Sam Fuller’s The Naked Kiss (1965): Part I: “There’ll be no later, this town is clean”

The Naked Kiss (1965) Shock and Shame, the story of a Night Girl.

Directed by the maverick auteur Samuel Fuller, with a screenplay by Fuller and black, gray, and white shades in the striking cinematography by Stanley Cortez

-(The Magnificent Ambersons 1942, Since you Went Away 1944, The Night of the Hunter 1955, Shock Corridor 1961), Cortez creates a sense of space that is almost surreal and disconnected from the outside world. The Naked Kiss stars Constance Towers as Kelly, Anthony Eisley as Griff, Michael Dante as Grant, Marie Devereux as Buff, Patsy Kelly as Mac, and one of my favorite unsung actresses Virginia Grey (The Women 1939, All The Heaven Allows 1955, Crime of Passion 1956, Backstreet 1961) as Candy.

Let me say that this is one of my favorite films. I think that it’s such a bold concoction of visual style, specific alienation that we as spectators experience along with Kelly our female Protagonist. The undercurrent of sexual pathology of a perverse nature and raw energy that fuels some crude reactionary moments on film. Normally I wouldn’t write about the ending of a film so as not to ruin it for the viewer, yet Constance Tower’s remarkable performance and Fuller’s raw cinematic veritae must be experienced, the story will not lose anything by my relating it here. I actually consider this part of my Women in Peril series, but more aptly put, it’s a womanhood in peril film.

Samuel Fuller’s B post-noir films are not like anyone else’s. Fuller’s work is often confrontational and visceral considered the kinkiest of all the B post-noir auteurs. Naked Kiss is his most potent work alongside his noir masterpiece Pickup on South Street (1953) starring Richard Widmark and Thelma Ritter as Moe Williams.

Alain Silver and James Ursini’s Film Noir Reader 2Fuller’s Naked Kiss “boldly offers a different kind of descriptive pause. Fuller takes on Patriarchy and directly assaults the spectator with a bizarre opening”

In their book they inform us that Fuller actually attached a camera to actor Monte Mansfield who plays Kelly’s pimp Farlunde, the guy she pummels in his swanky apartment right from the tip of the film. He has shaved off her hair and in retaliation she takes her primal vengeance out on his, beating him with her purse and high heels. Kelly only takes the money owed to her. The scene already prepares us, and what is created is an off-kilter and disorienting mood. The opening of The Naked Kiss is perhaps for me one of the most audacious beginnings to any cinematic work. It sort of punches you right in the face along with Farlunde.

The greater theme of the film is its narrative of women’s role within society. In a way not unlike Elia Kazan, Fuller has created a sociological framework, to lay out questions of what womanhood, as well as motherhood, means discursively. While at the end of the film, Kelly is relegitimized as being a savior and not a whore, she is still not allowed to live amongst the clean town’s people. She is still an outsider. Silver and Ursini also correctly bring out in their noir reader the fact that the context of the film is a “discursive-based attack on men and how they define women as well as the limits they place on them”. Also notable is the displaced female rage that only became better articulated later on with feminists during the 60s and 70s.

It reminds me while watching television’s soap opera junk food Peyton Place with its pillory that sits prominently in the middle of the town square as a reminder of New England Puritanical morals and the lurking hypocrisy in the shadows of quiet provincial values, that warn girls to beware of giving away their virtue. Betty Anderson (Barbara Parkins) learns this when she is condemned as the archetypal whore, the tainted girl who gave up her purity to a boy during a summer fling and then was thrown away like autumn trash. The pillory stands in the middle of the town, 200 years prior a woman like Betty had her head shaved bald, was locked in the pillory to be mocked, and then was driven out by the good town folk of Peyton Place. Much like Kelly who we first meet at the shocking opening of the film (one reason The Naked Kiss is such a uniquely memorable excursion for me) is completely bald and striking back at the man who took her hair, her power away.

The Naked Kiss written, directed, and produced by Sam Fuller, opens wide like a steel trap, with Constance Towers as Kelly viciously beats up a pimp Farlunde in his swanky apartment, smashing away at him with her handbag. Hitting his face and neck, it’s like watching a brutal choreographed dance. Fuller creates this wavering movement to give us a sense of the dizzying brutality. Farlunde begs “I’m drunk Kelly please,” “Enough Kelly please.” The savage jazz riffs underscore the bashing. Her wig comes flying off, and now we see a bald Kelly still attacking the man relentlessly. The jazz is coherent with the hyperactive saxophone.

