The Naked Kiss is part of a double disc presentation from Metrodome that also features Samuel Fuller's 1963 film Shock Corridor. Simply follow the link to read my thoughts on the second movie in this set.
Samuel Fuller's The Naked Kiss, much like Shock Corridor which preceeded it, presents the viewer with a dissection of the mores of American Society as presented in countless melodrama. Like Shock Corridor, it was also initially banned by the BBFC and is presented here uncut.
The Naked Kiss is a remarkable film. It takes a fairly simple premise; a former 'good-time girl' tries to make a straight life for herself, and twists it almost beyond recognition and uses the tools of melodrama to do the twisting. Before the 'good-time girl', Kelly, gives up her former life, and embarks upon a career as a nurse, she has one last monetary fling with a chap who turns out to be the chief of police and best friend of a Korean War hero called Griff whom Kelly eventually falls in love with. Be warned, however, nothing in this film is quite as it seems, and there are plot twists aplenty including one that'll really pull the carpet from underneath you the first time you see it.
This is a film that really underlines Fuller's genius. The opening sequence, where Kelly is shown attacking a man for reasons that become clear later, is one of the most powerful, and shocking, openings ever filmed. Indeed, there are a number of scenes in which the violence shocks due it coming, as in real life, without hint of a build up and just exploding into the frame. The cinematography, by Stanley Cortez, is wonderful, the sets are draped with expressionistic shadows and darkness, that emphasise the dark, seedy corners into which Fuller is peering. At times, it almost reaches the neo-expressionist plateaus reached by The Night Of The Hunter; no surprise, as Cortez also worked on that film.
The real meat of the film is Fuller's deconstruction of American small town life as presented in melodrama; decades before Blue Velvet or Far From Heaven, this film is equally as successful as the former and far more so than the latter in achieving it's aims. The archetypes of film convention are turned on their heads, the Police Chief is amoral and hypocritical and the prostitute becomes the savior of the children she cares for in her role as nurse. Fuller enjoys shocking his audience, and one of the main themes of this film is that of the quest for truth and how it's appearance depends largely on where we are standing and this is toyed with again and again. When we first meet Kelly, it is notable that she is a saleswoman, and here really is an archetype of American drama; that this is a cover for her dubious sexual profession is a clever statement on the lies and duplicity that a capitalist society dresses it's ills in.
Constance Towers is superb as Kelly, and it’s a gift of a part for any actress. Kelly is strong, has morals, is an intellectual force of nature. She is infinitely more interesting and dynamic than any of the male characters she interacts with. In the film, she struggles against constraints, namely rising above and out of the role men have decided for her. At the films conclusion, there is only one course for her to take and Fuller's use of the conventions of melodrama is quite stunning.
The soundtrack is also worth highlighting; consisting of three themes, there's the hot jazz of the seedy lowlife, classical as represented by the Moonlight Sonata and the films score, the rising strains of melodrama and these represent the spaces in the text that Kelly inhabits and travels through in the course of the narrative. The different spheres they represent are open and closed to the character depending upon the point in the narrative they are used. It's wonderfully intricate, and there is much for the student of film to be learned from it.
The Naked Kiss is essential viewing for anyone interested in film. It's tightly written and will grip from start to finish. The performances exceptional and the multi-layered themes are intelligently presented. This one will stand up to, nay demand repeat viewings.
The picture and sound here are very good indeed. The print is largely damage free and it's a very good transfer. There's a small amount of grain, but nothing that'll stand out. Contrast levels are good and capture the intricacies of the excellent cinematography. At times the film appears very bright, and given the high quality of the transfer in general, it must be concluded that this overexposure is deliberate. The soundtrack, mono, is free of any distortion and is crystal clear. It’s not in it’s original aspect ratio, though. It looks like open matte, as there is no evidence of P&S.
Slim Extras, however, there are some short (3 pages) film notes and an image gallery, but everything else is a reprint of the extras to be found on Shock Corridor.
Released as one half a double disc set, celebrating two of the most important American movies of the 1960's, Karl Wareham gives The Naked Kiss the once over here.