The Naked Kiss (1964)
Direction and Screenplay: Samuel Fuller. Cast: Constance Towers, Anthony Eisley, Michael Dante, Virginia Grey, Patsy Kelly, Betty Bronson, Marie Devereux, Karen Conrad, Linda Francis
In the opening scene of Samuel Fuller’s The Naked Kiss, we see a bald-headed prostitute using her bare hands to beat the crap out of her pimp. It’s not that she’s mean; she just wants the $75.00 he cheated her out of.
Next, we see our girl, Kelly (Constance Towers), three years later — hair fully grown back — stepping down from a Greyhound bus into the small town of Grantville. She is carrying a suitcase of champagne called "Angel Foam" (which sounds like the name of a douche) that she intends to sell.
Her first customer is a cop (Anthony Eisley), who purchases her "product," then orders her to go work in a brothel run by Madam Candy (Virginia Grey). Instead, Kelly defies his orders and gets a job as a nurse in a local hospital for crippled children. There’s a connection between prostitutes, pederasts, and the handicapped that becomes evident later in the story, but for the time being we are led to believe she just sashays into a medical facility and gets a nursing job without references, experience, or background check.
At first, Kelly has some good effects on the people around her. She saves one co-worker (Marie Devereaux) from a life of prostitution, pays for another nurse’s (Karen Conrad) medical bills, and teaches the poor crippled children how to look cute while singing a sappy song.
From then on, the story gets quite convoluted in its analogy between handicaps and perversions. (Spoilers ahead: read on at your own risk.) Kelly, trying desperately to escape her past, accepts a marriage proposal from the town’s most well-respected citizen (Michael Dante). However, she soon discovers him molesting a little girl, and the aforementioned analogy comes together when he tells her, "Now you know why I can never marry a normal woman. That’s why I love you. You understand my sickness. You’ve been condemned with people like me. You live in my world and it will be an exciting world. My Darling, our marriage will be a paradise because we’re both abnormal." Those are the last words he utters. Kelly beats him to death with a telephone receiver.
It’s hard to qualify the ending as either "happy" or "unhappy." We know the cop will finally warm up to her and save her from a murder rap despite Madam Candy’s hilarious testimony. ("Nobody shoves dirty money in my mouth!") But Kelly sees the hypocrisy of "normal" people and goes her own way.
The Naked Kiss plays like a Joan Crawford film. You know, low-class working woman clawing her way to the top using her brains and determination, while winning the heart of the richest man in town on her way up. Constance Towers even looks like Crawford in some scenes, with her intense stare and clenched jaw. And don’t miss one particularly entertaining moment when Kelly bitch-slaps Madam Candy and stuffs money down her throat. (See the Madam’s outraged testimony in the previous paragraph.)
The film’s production values are more than adequate for a 1960s Allied Artists release. Veteran Stanley Cortez’s black-and-white cinematography is sharp and the creative camera angles are quite effective. In addition to former MGM second lead Virginia Grey, The Naked Kiss boasts appearances by 1930s comedienne Patsy Kelly (as the head nurse) and silent film star Betty Bronson (as the kind and gentle landlady).
But how can a kiss be "naked," you may ask? Well, Kelly — ever the experienced one in these matters — identified "the town’s most well-respected citizen" as a perv by his lip-lock. But then, why did she consent to marry him?
Director-writer-producer Samuel Fuller seems to have quite a cult following; his fans point to this film to demonstrate their enthusiasm. Indeed, The Naked Kiss is enjoyable because of its many surprises and lurid atmosphere — even though it was sheer torture to hear the children singing that saccharine song over and over again.
Where was that telephone receiver when I needed it?
© Danny Fortune