Stripped of her hair looking like a mannequin (perhaps to show us Kelly as an “object”) she beats him till he staggers to the floor, spraying seltzer water in his face. He’s wasted by the beating, she rifles through his pockets and grabs some cash from his wallet. “Eight hundred dollars… you parasite… I’m taking only what’s coming to me.” She starts counting out bills, throwing them down upon his chest, “Fifty, sixty, seventy-five… I’m not rolling you, you drunken leech, I’m only taking the seventy-five dollars that’s coming to me.”

She crumples up her share, shoves it into her bra, and kicks him while he’s lying there. She stares at us like we’re her mirror. Gratified she puts her wig back on and the title rolls, The Naked Kiss. Sam Fuller’s story of alienation, gender subjugation, and the question of immorality and deviant sexual pathology, opens up in a big way.

The Paul Dunlop score becomes more dreamy, with melodramatic strings and Kelly brushing her wig. getting it right. The credits roll and Kelly are applying her eye pencil transforming herself back into a woman and not a bloodthirsty she-devil. Now the blush is applied, the music fades back into the jazz number and we see Farlunde knocked out, lying on the floor. The saxophone is hurling trills at us, Kelly grabs a photograph down from a collection of beauties and she starts tearing it up to pieces, throwing them on the ground, the Farlunde stirs, coughs a bit, and starts to get up, Kelly slams the door.

As he starts picking up the debris Kelly has left in her wake he puts crumpled-up bills on top of a calendar and we see the date July 4, 1961. A quick cut, flash forward to a banner in the street touting August 12, 1963, and the melodramatic music is serenading us again. The camera pulls out for a wider angle, we can see the entire banner now, it reads 2 years later. August 12, 1963 Fashion Show for Handicapped Children Grantville Orthopedic Medical Center

The top of a bus moving through the street, a parked car, a mostly empty street, with a few people crossing it, and mulling about. This is the suggestion of a quiet, quaint American town.

Then a car horn toots, 3 men standing outside a Bus Depot, Griff (Anthony Eisley) says “Ten bucks, that right Mike?” Mike says “Why spend your own money on that punk?” Griff turns to the young man and says while stuffing it in his pocket “Here’s your ticket” smiles at him and shoves some money into his pocket as well. All the time the young man is looking down as if ashamed. He says “Thanks a lot Griff… I’ll pay you back.” Griff looks at him sternly, “I’m giving you a break, cause your brother was in my outfit… I don’t want to see you in this town again.” The young man looks down again.

Then a Greyhound bus pulls over to the curb. We see the marquee of the movie theater is playing Shock Corridor, a nod to Fuller’s other psychologically wrenching film about a newspaper reporter going undercover in a lunatic asylum, only to become one of the patients.

The bus door opens, and from our vantage point, we see a woman’s foot taking a step, long slender legs attached, the screen flirts with us, a little more leg with the skirt now, the scene is taking its time, showing us the woman. From the men’s vantage point, she has been dissected into a series of objectified body parts. Skirt-holding suitcases and the characteristic horn plays a sexy VaVaVa Voom riff. The bus porter meets the woman we see her face in silhouette, wearing a nice lightly colored tailored suit. He comes to greet her and help with her bags. Griff’s expression looks interested. “Please check my trunk,” she says. It’s Kelly, with what looks like a fully grown head of blond hair, nicely coiffed. She’s smiling pleasantly, ladylike, “I’ll send for it later,” she says in softly spoken tones. She tips Mike, he blushes, and says “Thank you, ma’am.” She smiles back.

Kelly and Griff make eye contact. She inquires where the washroom is. Griff says as if gritting his teeth, “Inside, to the right.” She tilts her head, using her eyes to convey her gratitude, “Thank you.” She walks off, Griff’s eyes following her all the while. The VaVaVoom sax as a signature theme that characterizes her sex appeal. Now Griff breaks his gaze and turns to the young man. “Get on it, and get lost.” He picks up his bags and gets on the bus, then Mike the porter, and his little girl Bunny with her mother walk over. Mike’s wife is holding a bag of groceries, “pot roast tonight Griff”, he says “Oh not tonight” The man says “Oh I wanted to finish that game Griff.”
“Danny’s been taken to the hospital…I’m pulling duty for him for tonight”

The little girl fingers the letter embossed on the trunk and asks “What’s this K mean?” Griff tells her, “That’s the name of the owner.” The little girl Bunny giggles “K is no name, Uncle Griff” Mike says “Bunny…don’t you fool around with that” The little girl says “Yes dad” Mike’s wife says “See ya at home, Mike.” Griff is smiling with pride, this is a lovely little family he’s thinking.“By daddy.” “Bye.” The warning to his little girl shouldn’t grow up to be what Kelly stands for is clearly signaled by his comment about not fooling around with that.

