The Naked Kiss (1964)
Not rated, but it probably should be pretty hard R for 1964. While there isn't nudity, the movie is about prostitution and pedophilia. It's a pretty brutal film at times. Because it is 1964, the movie has this heavy tone without showing a ton of stuff. If you just walked in on a scene, there wouldn't be anything necessarily explicit. But the central conceit is pretty gross and it is an uncomfortable watch at times. Not rated.
DIRECTOR: Samuel Fuller
I almost forgot that I had watched this movie over break. It was one of my Christmas gifts, which is horribly awkward when you think about it. When you have a bunch of Criterion Blu-Rays on your Amazon wishlist, sometimes Christmas gets really awkward after the facts. After all, my mother-in-law bought me In the Realm of the Senses without either of us really knowing what it was about. But I can always say that I have received some of the more uncomfortable films from absolutely innocent sources.
I want to jump on the Sam Fuller exploitation train. Part of me wants to like movies like The Naked Kiss and Shock Corridor more than I actually do. Heck, despite the fact that I just wrote about Shock Corridor, I don't remember what I actually wrote about it. I suppose that I could just look it up and find out, but that seems like a lot of work on my part and who has time for that? (You, reader. You are the reason that I write all of this nonsense.) Like many films in the exploitation-noir subgenre, there's a lack of subtlety that comes with these movies. I mean, they are considered exploitation films, so I shouldn't be shocked that the movie sacrifices nuance for grit. But in the attempt to make these hard-boiled cheap films, there's something almost inhuman about all of the characters. It feels a bit like someone who imagines what criminals are like versus what people are like.
Kelly, as the protagonist, is so much. When she's angry, she's a force of nature. The film starts off with bald Kelly vengefully tearing apart her pimp for her rightful cut of her profits. Fuller establishes her as someone who cannot be messed with because she absolutely would destroy you. He's going to use this moment again later with the character, so it is good that it is in there. But Kelly with her own hair is someone very different. She's a saint. There's no nuance. There's no frustration or learning curve for Kelly. She's either going to be a hard-boiled sex worker or she's going to be a nurse who has a way with handicapped children. There's no in-between for her. From an audience's perspective, this makes the movie about plot over character. Kelly is unrelatable from both ends of the spectrum for the common audience. She can't possibly serve as an avatar for the viewer because she's either all good or all bad. Yes, we root for her to find her place in society because we're viewing her from a moral high horse, but that doesn't really allow much room for her to become like us. We're fighting for the good ending because we know that she wants to be good.
Yet, Fuller telegraphs the need for Kelly's downfall. Considering that the movie is named The Naked Kiss, it's ages before we discover what the eponymous terms refers to. Everything about Grant screams messed up and toxic. He's just too perfect and he's surrounded by absolute scum. The fact that he asks Griff to be his best man informs us that this altruistic benefactor for the town is kind of an act. That's not even a read by me. I can guarantee that Fuller is screaming this from the top of his lungs. Because we can't have Kelly having it all, we know that whatever Grant has up his sleeve, it is going to be bad. Now, I never heard the term "The Naked Kiss" to refer to molestation. I am glad that I never knew that term. But it is interesting that is what the movie is titled. As much as "The Naked Kiss" is shocking, it almost isn't what the movie's about. I mean, it is and it isn't. The film is a condemnation of sex work and that's on the movie. But considering how much focus is put on Kelly as opposed to the horrible misdeeds that Grant performs kind of is a distraction from the meat of the film.
Ultimately, Fuller just needed to give Grant some abhorrent vice. He needed to go from philanthropist to monsters insanely fast. It needed to hit Kelly like a ton of bricks. Sure, we all saw it coming, but Kelly doesn't view herself as a character in the movie. She sees this nice guy who turns away the sin and corruption that surrounds him and naturally loves him. It's just that it doesn't really matter what the crime is. It just needed to be gross. So, as much as the story is about Kelly, Kelly doesn't really change. Her change doesn't come from the revelation of Grant's past. If anything, it solidifies her personality where it. is. Her real change comes from the beginning of the film, when she escapes the life of prostitution and goes to this small town.
But that change happening so early also confuses me. The opening scene, again, shows her at her roughest. We know what she is capable of, fine. She then goes to this small town and begins being a sex worker in this small town, this time with a smile. She happens to attract Griff, a slightly corrupt cop who sleeps her her only to reveal his true employment. Kelly has this new personality and Griff reveals how on the take he is in this town while revealing his skewed moral code. But the movie ignores Griff's crimes in the final act and presents him as this upright police detective trying to do the right thing. Kelly, even moreso, takes a hard-left into nursing. I don't know what inspires her to make this choice. I would love to think that getting caught by Griff might have been her inspiration. But the movie never really makes that clear. We just know that her plans shifted aggressively hard and there really is no reason.
And that's what kind of bugs me about exploitation cinema: the strict adherence to archetype. No one in this film is actually a full character. Instead, we get aggressive two-dimensional characters playing types. Those types are sometimes interesting to watch, but they aren't fully fleshed out by any stretch of the imagination. Trust me, as a film snob I want to scream that I love these kinds of movies. But honestly, they're only okay.
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