Jun/100

The Naked Kiss (1964)

Danny no longer writes for Can't Stop the Movies, and can be reached at his fantastic site Pre-Code.com

Danny INDIFFERENTSamuel Fuller has a pretty weighty reputation in a number of cinematic circles. The man who infamously declared cinema to be like a battleground-- "There's love, hate, action, violence, death... in one word: emotion!"-- is not famous for his subtlety.

His 1964 effort The Naked Kiss is pretty much every color of the emotional spectrum, exploding across the screen in a mix of melodrama and lurid glee. Containing a bounty of every sordid subject that Fuller can cram into it, it's never successful as anything other than a time capsule of one man's demented vision of vice and secrets in a small town.

The movie starts with a flurry of violence, as the first person camera is assailed by a woman flailing wildly. She loses her wig momentarily-- revealing her bald head beneath-- and we pan back to see her pimp laying on the ground, dazed.

Her name is Kelly and she takes $75 from him and ruefully notes that that's what's owed to her before heading out the door. We've already got one of the themes for the film emerging, and that's the idea that Kelly is deep down a good person. She only takes what's owed her! She's a good prostitute!

This gets even sillier as she relocates to Grantville, your typical small town with happy folks lining the streets. When Kelly arrives, she's soon fingered (cough) by the town's sheriff, Griff, who pays for her services and then tells her to go across the river to work at a brothel. Kelly resists and we soon cut to her working at the hospital as a nurse. She's beloved in the children's ward, and finds herself strangely at peace as she slowly lets her maternal instinct finally kick in.

The film turns into a love triangle, as Griff doesn't quite trust that Kelly's reformed, and then Kelly meets the town's local millionaire and namesake, Grant. It looks like the plot will hinge on Kelly's plot until she confesses to him her past and he takes it in stride. Why? It's explained later when she walks in on Grant, and, in probably the only scene that isn't blatantly rubbed in your face with the subtlety of a Gallagher routine, she realizes that he's molested a little girl.

What happens next is the third act of the film, and I'll refrain from spoiling that for you, though before I left out the trips to the brothel, the part where Kelly gives a friend money not to get an abortion, the part where she tells off the local madame, etc, etc. It gets even goofier and over the top in Act III, though, if you dare imagine.

Fuller imbues this with the bare minimum of joy, as most of the movie is turgid and languishes on the melodramatic flourishes. Kelly is less the proverbial 'hooker with a heart of gold' and more 'Jesus disguised as a prostitute': she becomes so saintly and so pure that she's hard to emphasize with, and even harder to take seriously.

And while Kelly plays the saint and the rest of the town plays the sinner, I will reveal one tidbit from the last few minutes; we see the town's celebratory banner declaring the date at both the beginning and end of the movie, and they together seem to imply that the entire film occurred over the course of five months. When you get that far, you'll swear it's been longer, both in the film and in watching it.

The Naked Kiss (1964)

The Naked Kiss is available on DVD from the Criterion Collection.

Directed by Samuel Fuller
Written by Samuel Fuller
Starring Constance Towers and Anthony Eisley

Posted by Danny

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