Griff-“That’s enough to make a bulldog bust his chain!”

Sensual washes of music bring Kelly back onto the screen. Coyly leaning up against the wall, shooting eyes at Griff and Mike, the sax flirting out tones. Kelly smiles over at them. Tilts her head and walks away, swinging her hips. Griff watches her walk, “That’s enough to make a bulldog bust its chain.” Griff starts to follow her. Kelly passes two little girls playing jump rope by a baby carriage. Kelly looks into the carriage and smiles placing a baby bottle into the infant’s mouth.

Does this sexualized figure have a maternal instinct? Is this act of caring for the infant alluding to a maternal aspect of Kelly?

We don’t hear sexy horns anymore, now it’s sweeping strings, romantic swells, of the grandiose potential for the American Dream. A normal life ahead? Kelly continues to walk through the park with her bags. Passing yet another woman on a park bench with a baby carriage. The visual narrative lets us know that this is a family town. Now we see Griff still following her. Fixes his jacket and checks to see if anyone notices that he’s tracking Kelly.

The scene cross-fades into Kelly and Griff sitting on a park bench. Kelly’s reading a book and Griff is leaning on her suitcase. He asks “Traveling saleslady? She says “Uh ha” “Staying long?” Still looking at her book “long enough to cover this territory.” Griff says “Well there’s one Hotel in town, special rates for salesmen…” Looking down at her case “What’re you selling?” She puts her book down grabs the case and says “Angel Foam” opens up the case and reveals 3 bottles “of champagne.” Griff seems delighted. Kelly tells him “best on the market.” He asks “What are the pens for?” She gives a little shake of her head “customers.” A strange undertone to the way she says “customers.” A few years back or as recently as the present day “customer” means something very different for Kelly.

Griff asks “How ’bout a sample.” She slams the case closed. We hear the clasps jingle as she says “Uh uh, no free sips.” He readjusts himself and leans in and tells her “Well I’m pretty good at popping the cork…if the vintage is right.”

The sexual double entendre is blatant. Kelly’s looking at her book again, he’s trying to get her attention. He looks like he’s trying to find a word and says “Angel Foam… never heard of it.” She smiles but still doesn’t look at Griff. “It’s an exclusive line I’m introducing in this state.” Griff asks  “Domestic or imported?” Now Kelly looks at him, with piercing eyes, as if to say you couldn’t handle my goods.

“Angel Foam goes down like liquid gold.. .and it comes up like slow dynamite… for the man of taste.” Again the sexual innuendo is clearly part of their dialogue. The cover of the book shows a woman in peril, trying to flee some unseen assailant the title reads. Dark Rage. Here the word rage is introduced subliminally, also the fact that Kelly is selling something associated with romance with a name like Foam…is this code for climax or ejaculation? For 1965 Fuller rips the surface right off the film, and doesn’t hint at the issue of desire, the male gaze, and sexuality at all in Naked Kiss.

Kelly asks “Do you think you can afford it?” And Griff says “How much for a bull’s eye?” “Ten dollars a bottle.” “Ten dollars, well that’s dirt cheap.” She closes the book. “Well, we practically give it away to the first customer.” He looks puzzled she tells him “It’s called, goodwill in business” looking at him, still in control of the conversation.

Fade out, then fade into:

Griff lying on the couch drinking from a champagne glass. Kelly’s on the floor brushing out her beautiful blond hair. As she brushes she remarks “Wonderful, just wonderful.” Griff bleets “Thank you.” “Not you, I’m talking about my hair.” We hear Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata playing in the background. He says “You’re crazy mussing it up that way” She glows “You’ll never know what a thrill this is…it’s all new.” He furrows his brow “New?” Still brushing, “mmh hmm, it’s just grown back.” “Did it fall out because you were sick?” She shakes her head no “Uh uh.” Griff starts to rise up on the couch “Don’t tell me you had your head shaved?” She turns and smiles “It wasn’t my idea.” He looks concerned and asks her “What happened?” She tells him “It’ll keep.”

