THE SILENT YEARS: When we started not giving a damn on screen!
In celebration of our upcoming Anti Damsel Blogathon on August 15 & 16, I had this idea to provide a list of bold, brilliant and beautiful women!
There was to be no indecent exposure of the ankles and no SCHWOOSHING! Not in this Blogathon baby!
From the heyday of Silent film and the advent of talking pictures, to the late ‘20s to 1934 Pre-Code Hollywood, films were rife with provocative and suggestive images, where women were kicking up a storm on screen… The end of the code during the early 60s dared to offer social commentary about race, class, gender and sexuality! That’s our party!
In particular, these bold women and the screen roles they adopted have become legendary. They sparked catchy dialogue, inspired fashion trends, or just plain inspired us… All together there are 111 of SOME of the most determined, empowered and uniquely fortified femmes of classic film…!
First of course I consulted the maven of all things splendid, shimmery and SILENT for her take on silent film actresses and the parts that made them come alive on the immortal screen…. Fritzi at Movies Silently has summoned up thesefabulous femmes….
Now to unleash the gust of gals from my tornadic mind filled with favorite actresses and the characters that have retained an undying sacred vow to heroine worship… In their private lives, their public persona and the mythological stardom that has & still captivates generations of fans, the roles they brought to life and the lasting influence that refuses to go away…!
Because they have their own unique rhythm to the way they moved through the world… a certain kind of mesmerizing allure, and/or they just didn’t give a hoot, a damn… nor a flying fig!
“The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud”-Coco Chanel
Stars like Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck , Joan Crawford and Ida Lupino managed to keep re-inventing themselves. They became spirited women with an inner reserve of strength and a passion for following their desires!
The following actresses and their immortal characters are in no particular order…!
This post is a collaboration between Fritzi of Movies Silently and me, Joey, here on the Last Drive In.
We offer you a spirited sampling of totally empowered, take-the-reigns film characters who were anything but damsels in distress!
1. Helen (Miriam Nesbitt) in The Ambassador’s Daughter (1913): This short film from Thomas Edison’s motion picture studio features espionage and a quick-thinking heroine. She tracks down spies at the embassy, follows her suspect and manages to steal back the documents that he purloined from her father. Not at all bad for a film made seven years before the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified.
2. Helen (Helen Holmes) in A Lass of the Lumberlands (1916): Helen Holmes was an action star who specialized in train-related stunts and adventure. In this 1916 serial, she saves the day on numerous occasions and even saves her love interest from peril on the train tracks. (It should be mentioned that the Victorian “woman tied to the train tracks” cliche was incredibly rare and usually treated with ridicule in silent films.) This is another movie that is missing and presumed lost.
3. Diana Monti (Musidora) in Judex (1916): Not all the empowered women in classic film were heroines. In the case of Musidora, her most famous roles were as criminals. She was the deadly thief/hit-woman Irma Vep in Les Vampires and then took on the titular caped crusader in Judex. Smart, stealthy and likely to slip a stiletto between the ribs… in short, a woman not to be trifled with.
4. Ossi (Ossi Oswalda) in The Doll (1919): Ernst Lubitsch featured another feisty heroine in this surreal comedy. Our hero wishes to dodge marriage but cannot gain his inheritance without a bride. A plan! He will buy a lifelike doll from a famous toymaker and marry that. What he doesn’t know is that the doll was broken, the toymaker’s daughter has taken its place and she means to teach the reluctant bridegroom a lesson. Oswalda’s mischievous antics are a delight.
5. Lulu (Lois Wilson) in Miss Lulu Bett (1921): Independent women weren’t always given to violence and thievery. In the case of Lulu, she is a single woman trapped in two Victorian social conventions: spinster and poor relation. During the course of the film, she rejects both titles, learns her own self-worth and empowers herself to enter into a healthy relationship with the local schoolmaster. Tasty feminism!
6. Rischka (Pola Negri) in The Wildcat (1921): Ernst Lubitsch’s hyperactive Dr. Seussian comedy is worth seeing for the sets alone but the best part is Pola Negri’s Rischka, a young bandit queen who is terrorizing the mountains. She meets the local Lothario during a robbery and by the end of the scene she has stolen his heart. And his pants.
