The Naked Kiss

A part of this view­ing list: Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion Spine #18: Samuel Fuller’s The Naked Kiss.
Sam Fuller is wide­ly regard­ed as a very mas­cu­line film­mak­er; his works asso­ci­at­ed with vio­lence, brava­do, exploita­tion, prim­i­tive­ness and vul­gar­i­ty. And while those asso­ci­a­tions are cor­rect, the mas­cu­line label is mis­placed. A film like The Naked Kiss illus­trates Fuller’s claim to focus on undi­lut­ed emo­tion, emphat­i­cal­ly ungen­dered. The char­ac­ter Kel­ly is cen­tral to the sto­ry in this film, and she essen­tial­ly plays the role of the arche­typ­al female. Maybe in Wic­ca [some­thing I’m only tan­gen­tial­ly famil­iar with] she would be the embod­i­ment of the God­dess. Anoth­er way to look at it would be to com­bine all of the defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics of Greek god­dess­es into her form. She’s by turns wan­ton, venge­ful, moth­er­ly, sis­ter­ly, house­wife­ly. She is every­thing that any­one has ever thought about a woman. This type of embod­i­ment trans­lates eas­i­ly into a char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of Kel­ly as pow­er. She is what the film is about, and her uncon­scious inabil­i­ty to be pigeon­holed by oth­er char­ac­ters is indica­tive of the “moral tract” that Michael Dare men­tions in his Cri­te­ri­on essay.
Despite this read­ing, the film has moments of weak­ness in its por­tray­al of Kel­ly. Her pros­ti­tu­tion is equat­ed as a sex­u­al per­ver­sion akin to pedophil­ia. It is obvi­ous that Kel­ly isn’t a sex­u­al deviant, but there is a brief moment that gives the film its name when she says she can tell when a man is a per­vert by the way his kiss tastes. A naked kiss, pros­ti­tutes call it. This sort of sixth sense is noth­ing but hokey. Even in the 1960s I sus­pect. Despite and because of Kelly’s mul­ti­fac­eted char­ac­ter­i­za­tion, she’s the least acces­si­ble char­ac­ter in the film. Illim­itable. It helps that the set­ting and oth­er char­ac­ters are so pure­ly one-dimen­sion­al. Grantville could be Leave it to Beaver’s May­field, except it is even more idyl­lic.
Of course, the lurid plot is exact­ly right for exploita­tion cin­e­ma: pros­ti­tutes, pedophiles, small town Amer­i­ca. Date­line could learn a lot from Sam Fuller. Kel­ly, though a hook­er with a heart of gold, has an extreme­ly vio­lent streak that appears when she must defend virtue and jus­tice; an odd trait for a pros­ti­tute, but ful­ly in keep­ing with the com­plex and imper­fect char­ac­ters that are trade­marks of a Fuller film. There is a scene where she shoves mon­ey into the mouth of a cathouse madam, and the fact that the madam looks like Kel­ly might in 15 years is star­tling. The fram­ing of each shot through­out the film is as tight and claus­tro­pho­bic as pos­si­ble, not until the end do we get a sense of free­dom and release, as Kel­ly leaves town to make her way else­where. The Naked Kiss isn’t Fuller’s best film, but it is cer­tain­ly a stand­out in com­par­i­son to his oth­er works and the schol­ar­ship that has been done in rela­tion to his defin­ing auteur char­ac­ter­is­tics. If you’re a fan of any­thing Fuller though, you’ll enjoy this film.
Cri­te­ri­on Essay by Michael Dare.
Cri­te­ri­on Con­trap­tion review.
San Fran­cis­co Gate arti­cle.
Dan Schnei­der essay.
YouTube Clips: Clip 1, Clip 2, Clip 3.