Then the tension breaks and he smiles puts his arm around her and kisses her neck. There’s a shot of money on a small table, next to a chilled bottle in an ice bucket.“Well, at least you made a ten spot on Angel Foam.” “I thought you gave me a twenty?” “Isn’t that enough wine to make you see double?” he answers. He starts rubbing her neck and cheek and she says “Ah, Moonlight Sonata… my favorite.” He kisses her neck she says “I see myself in a boat when I hear that… a boat… on a lake… and the moonlight… leaves lazily falling on me… what do you see?” He still kisses es her, hand on her neck, “I’m tone deaf” he says.

Kelly obviously aspires for better things. She has a sense of refinement. Appreciation for the classics. This is a woman with many layers. She is not just a whore.

Cross Fade, Griff is now getting dressed. He tells Kelly that she can sleep at his place, just for the night. She’s still sitting on the floor. Leaning up against the couch contemplating. She gets up and asks “How long have you been a cop?” He turns around after taking a sip of coffee “is my badge that obvious?” Kelly says “Is mine?” Griff says “Well I was taking no chances.” She says “In my business, I have to.” These are two marked people, Griff and Kelly. The user and the used.

He puts his jacket on “Well I don’t see any battle scars.” Kelly says “That’s ’cause I practice the first rule of the house… end with the local law first, break the ice for later.” But Griff looks down at her “They’ll be no later… this town is clean.”

Kelly takes the remark like a slap in the face. She gets up angered “What do you mean by that?” “That means that you and I will get along like noise and a hangover if you pitch the tent in my bivouac.” She looks so harmed by his insult. He has lost his lazy carefree demeanor and has now donned the cop uniform with Kelly. She tells him “For a cop, you oughtta read books… Goethe (she pronounces it Gotha, but at least she tries to appear intelligent) for instance.” “Go who?” “Goethe the poet… he said nothing is more terrible than an act of ignorance and mister you proved him one hundred percent right.”

She mispronounces Goethe but now we see those traces of that toughness, who is trying to better herself, by opening up to philosophical ideas and poetry, looking for meaning in life. Representing her desire to improve her station in life. Griff’s insult isn’t lost on me either as the viewer. What hypocrisy, that she was good enough to use for his sexual pleasure, but now she’s not good enough for the town. As if Griff’s hands were clean. As if he isn’t a willing participant in the act of prostitution. This is one instance where Fuller challenges Patriarchy and the double standard that it practices.

She continues “I’m not going to start the Bubonic plague here” Griff grabs her “Now listen, it’s nothing personal Muffin…if I let you set up shop in this neighborhood, people’d chop me like a ripe banana.” she comes back at him “then why’d you buy my merchandise.” She now joins in objectifying herself as a commodity. A thing she can sell. Her body and sex are equal components to her total worth.

Griff fumbles for the words “I, I was thirsty.” He puts his arm around her, she smiles a little, he starts walking her around the apartment like he’s about to give her fatherly advice. He says “Across the river, there’s a wide-open town… Delmar Falls… it’s not in this state.. .there’s a salon there, and I don’t mean a beauty parlor…  Candy Ala Carte…(he smirks)… Candy’s a personal friend of mine”. He grabs her neck affectionately tough, she looks at him, and he says “I’ll buy a bottle from you now and then.”

She nods, and then he finally asks “What’s your name?” She answers “Kelly.” He’s still holding onto her with his hands. He barks at her “Your real name!” She jabs back equally on par with his tone “K E double L Y.” He tells her she’ll be his sounds like “ichi van” that’s a Japanese expression, he picked it up in Tokyo. She knows what it means, and tells him “means number one..” He looks at her approvingly as if surprised that she’s intelligent. Now she asks “What’s your name tiger?”  “Za, I mean Griff.” Now she says “Your real name” As he puts his hat on he spells out “G R I double F.” She asks “Rank?” “Captain.” She looks over his suit “No uniform?” “Everybody knows me.” He tilts his hat down over his eyes. Is that a gesture of shame?

