The Naked Kiss (1964)
May 13, 2016 5:32 PM - Subscribe

Kelly, a prostitute, finds redemption in the town of Grantville, where she arrives working as a medium-time seller.

NYTimes: From the first image of Constance Towers loosing her wig in a fight with her drunken procurer, to reveal a shining bald dome, Mr. Fuller rivets the viewer's attention to the screen.

The drama develops with deceptive slowness as the young woman takes a job in a home for handicapped children and scrupplously tries to make a decent life, under the suspicious eye of a local sheriff who had been her last customer. For a time, one might suspect the director of making a Susan Hayward-type of soap opera, as the regenerated heroine finds pure love and happiness with a handsome young millionaire who is ready to marry her in full cognizance of her sordid past.

But sit tight for a while. Mr. Fuller is not a man to pass up a spectactular climax, and the one he provides here brought down yesterday's 42d Street house. The poor girl's shining savior in one of the director's typical comments on contemporary American middle-class morality, turns out to have a Lolita complex of no mean proportions, and his martial objectives are enough to make the prostitute blush. In a moral gesture of her own, she floors him with the telephone.

Patently absurd as the plot may be, Mr. Fuller has filmed it with flair, and he has drawn a richly amusing performance from Miss Towers. Between his stylish handling of sensational nonsense and Mr. Marton's turgid floundering around a serious theme, Mr. Fuller's wild little movie has a decided edge.

Film Noir of the Week: This is a film (even with the flaws) stays with you. That's thanks to Fuller's blunt in-your-face style. Weakness are covered by his art. Maybe weakness isn't the right word, because I think there are things that Fuller cared about in his films, and others he couldn't be bothered to try to make better. You could say the same for other films of his from this time (Crimson Kimono, Underworld USA). It's no Pickup on South Street. But it is something to admire.

Is it noir? Yes and no. If you must categorize it, it fits nicely in a film noir list. But it was in theaters a half a decade past the classic noir period which ended in the late 50s. It feels like it takes place in the 50s though.

Slant: Befitting the movie’s vibrant crosspollination of film noir and women’s weepies, Kelly’s Peyton Place dreams of domestic fulfillment are harshly derailed, and The Naked Kiss begins to grow positively feral as she uncovers the town’s perverse, thriving criminal underbelly. She and Fuller come to the conclusion that even being a two-bit, big-city tramp is nobler than living anywhere that has a Main Street. It’s Sirk-on-a-shoestring, and twice as cynical.

AV Club: Cinematographer Stanley Cortez—also responsible for The Magnificent Ambersons and Night Of The Hunter—deals in starkly opposed black-and-white images to match Fuller’s themes. But Fuller is just as interested in grays. Towers leaves vice to dedicate her life to the most demanding sort of do-gooding, but her redemption doesn’t come easy, and she’s forced to fall back on old, hard ways to protect her friends. The Naked Kiss contrasts angelic children with unapologetic depravity, while capturing the tissue-like division protecting the former from the latter. Innocence and corruption live together beneath the harmonious, hypocritical surface of an idyllic-seeming American town, and while that situation may seem familiar now, thanks to the films and TV shows Naked Kiss helped inspire—Blue Velvet comes immediately to mind—familiarity has dulled none of the film’s force.

Senses of Cinema: The Naked Kiss has the trademark Fullerisms, including plot holes you could fall into, chunks of exposition delivered as dialogue (try that in a screenwriting class and see how far you get), heavy-handed metonymy and a penchant for delivering key points as visual “headlines”. Fuller’s recurring motifs are obvious and yet rather than being corny there is something strangely satisfying about them. This is a filmmaker who is in control. The damnably infectious song, “Bluebird of Happiness” is cloying in its first incarnation but exquisite the second time around when used to great ironic effect. The repeated refrains of “Moonlight Sonata” rise above the level of cultural cliché as they symbolise Kelly’s efforts to better herself and help cement her relationship with the town’s leading citizen, Grant (Michael Dante).

What is most striking in The Naked Kiss is a series of surreal scenes where the characters almost appear to step into another film altogether. Kelly exhorts the children in the home to pretend they can run and there’s a dissolve to a misty park into which they all gradually run as they join the fantasy. On cutting back to the home the children are in ecstatic raptures as if they had actually been running. This is mirrored when Grant shows Kelly silent 16mm footage of his trip to Venice and the voice of a gondolier singing fades in. Grant says if you pretend hard enough you can be there and Kelly visualises herself and Grant on cushions in a gondola, but it looks like a stylised set that in no way matches the footage (it’s more like something out of Godard’s Le Mépris/Contempt, 1963). Finally the most dizzying example is where Kelly is alone and tipsy, trying to decide whether or not to accept Grant’s marriage proposal. Grant’s voice is heard as a voiceover and Kelly talks to herself aloud. Kelly’s voice is then heard as a voiceover and she replies aloud, having a bizarre conversation with herself (“That makes me a woman of two worlds, which isn’t good… or is it?”). These sequences are all hopeful, joyous reveries, however unreal. They mark a shift from earlier films like Shock Corridor (1963), where the fantasy scenes depicting a feverish slide into insanity are more integral to the story.

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posted by MoonOrb (1 comment total)
Fuller got the idea to make it after considering what was more contemptible than a prostitute.

He was a man who respected women and this shows in his pre-70s movies.
posted by brujita at 7:10 AM on May 14, 2016

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