The One about Samuel Fuller’s “The Naked Kiss”

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When it comes to cinema, one of the more popular American director’s that have inspired many directors abroad is Samuel Fuller.  From his first film “I Shot Jesse James” (1949) or as writer beginning with “It Happened in Hollywood” (1937), Fuller is a true auteur who can create a film with all closeups, tackling politics or racism in his films, he was not afraid to do things his way through his style of filmmaking and needless to say, it was that daring style that influenced directors such as French New Wave’s Jean-Luc Godard.

Film critic Andrew Sarris wrote the following of Samuel Fuller: “Fuller belongs in cinema, and not to literature and sociology.” (The American Cinema)

And if there is one word that Fuller emphasized, to even his talent and crew, it was “simplicity”.

With a good number of films in his oeuvre, from films such as “I Shot Jesse James” (1949), “The Steel Helmet” (1951), “Pickup on South Street” (1953), “House of Bamboo” (1955), “The Crimson Kimono” (1959) and “Underworld U.S.A.” (1961), Fuller had gained the reputation for being a filmmaker who created the films that he wanted to create, even if it meant not making much money (from his producers).  But he was a director who knew what shot he wanted, knew what he wanted to get out of his talent and wasn’t afraid to take on politics, racism, etc.

In 1964, Samuel Fuller would write and direct the film “The Naked Kiss” which would star “Shock Corridor” actress Constance Towers, Anthony Eisley and Michael Dante.

“The Naked Kiss” was a film that was inspired by Fuller’s career as a journalist and as a journalist, he befriended many prostitutes (he would borrow the phone from a Madame to make calls) and got to see firsthand how many of them worked, their motivation and to see them getting away from that life.  These experiences would influence him to write and create “The Naked Kiss”.

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When it comes to opening scenes for American cinema, there are two movies that I always hear about from fellow cinema fans and fellow film critics which are Orson Welles “Touch of Evil” and Samuel Fuller’s “The Naked Kiss”.

Immediately when you begin watching “The Naked Kiss”, you see actress Constance Towers as Kelly with anger as she looks towards the camera and is swinging towards it and you get this quick cut of her procurer being beaten and then back to Kelly again and then you see this beautiful woman’s hair being pulled off to reveal her bald. The attack continues until she gets her money that she has earned and the first thing that comes to your head is how vicious this woman is. What is her problem?

And as that opening sequence stays in your head, those emotions you first had start to dwindle away as we see a different Kelly far from what we have seen of her in the beginning sequence. Composed, compassionate and considerate… Was the scene at the beginning a flashback?

Once we see her step off that bus to the town of Grantville, Kelly looks absolutely angelic, beautiful and a caring individual. We see her taking care of crippled children and caring for her co-workers and we can only hope that this individual is successful in leaving her past behind.

Of course, that would be too easy. Even in modern films where a prostitute can achieve the fairytale romance ala “Pretty Woman”, this is not so with “The Naked Kiss”. Without spoiling too much, the twist that Fuller gives to the viewers is not easily predicted. But it’s this twist and tragedy that makes “The Naked Kiss” so appealing because we do not expect it. And this is Fuller’s trademark, shocking, surprising and coming up with original storylines that leave us in awe.

Actress Constance Towers, the actress who plays Kelly, goes into detail of what Fuller expected of her. How he was able to use her effectively through the film and the comfort the two had of working with each other since “Shock Corridor”. Because this role was tailored towards Towers and every scene that would play out in the film, Kelly will be in that scene. And Constance Towers does a magnificent job. Where in “Shock Corridor”, her character was constantly weepy or concerned, we get a full range of emotions employed by the actress. And as Antonioni had Monica Vitti and Godard had Anna Karina, although many talent had the chance to work with Fuller again, Constance Towers will be known primarily for her work on the Samuel Fuller films.

As for Samuel Fuller, In some ways, many may find Fuller’s work as audacious but that is what makes Fuller’s movies escape the banality of cinema. Fuller has said about his “The Naked Kiss”, “My story would delve into the small-mindedness that thoughtlessly points its fingers at sinners, fostering intolerance and hate.”

As a Samuel Fuller fan and owning a good number of his films on DVD, “The Naked Kiss” is a classic. I know that Fuller tends to have this bittersweet feeling to both “The Naked Kiss” and “Shock Corridor” knowing that both films are successful but at the same time always alluding to the promised residuals from the film’s producer that never came. But he was aware before his passing of how many people loved this film and “The Naked Kiss” would be a film (along with “Shock Corridor”) as a true Samuel Fuller film. No studio interference and done the way Samuel Fuller had wanted it.

This is rare in today’s cinema as original filmmaker intentions are often changed by studio execs but this is one of the few rare moments where both “Shock Corridor” and “The Naked Kiss”, they were done the original Sam Fuller way.

Both films are deserving to be in your cinema collection!  And if you have a chance, check out Samuel Fuller’s book “A Third Face”.


 

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Dennis A. Amith