Kelly hands him a pen “a reminder not to change brands.” Another innuendo, he reads the writing on the pen “Angel Foam guarantee’s satisfaction.” He snickers, “It’s almost as good as Candy’s trademark.” Kelly crosses her arms and looks skeptical “Oh what does Candy guarantee?” Griff answer “indescribable pleasure...(Kelly nods)… she got it out of a book, it’s stamped on all her glasses… tell her I sent you.” He tilts his head and looks at her with a stern voice and says “Kelly” as if asking a question. She replies “Yes sir?” “Didn’t you forget something?” She pauses then acts like the light bulb just went on, “oh, thank you for the room Captain” she says in a wispy voice. Griff says “You owe me ten bucks change,” she says “Uh uh” as she fixes his tie. “I never make change” Just then the bump and grind sax start playing.

Kelly is identified again as a call girl, a night girl, as the DVD cover says “the story of a night girl.” Griff lightly thumbs Kelly’s chin and kisses her on the nose, nods to her, and sticks the pen in his hat. The sexy music is a little more playful and less seductive at this point. He walks away and Kelly smiles after him. Griff is very content having Kelly remain as she is “a night girl”. His town may be clean but his hands are not. The hypocrisy in Naked Kiss is brutal

We see a street scene again, this represents the town, the clean town. but we quickly switch to Kelly, stirring in bed. Left arm over her eyes to block out the light. It’s morning. As she starts to arise, she looks over at a newspaper clipping GRANT SAVES GRIFF IN KOREA; WOUNDED says the Grantville Gazette. She smells some of Griff’s cologne, approves, and then splashes some on her neck. She stops by a mirror, then suddenly looks sullen, she touches under her eye and follows the cheekbone. She goes to the other side of her face. there shows a level of discontent with the image in the mirror. The music tells us she’s disturbed by harp chords that cascade, the contrast of light music rather than darker score makes the scene more powerful. Until now Kelly has exuded confidence and strength. What is Kelly thinking? Is she reflecting upon who she’s been, and where she’s going? The mirror symbolizes self-recognition.

Now from a distance, a far-off lens, we see her walking down the sidewalk lined with trees, she seems so small in the scene. She’s closer now, we hear her heels clicking on the pavement. She looks up, there is a sign, Madam Josephine Seamstress. Kelly smiles, then we see that she is reading a sign Pleasant Room For Rent a closer shot, emphasis on the word Pleasant.

Kelly shakes her head and smiles with joyfulness. She walks up the steps and rings the bell. With her back turned looking out over the town, she shakes her head “Yes, this is for me, this is the place for me.” An old woman Miss Josephine played by Betty Bronson, opens the door and says good morning. Kelly says “You have a room for rent.” “Please come in” Kelly walks into the house, and looks pleased. The kindly old woman wearing an apron says “Here let me take that” and grabs Kelly’s bag.“Thank you” “I’ll show you the room…this is the room…it has a beautiful view, it faces the river.” Kelly gets excited and walks around a four-poster bed. “it’s a family heirloom…do you realize we spend about a third of our lives in bed?”

Kelly smiles ironically at that statement, she starts to comment then just looks down and loses the words. The old woman says “To sleep in comfort is very important…I used to say a little verse about it like to hear it?” Kelly says sure, a little music box tinkling begins “Four corners to my bed, four angels round my head, one to watch, and one to pray, and two to bare my soul away.” Kelly beams, “I’d like to rent this room…and the four angels that go with it” “Oh I’m so delighted.” “I’m a stranger in town, don’t you need my character reference?” The old woman waves her finger to gesture no and grabs Kelly’s hand, and walks her to the mirror. Again, the film is utilizing a symbolic mirror.

“Your reference is that face, Ms. Kelly.” Kelly laughs “Oh” the woman looks adoringly at her, still holding her hand.”Good heavens I forgot, I’ll have to move Charley out of your room” “Charley?” “I wouldn’t want him to bother you while you’re asleep” She moves a screen to the side and exposes a dressing dummy with military medals and a hat. “I named him Charley after a gentleman I was to marry… I kept this room ready for him ever since I got the president’s wire that Charley was killed in the war.” She’s holding his hat. “That was 20 years ago, oh I come up here all the time and talk to Charley.” She replaces the hat on the figure. “Last week I realized the president was right and Charley was dead, and I’d never get married.” Kelly looks sympathetically at her. “Well, I’ll move him downstairs.” “Oh, he won’t be in the way.” Kelly asserts with a kind smile. The old woman’s eyes brighten “You don’t mind?” “No in fact it’ll do me good to talk to him now and then.” “Well, he’ll always agree with you.” Both women laugh together.

Fade to black

Continued in Part II

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