7. The Countess (Pola Negri) in A Woman of the World (1925): Anyone who thought going to Hollywood would tame Pola Negri’s wild side had another thing coming. In this film, she plays a countess whose skull tattoo causes an uproar in Anytown, USA. The film also features a romance between Negri and the stuffy local prosecutor, who soon finds himself on the receiving end of her bullwhip. Not a metaphor.
8. Catherine the Great (Louise Dresser) in The Eagle (1925): Rudolph Valentino specialized in aggressive wooing but he finds the shoe on the other foot in this Russian romance. Louise Dresser is a kick as the assertive czarina who knows what she likes and goes for it.
9. Cornelia Van Gorder (Emily Fitzroy) in The Bat (1926): It’s a dark and stormy night and a murderous costumed villain means to recover stolen loot in an isolated mansion. What is an elderly woman to do? Take up her trusty pistol and investigate, of course! She also wields a dry wit and keeps cool under pressure. The Bat doesn’t stand a chance.
10. Eve (Leatrice Joy) in Eve’s Leaves (1926): Another gender reversal comedy, Eve’s Leaves features twenties fashion icon Leatrice Joy as a tomboy sailor who finds the perfect man while ashore on business. She ends up saving the day– and her favorite dude in distress– through quick thinking, a knowledge of knots and a mean right hook.
11. Molly (Mary Pickford) in Sparrows (1926): Mary Pickford was America’s Sweetheart during the silent era and audiences adored her fearless heroines. Molly is one of her boldest. She’s an orphan raised in a Southern swamp who must rescue a kidnapped infant. The epic final race across the swamps– complete with alligators– is still harrowing to behold.
12. Zaida (Bebe Daniels) in She’s a Sheik (1927): Silent movie audiences enjoyed reversals of gender tropes. The Rudolph Valentino vehicle The Sheik (1921) had been a smash hit and had spawned many rip-offs and parodies. (kidnapping + love = box office success!) In this case, a warrior princess falls for a French officer and decides the most sensible course of action is to abduct him for the purpose of marriage. Sadly, this comedy seems to be one of many silent films that is missing and presumed lost.
13. Gilda Carson/Erickson (Dorothy Mackaill) Safe in Hell (1931): Gilda is a complex cigarette smoking call girl who is laid back about her status as a working girl. When a friend calls her up to meet a guy whose wife is out of town she tells her “Okay, I’ll go right into my dance.” When Gilda is accused of murdering the man who rapes her, she flees New Orleans and seeks refuge in the Caribbean. But even there she is surrounded and must fend off criminals and sleaze balls especially the local police chief who threatens her freedom. On and off the screen actress Dorothy Mackaill pushed against the boundaries of virtue and stirred up a lot of social-incorrectness.
“Who has the good times, the swell clothes, the excitements… We do! And not because we’re portrayed as nice girls, no! because we’re smoking, drinking, dancing and being made love to.”
14. The Bride (Elsa Lanchester) Bride of Frankenstein (1935): The Bride might be one of the first screen woman to rabidly defy an arranged/deranged marriage. She’s iconic, memorable and filled with glorious hiss!.. because The Bride may have come into this world in an unorthodox way, but she’ll be damned if any man is going to tell her who to love! Elsa Lanchester manifested The Bride with a keen sense of fearsome independence. No matter whether the Monster demands a Mate, The Bride isn’t ready and willing. Lanchester always took daring roles that were larger than life because she had a way of dancing around the edges of Hollywood convention. Charming, hilarious and downright adorable even with the wicked lightning struck hair and stitches and deathly pale skin!
15. Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) in His Gal Friday (1940): Hildy is a hard-bitten reporter for New York City’s The Morning Post. She’s just gotten back from Reno to a get a divorce from her louse of a husband who happens to also be her boss Walter Burns (Cary Grant). Hildy’s anxious to break ties with her manipulative ex-husband who just isn’t ready to let her leave the job or their marriage so she can marry straight-laced Bruce (Ralph Bellamy)… and he’ll do so by any means. But she’s nobody’s fool… and if she stays it’s because she’s made up her mind to embrace Walter’s crazy antics… Hildy [to Walter]: “Now, get this, you double-crossing chimpanzee: There ain’t going to be any interview and there ain’t going to be any story. And that certified check of yours is leaving with me in twenty minutes. I wouldn’t cover the burning of Rome for you if they were just lighting it up. If I ever lay my two eyes on you again, I’m gonna walk right up to you and hammer on that monkeyed skull of yours ’til it rings like a Chinese gong!”
