THE NAKED KISS (CRITERION)
Review by Michael Jacobson
Constance Towers, Anthony Eisley, Michael Dante
Director: Samuel Fuller
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Widescreen 1.66:1
Features: Theatrical Trailer
Length: 91 Minutes
Release Date: August 26, 1998
Some films are definitely more challenging than others, and
that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re harder to follow or understand, or are
fraught with symbolism and philosophy that will leave you talking about it for
days afterwards. Some are simple
enough, with straight forward storytelling, and yet, are impossible to get out
of your mind. I watched Samuel
Fuller’s The Naked Kiss three times
before deciding that I would attempt to assess it in a review…and even so, I
feel like I’m taking an essay test without studying for it. So here goes…
The film opens with a tremendous bang.
Using confronting point of view shots where the actors face the camera,
we see a woman beating a drunken man senseless with her high heeled shoe.
He mumbles and pleads, but he’s in no real shape to defend himself. At one point he grabs her hair…and it comes off, revealing
the woman to be stark bald. After
he succumbs, she takes some money from his wallet—“just what I have coming
to me,” she angrily insists, and storms away.
She stops in front of a mirror to fix her wig, and while she does that,
the opening credits roll. I can
assure you, Samuel Fuller will likely have your undivided attention at that
Then the story plays out like any good pulp magazine tale.
That woman, a prostitute named Kelly (Towers), arrives in a small town,
hooks up with the local lawman, Griff (Eisley), but then takes a hard look at
herself in the mirror, and decides to give up the life.
Griff doesn’t buy it. “You
found morality in my bedroom?” he asks, incredulously.
Soon, she becomes a nurse at a hospital for crippled
children, and eventually wins the heart of Grant (Dante), the richest and most
eligible bachelor in town. As their
romance develops, Kelly does the expected.
She tells the truth about her past, knowing if she doesn’t, Griff
likely will. Grant’s response is
not so expected. He proposes.
He gives her the key to his house, telling her it’s her home now, too.
So a day or two later, Kelly strolls into his house, using
the key, all smiles and wedding dress in tow.
Naturally, we all know what happens next. She catches Grant with another woman, right?
Wrong. You cannot possibly
expect what actually does happen next, nor are you likely to ever forget it.
That’s the heart of the storyline. But there are so many more elements of the film that make it
intriguing. For one, Fuller’s
writing style. Some bits of
dialogue sound poorly written, like some campy B grade film, but with Fuller,
it’s a little different. Sometimes
it seems like he intentionally writes less than sparkling dialogue to achieve an
effect…not because he’s a poor writer.
Anyway, once you’ve seen how the entire film plays, you’re not likely
to think there’s a lack of screenwriting talent behind it.
It’s also curious (and amusing) how he uses food and
drink as euphemisms for sex. Kelly
disguises what she does at the beginning as selling champagne, for example.
And across the river is a place where girls sell bon-bons, but everybody
knows what kind of place it really is. Kelly,
who is tough as nails, but has a kind heart, tries to protect one of her nurses
from that kind of lifestyle. “You’ll
meet men you’ll live on,” she tells her, “and men who’ll live on you.
And those are the only kinds of men you’ll meet.”
But one of the strangest, and most unsettling elements, is
the use of a musical number that the handicapped children stage with Kelly’s
help. It is a strangely melancholy
song they sing, though they seem happy enough to be singing it.
It feels out of place, even surreal watching it.
But the song returns later in the film, and with a greater sense of
purpose and impact.
Constance Towers is remarkable, and a good choice for the
role of Kelly. She’s radiant and
beautiful, and sexy without having to try to be. And while any actress could play reasonably tough, she has a
genuine warmth in her smile and demeanor that makes her completely believable in
all aspects of a complex role.
So what does it all mean?
Is it one good shock wrapped in the body of a lurid melodrama?
It could be…but if that’s all it is, why is it I haven’t been able
to stop thinking about the film since the first time I saw it?
Samuel Fuller was a true filmmaking legend, and by staying
just on the outside of mainstream Hollywood, he was able to make movies his way.
The Naked Kiss is a surreal, juicy, shocking picture that defies
conventional description. One
thing’s for certain…you won’t forget it any time soon.
Criterion has struck an excellent transfer for this older title. It’s a superbly crisp and sharp black and white image, with no grain or compression evident. The print is remarkably clean for its age, with only occasional nicks and scars that are not distracting.
The mono soundtrack is remarkably clean and clear as well,
with no dialogue problems a fair bit of dynamic range.
Only a trailer.