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USA 1964
Directed by
Samuel Fuller
87 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

The Naked Kiss

Even though the opening credits proudly identify him as writer, director and producer of Naked Kiss allegedly Sam Fuller wanted his name removed from this film because of studio interference. Evident especially in the jarring narrative ellipses the film oscillates between brilliance and something deserving that much-sought-for it’s-so-bad-it's-good accolade.

Apparently aiming for Sirkian high melodrama (Sirk's 1953 film All I Desire, might be used as a point of comparison) but imbued with a healthy serving of B -grade trash aesthetic Fuller opens the film dynamically with a woman Kelly (Constance Towers who bears a family resemblance to Patricia Neal) beating a man with a stiletto shoe. From there it tells the story of her journey to personal redemption, or at least some version of it, in the byways of small-town America.

After that enigmatic beginning the story proper begins with Kelly getting off a bus in Grantville. She immediately attracts the attention of local police detective Griff (Anthony Eisley) who via a saucy tête-a-tête in the town park establishes that she is a hooker plying her trade whilst masquerading as a travelling champagne salesperson (“salesman” in the film). He samples her wares in both respects then suggests that she’d be advised to take up employ with Candy (Virginia Grey) who runs a cat-house to cross the river. Kelly experiences some kind of moral awakening and before you can say Mother Teresa she’s working as a nurse’s aide in a hospital for handicapped children. Playing Inspector Javert to Kelly’s Jean Valjean, Griff is convinced that she’s up to no good and when his friend and the town ‘s No.1 citizen Grant (Michael Dante) falls for her and asks her to marry him Griff needs no further evidence especially when Grant winds up dead.

The yawning gaps in the narrative destabilize the film and no doubt make the B-grade crudities in scripting and performance more apparent but to Fuller and fans of the style these are precisely the qualities that make the film so enjoyable.  Opening aside, the high-point for me was a sentimental faux-naif song performed in the middle of the film by Towers and her young charges. Towers had played the female lead in Fuller’s previous film Shock Corridor (1963). where her main contribution was showing-off her figure. Here her role is more substantial and she rises to the occasion.

FYI: In 1974 Towers married John Gavin who had played Lana Turner's love interest in Sirk's best melodrama Imitation of Life (1959).

Available from: Umbrella Entertainment




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