The Naked Kiss: Criterion Collection
January 14, 2011
As Robert Polito wisely observes in the DVD liner notes for the Criterion Collection edition of The Naked Kiss (1964), Samuel Fuller’s film fuses the melodrama of Douglas Sirk with the pulpy prose of Russ Meyer. The result is what Polito calls a “noirish fairy tale” as a former prostitute relocates to suburbia in an attempt to reinvent herself. However, all kinds of dirty secrets lurk underneath the town’s all-American surface.
The film opens in typical Fuller fashion as Kelly (Towers) beats her drunken pimp with her purse. The director cuts back and forth from both combatants’ point-of-view and then comes the punchline: the pimp reaches out and grabs Kelly’s hair and it’s a wig (?!) revealing her bald head! Welcome to The Naked Kiss. She beats him into submission only so she can take the money he owes her. If this ballsy prologue doesn’t grab you then nothing will.
Two years later, Kelly relocates to Grantville, a nice-enough looking town where local police detective Griff (Eisley) runs a punk out of town but at least has the decency to give the guy a couple of bucks before sending him packing on a bus. Kelly has reinvented herself as a saleslady for Angel Foam champagne, a beverage that “goes down like liquid gold and it comes up like slow dynamite.”
She and Griff meet at the bus terminal and hit it off immediately. After a one-night stand, he sends her packing – he has no illusions about who she is – but Kelly ignores him and goes to stay at a boarding house in town. She reinvents herself yet again by getting a job as a nurse’s aide in the children’s ward at the local hospital, much to Griff’s chagrin. Kelly soon finds her new way of life threatened by a terrible secret harbored by one of the townsfolk.
In Shock Corridor (1963), Constance Towers had a supporting role but with The Naked Kiss, Fuller cast her as the lead and she’s fantastic as a woman with a checkered past trying to start over. She demonstrates quite a good range as an actress, from the tough dame in the prologue, to the empathetic caregiver working with children at the hospital. Towers gets you to sympathize with Kelly and care about what happens to her. With The Naked Kiss, Fuller shows a slightly softer side but his film is still populated by tough-talking characters. It’s a pulp B-movie with a heart and anchored by a rock solid performance by Towers.
There is an interview with Samuel Fuller from the French television program Cinema Cinemas in 1987. He looks over old photographs of himself and recounts colorful anecdotes about his life and working on various films.
“The South Bank Show: Sam Fuller” is a 30-minute interview from a British talk show from 1983. He is interviewed in his home in a room jam-packed with books and screenplays, many of which were never filmed.
There is an interview with actress Constance Towers done in 2007. She recounts her parents’ reaction to playing a prostitute in The Naked Kiss. She also talks about the film’s dynamic opening and how it was achieved. This is an excellent interview and she is an engaging subject.
Also included is an interview with Fuller for Cineastes de Notre Temps, a French T.V. show in 1967. There is some fantastic vintage footage of the man talking about his life and films.
Finally, included is a theatrical trailer.