The Criterion DVD of "The Naked Kiss," a low-budget 1964 thriller, written and directed by Sam Fuller is at times very arresting--especially in the very first scene of a woman in a blonde wig beating a man with her shoe (they are not quite as dramatically mismatched as Vivien Leigh using her shoe to pummel a drunken Lee Marvin in "Ship of Fools," made a year later!).
Recommend this product?
Much of the middle of the movie is not just slack but inept. The dialogue is frequently stilted or worse, there are many things that are just too cute, and some typically Fuller wild excessive flourishes (visual and in character revelation). But I wouldn't want to have missed Constance Towers's turn from prostitution to sainthood, or the very Hitchcockian wrong man plot that has a very Hitchcock-looking icy blonde (Tower) playing the wrong man (and wronged woman: for a time it looks like none of her good deeds will go unpunished).
Trying to go straight prevents unexpected problems--typically just when things seemed to be going smoothly. What she learns about her new, respectable community and its most prominent civic leader is less novel now than in a 1964 movie, but has not lost its bite. (And what she finds is a current obsession...)
I find the ending even scarier than the beginning. Much of the movie is below average (downright clunky), but Constance Towers (especially her inflictions of deserved punishment on male villains) and Michael Dante and some of the compositions (by Stanley Cortez) are notable in good ways.
To paraphrase Dolly Parton, much of it is wrong, but it's alright. (BTW, Towers played a stripper in Fuller's even more over-the-top "Shock Corridor" the year before. That is the name of the movie on the marquee in the upright town where Towers attempts to go straight. She also had starring roles in the John Ford films "The Horse Soldiers" in 1959 and "Sergeant Rutledge" in 1960, but did not have much impact in either one).
As usual, Criterion has revived a darling of auteur critics with a superb print. The only bonus feature is an appropriately lurid theatrical trailer. (Fuller expostulates at length on the Criterion DVD of "Shock Corridor." He comes across to me as a smug wind bag, though he undeniably did a lot with little money and made some unusual films. Rod Steiger's Irish accent and adoption by Plains Indians in "Run of the Arrow" has to be heard to be imagined, and Barbara Stanwyck's self-parody in "40 Guns" is way, way out there. I haven't seen the director's (un)cut of "The Big Red One," but found the one released turgid and the survival of the four leads from front to front during WWII unbelievable. The best of the Fuller movies I've seen is "Steel Helmet," a very low-budget Korean War movie. Thelma Ritter and Richard Widmark are unforgettable in "Pickup on South Street," a fairly absurd movie that also has a great start and great finish.
© 2007, Stephen O. Murray
Read all comments (2)