Until Sam Fuller came along, movies in the 1960s were still bound by Hollywood's self-imposed and often hypocritical rules of discretion. The crimes and misdemeanors of lurid pulp fiction remained on drugstore spin-racks and newsstands, diluted on screen until Fuller, with his cigar-chomping audacity and confrontational style, liberated movies from artificial restraint and kicked them into the meaner, darker, but more honest maturity of the post-Kennedy era. Shock Corridor
announced Fuller's brazen agenda a year earlier, but The Naked Kiss
is even more astonishing because its trashy, provocative plot dares to find depth and humanity beneath the hardened shells of corrupted souls.
The film begins like no other before it: Kelly (Constance Towers) beats her pimp with a handbag, grabs the cash he owes her, adjusts her telltale wig and makeup, and sets out to begin life anew, free from the shame of prostitution. Two years later she's in Grantville, a typically Rockwellian slice of Americana, working wonders with disabled kids and gaining distance from her miserable past. She's even engaged to the town's most respected citizen, but dark clouds are gathering: a corrupt cop knows Kelly's hidden secrets; a nearby brothel taints the community; and a pedophile is lurking in the shadows. Through it all, Fuller calibrates The Naked Kiss with such precision that sentiment and sordidness can run parallel without colliding, shifting from outrageous vice to shameless tear-jerking with equal facility. With twisted tricks up his sleeve, Fuller can be accused of tabloid tackiness, but that would be missing the point: In Fuller's cruel and ugly world, compassion still finds a way to survive. --Jeff Shannon
The setup is pure pulp: A former prostitute (a crackerjack Constance Towers) relocates to a buttoned-down suburb, determined to fit in with mainstream society. But in the strange, hallucinatory territory of writer-director-producer Samuel Fuller (Shock Corridor, The Big Red One), perverse secrets inevitably simmer beneath a seemingly wholesome surface. Featuring radical visual touches, full-throttle performances, brilliant cinematography by Stanley Cortez (The Night of the Hunter), and one bizarrely beautiful musical number, The Naked Kiss is among Fuller’s greatest, boldest entertainments.