- The Naked Kiss (1964) movie review: Samuel Fuller’s subversive ‘B’ crime drama is an underappreciated gem that teaches audiences a couple of valuable lessons: a) Good social standing doesn’t in any way mean good character b) A telephone receiver can be a handy murder weapon.
The Naked Kiss movie review: Samuel Fuller’s crime drama centers on sex worker with a knack for attracting & attacking perverts
In the opening scene of screenwriter-director-producer Samuel Fuller’s 1964 B crime drama 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 he cheated her out of.
Fast forward three years: We see our girl, Kelly (Constance Towers) – hair fully grown back – stepping down from a Greyhound bus into the small town of Grantville, somewhere in the United States. She is carrying a suitcase of champagne called “Angel Foam” (which sounds like the name of a douche product) that she intends to sell.
Her first customer is a cop (Anthony Eisley), who purchases her “merchandise” and then orders her to go work in a brothel run by Madam Candy (veteran Virginia Grey, who at one point exclaims, “Nobody shoves dirty money in my mouth!”). Kelly, however, defies the cop’s orders and gets a job as a nurse at a local hospital for crippled children.
There’s a connection between prostitutes, pedophiles, 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 checks.
Handicaps & deviants
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 the medical bills of another nurse (Karen Conrad), and teaches the poor crippled children how to look cute while singing a sappy song.
From then on, the story becomes quite convoluted in its analogy between handicaps and perversions. Kelly, trying desperately to escape her past, accepts a marriage proposal from the town’s most well-respected citizen, Grant (Michael Dante). Never mind that she soon discovers him molesting a little girl.
The aforementioned analogy comes together when Grant, not far from a telephone, 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.”
These are the last words he utters.
Joan Crawford film
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 attention of the richest man in town.
With her intense stare and clenched jaw, leading woman Constance Towers even looks like Crawford in some scenes. And, Crawford-style (see Mildred PIerce, Possessed 1947, etc.), Towers’ Kelly does her own bit of bitch-slapping.
Here are a few more noteworthy elements: The production values are more than adequate for a 1960s Allied Artists release. The black-and-white cinematography by veteran Stanley Cortez (The Magnificent Ambersons, The Night of the Hunter) is sharp, while the unusual camera angles are remarkably effective.
Also worth pointing out, in addition to former MGM second lead Virginia Grey (The Women, Another Thin Man), The Naked Kiss boasts appearances by 1930s comedienne Patsy Kelly (Pigskin Parade; later seen in Rosemary’s Baby) as the head nurse, and silent era star Betty Bronson (Are Parents People?, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ) as Grantville’s kind and gentle landlady.
Now, how can a kiss be “naked,” you may ask?
Well, Kelly – ever the experienced one in these matters – identifies “the town’s most well-respected citizen” as a perv by his lip-lock.
But then, why does she consent to marry him?
Lurid cult classic
Samuel Fuller, whose directorial credits include the crime dramas Pickup on South Street and The Crimson Kimono, seems to have a significant cult following. Many of his fans point to The Naked Kiss as a justification for their enthusiasm.
Indeed, Fuller’s 1964 effort is enjoyable because of its myriad surprises and lurid atmosphere. Having said that, it was sheer torture to hear the town’s children singing a particularly saccharine song over and over again.
Where was the telephone receiver when I needed it?
The Naked Kiss (1964)
Direction & Screenplay: Samuel Fuller.
Cast: Constance Towers. Anthony Eisley. Michael Dante. Virginia Grey. Patsy Kelly. Betty Bronson. Marie Devereux. Karen Conrad. Linda Francis. Barbara Perry. Jean-Michel Michenaud. Edy Williams.
“The Naked Kiss Movie (1964): Luridly Subversive Crime Drama” review text © Danny Fortune; excerpt, image captions, bullet point introduction, and notes/endnotes © Alt Film Guide.
“The Naked Kiss Movie (1964) Review” endnotes
Michael Dante and Constance Towers The Naked Kiss movie images: Allied Artists Pictures.
“The Naked Kiss Movie (1964): Luridly Subversive Crime Drama” last updated in October 2021.