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Hardboiled film is a powerfully perverse example of character deconstruction

September 7, 2009

By Jimmy Gillman

Jimmy Gillman
Naked Kiss, The
Allied Artists; 1964; 92 minutes; Not rated, but contains violence, sexual situations and strong adult themes; Directed by Samuel Fuller; Starring: Constance Towers, Anthony Eisley, Michael Dante, Virginia Grey and Patsy Kelly; Screenwriter(s): Samuel Fuller

 

 

 

 

GRADE: B+

 

“The Naked Kiss” is maverick director Samuel Fuller at his iconoclastic best, tearing into the sanctity of small town America, law enforcement and the idle rich with reckless abandon. It’s a difficult, challenging film lacking a familiar cast, but one uplifted by Fuller’s capable and creative handling, a pointed, razor-sharp script and two solid central performances.

 

One those performances comes from Constance Towers, an actress better known for her work on television, in the role of a bad girl from the wrong side of the tracks who’s bucking the odds and trying to go straight.

 

From the film’s opening bell—a powerfully perverse and disturbing scene that no doubt blew audiences away and contributed to the film’s lack of commercial success—she literally comes out swinging, revealing a critical dimension to her character that as the film unfolds helps to explain (and justify) her actions while binding her character to a larger narrative.

 

In another incredible scene featuring the film’s other potent performance (by Patsy Kelly), Towers’ bad girl erupts and attacks another woman with all the brute force and savagery usually reserved for men, just one of many ways in which “The Naked Kiss” is decidedly deconstructionist.

 

Both film and story are strengthened by Fuller’s uncompromisingly hardened approach—if these characters really are who Fuller makes them out to be, then they’re right to speak and act in the rude, self-centered and ruthless fashion they do. After all, these are hookers, crooked cops and late night madams, not a bunch of goody-two-shoes out for a stroll in the park.

 

Fuller also weaves an element of a mystery into the plot, using it as a way to keep the story moving and heighten viewer interest, and also to provide it with an unexpected twist. And a helluva twist it is, setting up the final conflagration and upside down denouement.

 

There are few movies like “The Naked Kiss,” a film far ahead of its time, especially in its portrayal of a tough woman unafraid of physically confronting either sex. It’s a bruising film, harsh and relentless, and it lays bare the hurdles society places in front of those who attempt to change their lives; in this case, a world weary prostitute trying to turn her life around.

 

“The Naked Kiss” isn’t a masterpiece, but it is an example of the director’s unique filmmaking style; a highly innovative, distinctive endeavor with many points of interest for cinephiles and fans of non-classical film noir.

 

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Film Grading Key

A+ Can't get any better

A Outstanding

A- Superior effort

B+ Very good

B Good

B- Still worth watching

C+ Strictly iffy

C Waste of time

In Memory of Philip Seymour Hoffman 1967-2014

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