THE NAKED KISS
One of Sam Fuller’s great ones is a problematic film yet, whatever we might think of the improbable plot, all the shmaltz with the young children, the depravity of Grant’s actions, the sleaze of “Candy’s Bon Bons”, the hokey intellectualizing (Goethe, Lord Byron and Beethoven all have their moments), the overall cheap, low budget look of everything – and on and on and on – in spite of all this, this work is a veritable essay on at least one thing – how to achieve a sensational opening and immediately hook the viewer. (Although honestly some mistakes are beyond forgiveness – the continuity in the opening credit sequence is atrocious. Kelly is supposed to be in the room with the man she’s just clobbered, but what we see behind her is a stock photographic background.)
The film opens with cheesy, stereotypically melodramatic trumpets behind the credit A LEON FRAMKESS SAM FIRKS PRODUCTION. Yawn!
And then there is an immediate switch. The soundtrack crosses over to wild, out of control hard bop as we see Kelly beating a drunken man senseless with her pocketbook. The jagged cutting isn’t wholly professional but it’s enormously effective – what the heck is going on here? is what we wonder as she beats him mercilessly. The shock of seeing her bald head revealed is somewhat lessened because it’s done so unprofessionally – we can clearly see a third person, a member of the crew who’s not a character within the fictional story, rip the wig off Kelly’s head from behind when it’s supposed to be the guy in front of her, the guy she’s beating, who knocks it off with a swipe – yet it’s still a great image and a gripping idea.
After Kelly hits him so hard he stumbles and knocks himself out by hitting his head on the table leg – and she squirts him, there’s a bit of exposition as she speaks. “Eight hundred dollars… you parasite… I’m only taking the seventy five dollars that’s coming to me”. Why is it coming to her? She says angrily “I’m not rolling you, you drunken leech!” All right – now we know why it’s coming to her. It’s the fee owed to her for her womanly service. Then as the main credits roll over images of Kelly putting her wig back on and putting her face together, we get some sentimental strings on the soundtrack… but as the credits come to an end the wild improve jazz returns and we’re off! (As she leaves the room she rips her picture off the wall, where it hangs with those of other ladies, and tears it to shreds.)
This opening sequence does all we can ask of it – it grabs us by the lapels immediately. In my opinion this is great filmmaking – even though the remainder of the movie may not quite be on this level. I think it is probably enormously inspirational for young filmmakers. It most definitely illustrates what can be done with no money but a lot of imagination, pluck, spirit and determination.
As the story rolls on Fuller’s wit and humor break out into full blossom for a time. Examples: Of a barmaid named Hatrack it’s observed “There’s isn’t a customer in here who doesn’t want to hang his fedora on her.” Of the booze she’s selling – named Angel Foam – Kelly says “Angel Foam goes down like liquid gold and it comes up like slow dynamite – for the man of taste.” A landlady who doesn’t know about Kelly’s background as a prostitute asks her “Do you know we spend one third of our lives in bed?” This landlady keeps a sentimental mannequin named Charlie who appeared in the credits under “Charlie as Himself.” When Kelly references the German poet Goethe (she pronounces it “go – thuh”) Griff asks “Go who?” And these are just a few examples that come very early in the film, almost turning the story into a dramedy. There are many more to follow as the film progresses, including a skull referred to as “an authentic drinking cup used by the Gauls.”
Somewhat unfortunately, the film goes further and further downhill as it moves along.
It takes a long time for the full plot to unwind and reveal itself, and there are a lot of bumps along the way. At some point the humor and kidding collapse into utmost seriousness on many different planes, not only in the main plot but several different minor subplots as well, and so from this perspective the whole is cut up into two very distinct halves. Everybody viewer’s got to weigh the effect of this for his or her self..
One of the reasons things go a little bit sideways is the neurosis of the camera and the wild fluctuations of visual style. Fuller doesn’t seem to have a developed personality of presentation or a preferred manner of showing us things. The shots are a hodgepodge, a collection of storyboard drawings thrown together. We get two shots, shot/reverse shots, shots where the camera is low to the ground looking up at the characters, a couple of high crane shots that seem to, if not defy, at least go against the grain of, the usual reasons for such a shot, shots where the camera moves in or pulls back with no obvious purpose – in short, it all looks too edgily experimental, a little unsure, a mite nervous. I don’t know if this is enough to blunt the sheer enthusiasm and exuberance that Fuller displays in the other departments of filmmaking but it seems to stall the momentum in a way a more fluid style might not.