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THE NAKED KISS
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Cast:  Constance Towers, Anthony Eisley, Michael Dante
Director:  Samuel Fuller
Audio:  PCM Mono
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.75:1
Studio:  Criterion
Features:  Theatrical Trailer
Length:  91 Minutes
Release Date: 
January 18, 2011

"You'll become a social problem...a medical problem...a mental problem...and a despicable failure as a woman."

Film ****

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 point.

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.

Video ***1/2

I'm glad Criterion saw fit to give these somewhat underground Samuel Fuller classic their red carpet Blu-ray treatment.  This is a strikingly clean print where the crispness and details really come out nicely in well-contrasted black and white.  A few aging marks might be noticeable from time to time, but they are far from distracting and don't detract from a superb all-around effort.

Audio ***

Mono may not be the holy grail of high definition theatres, but nobody does more with an uncompressed mono track than Criterion.  It may be single channel, but the music and dialogue balance nicely and offer clarity and some moments of unexpected dynamic range here and there.

Features ***

Some nice extras are included this time around, starting with a terrific new video interview with Constance Towers.  There is also a pair of vintage Samuel Fuller television interviews from 1967 and 1987, an excerpt from the 1983 broadcast of The South Bank Show dedicated to Fuller, and the original trailer.

Summary:

In a way, even the title of the movie The Naked Kiss is indicative of the style of the film.  It sounds like a title that was meant to be purposely lurid and intriguing, like a pulp novel…but even it has a more significant meaning than you might guess.  And the entire picture is like that as well.  There’s more at work here than just a seedy tale of cops and prostitutes.  It’s a definite must-see.  

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