Reviews and notes
The opening sequence of The Naked Kiss
shows a woman viciously attacking a man. In the struggle, her hair - a wig - falls off to reveal a totally bald head. She continues to fight, her face contorted with fury, not giving up until the man is overcome, when she proceeds to take the money she claims is owing to her. The scene is peculiarly disturbing, overturning the usual conventions. The girl is beating up the man who begs her to stop. We are shocked when her bald head is revealed - for a moment we wonder if she is really a woman or a man in drag. Her words have the sting of moral righteousness and she behaves like an avenging Fury. This curiously surreal sequence, the most remarkable in the whole film, seems to crystallize what Fuller is doing in the work as a whole.
Thematically, The Naked Kiss
appears to have a special relationship with Shock Corridor
. An actual reference to Fuller's earlier film is made here; its title is advertised outside a cinema. The Naked Kiss
is the story of a prostitute who comes to a small town, Grantville, and is laid by the local cop who tells her to move on to the brothel placed outside the town limits, across the river. Instead, she decides to stay and change her way of life, working as a nurse in the local hospital for crippled children.
The town lives by the socially approved standards of putting up a decent front, and is prone to hero worship. Its chief idol is the local ex-Korean War hero, Grant, a generous public benefactor. A newspaper cutting pinned on the wall of Griff, the cop, tells of an incident in Korea: 'Grant rescues Griff'. Both Griff and Grant are hypocrites. Griff frequents prostitutes in his private life whilst driving them out of town in his official capacity. When Grant and Kelly, the ex-prostitute (played by Constance Towers, the heroine of Shock Corridor
) plan to marry, Griff, unaware that Kelly has revealed her own past history to Grant, is swift to protect his friend from a 'corrupt' woman. He does not know that Grant shares his own hypocrisy and is himself a pervert who molests little girls, a fact he only admits to when Kelly catches him in the act. When Kelly murders Grant, society, in the form of Griff, refuses to believe her story because she is known to have been a whore. The young student nurse Kelly saves from the clutches of the local madam, Candy, denies that Kelly has done so. Later we see the girl crying over a photograph of what is presumably her dead father in military uniform. She explains how she has lied because she did not want to bring shame on her father's reputation.
When Kelly is eventually set free on the evidence of the child, Griff tells her: 'The whole town's set you on a pedestal.' She replies cynically: 'You sure put up statues overnight round here.' Small town society can only accept a world of heroes and villains. If Grant is not a hero he becomes a villain; if Kelly is not a villain she must be a heroine in the eyes of the public. As a nurse, Kelly makes the crippled children feel normal, through her tough treatment of them. Her impact on society has the reverse effect, revealing the abnormality beneath the normal, the inner corruption beneath the outward virtue.
This film could have been an all too mechanical expose of small town hypocrisy and vice but Fuller has avoided such naivete primarily through his handling of his central character, Kelly, and secondly through the characterization of Griff. Although Kelly becomes a kind of moral touchstone in the film, she is not completely divorced from her environment. Her relationship with Grant is conducted at a level of sentimental cliche which is heightened when we compare it with the fairly tough interchanges in her early relations with Griff. Kelly's big love scene with Grant is swamped by romantic music on the gramophone and superficial references to Goethe and Byron. 'Shall I take you to Venice?' asks Grant, and proceeds to show her a conventional home movie, shot from a gondola in the Grand Canal. As they kiss, they pretend they are in Venice and the sofa cushions are arranged to appear like a gondola.
Part of Kelly's attempts to make the crippled children normal, involve them in escape into a fantasy world in which they can walk; perhaps not so different a method from the other nurses' sentimental eulogies of what they believe the surgeons may be able to do. In a particularly mawkish scene, Kelly and the children sing a song in which the children ask where the bluebird of happiness is to be found, and Kelly, in love, and believing herself to be loved, replies that it is near at hand. At the back of the room, Grant smiling, tapes the performance. When we, and Kelly, hear this song again, it is being played in Grant's house, and accompanies his seduction of the little girl. Kelly too has allowed herself to be misled by outward appearance.
Constance Towers, with her slightly haggard face, tense smile and blazing anger gives real substance to the figure of Kelly. Similarly, Anthony Eisley, as Griff, suggests the tension of his suppressed attraction to Kelly. Unlike Grant, his hypocrisy is not publicly exposed. He retains his position in Grantville as Kelly appears to set off on her solitary travels again. It is the Griffs of the world who fit into society. The film's major weakness is its pedestrian style and lack of visual excitement. Apart from the shock of the opening sequence, it is stylistically undistinguished. Nevertheless, we are kept on edge by Fuller's decided rejection of the canons of 'good taste' and a choice of subject matter deliberately designed to make the audience squirm.
- Margaret Tarratt, Films and Filming, July 1970.
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