Thu 2 Feb 2012
THE NAKED KISS. Allied Artists, 1964. Constance Towers, Anthony Eisley, Michael Dante, Virginia Grey, Patsy Kelly, Marie Devereux, Karen Conrad. Screenwriter/director: Sam Fuller.
The Naked Kiss is every bit as cheap as Murder by Contract [reviewed here ], but more passionate and brilliant by far. Sam Fuller, the writer/producer/director of this thing, is often described as a primitive Genius — sort of a filmmaker savant — but I have always been impressed by his sophistication; Fuller had an uncanny ability to mix metaphors and genres almost at will without ever putting a foot wrong, that seems anything but Primitive.
The Naked Kiss starts off like a mid-60s Porno Film, with a hooker beating her pimp (make that ex-pimp) nearly to death, and ends up with a soapy, sentimental scene that looks to have been lifted from Peyton Place.
Along the way, it provides some of the bluntest and most disturbing imagery you can encounter in the movies, juxtaposing crippled children, Beethoven, crooked cops, Goethe, prostitution and… well, not Redemption but Self-Respect.
This one is photographed by Stanley Cortez, the very best Cheap Photographer in Hollywood, whose credits include The Magnificent Ambersons, Shock Corridor, Night of the Hunter, Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd, and They Saved Hitler’s Brain. Fuller and Cortez were kindred spirits, it seems, and together they turned out a film consistently fascinating to watch as well as to look at.
Equally remarkable is Constance Towers’ performance as Kelly, the reformed hooker whose efforts to find a place in society initiate the plot. Her face, lovingly framed by Fuller and photographed by Cortez, is one of those miracles that sometimes occur in very good movies: Strong, smooth, intelligent features around the coldest, saddest eyes this side of Marley’s Ghost.
With a look like that, Towers doesn’t even need a script, much less any acting ability, but the fact that she is here given a role worthy of her talents makes it all the better.
Fuller’s script is as goofy as ever, a rapid-fire panoply of lines that read more like ultimatums than dialogue, but he and Towers somehow make it all seem extraordinarily Not Dumb.
Only Fuller could get away with having a hooker who quotes Goethe but mispronounces the name, or showing her vanquished pimp falling on a calendar marked at July 4th (Independence Day, get it?) without seeming unbearably pretentious. Perhaps it’s because he has something to be pretentious about.