16. Charlie (Teresa Wright), in Shadow of a Doubt (1943): Charlie is tired of small-town life with her parents and annoying younger sister. She’s a longing for something exciting to happen, & overwhelmed with joy when her beloved Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotton) decides to pay the family a visit. But something isn’t quite right with her idol, he begins to exhibit a strange sort of underlying hostility and troubling secret nature… Her mother’s younger brother is actually a sadistic serial killer who preys on rich widows by marrying them, then strangling them! But young Charlie begins to see through his facade. She may be a girl who indulges in romantic fantasy she’s got a strong resource for self preservation and since no one else in the family believes her suspicions that he’s The Merry Widow killer. And she might just have to wind up killing him in self-defense…
“Go away, I’m warning you. Go away or I’ll kill you myself. See… that’s the way I feel about you.”
17. Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) Double Indemnity (1944): set fire to the screen as one of the most seductive femme fatales— a dame who made sunglasses and ankle bracelets a provocative weapon. She had murder on her mind and was just brazen enough to concoct an insurance scam that will pay off on her husbands murder in Double Indemnity (1944). Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) is the insurance guy who comes around and winds up falling under her dangerous spell… Walter: “You’ll be here too?”
Phyllis: “ I guess so, I usually am.”
Walter: “Same chair, same perfume, same ankle?”
Phyllis: “I wonder if I know what you mean?”
Walter: “I wonder if you wonder?”
18. Constance Porter (Tallulah Bankhead) in Lifeboat (1944): It’s WWII and Connie is a smart-talking international journalist who’s stranded in the middle of the Atlantic ocean with an ensemble of paranoid and desperate survivors. Eventually her fur coat comes off, her diamond bracelet and expensive camera gets tossed in the sea. But she doesn’t give a damn, she can take the punishment and still attract the hunky and shirtless (yum) John Kodiak… survival’s just a state of mind… and she does it with vigor and class and a cool calm!
“Dying together’s even more personal than living together.”
19. Margo Channing (Bette Davis) All About Eve (1950): In all Bette Davis’ films like (Jezebel (1938) Dark Victory (1939) The Letter (1940) Now, Voyager (1942)), she shattered the stereotypes of the helpless female woman in peril. Davis had an unwavering strength, fearlessly taking on the Hollywood system and embracing fully the moody roles that weren’t always ‘attractive.’ Davis made her comeback in 1950, perhaps melding a bit of her own story as an aging star in All About Eve. Margo must fend off a predatory aspiring actress (Anne Baxter as Eve Harrington) who insinuates herself into Margo’s territory. Davis’ manifests the persona of ambition and betrayal which have become epic…
“Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”
20. Rachel Cooper (Lillian Gish) in Night of the Hunter (1955): There are certain images that will remain with you long after seeing masterpieces like Night of the Hunter. Aside from the frightening portrayal of an opportunistic sociopath, the film is like a childhood fairy tale. It’s a cautionary tale about the boogeyman but it’s also a story about the resilient spirit and far reaching imagination of children, and those who are their guardian angels of the world. One of the most calming and fortifying images is that of Rachel Cooper (Lillian Gish) protecting the children from harm, holding a rifle and keeping watch like a wonderful fairy god mother elected to guard those little ones with her powerful brand of love… There’s just something about Gish’s graceful power that emanates from the righteous Rachel Cooper….
“It’s a hard world for little things.”
21. Serafina Delle Rose (Anna Magnani) in The Rose Tattoo (1955) As the tagline states ‘Seething with realism and frankness!”Magnani’s her passionate soul is up front, on her face, and in her movements. Like a wild animal she moves so freely as Serafina, who is perpetual grieving widow filled with fire. Serafina, a seamstress in a small New Orleans town, still mourns her dead husband Rosario Delle Rose (who had a rose tattoo on his chest) as if he were a saint, even after he was killed by police for smuggling drugs for the mafia. Burt Lancaster’s bigger-than-life presence comes her way bringing about lighthearted romance.
Serafina honors an older world of ancient feminine magic and empowerment), so the local Strega (or witch) with her wandering goat, and the town full of wives and gossips who stare and judge, cackling with unkind insults, forces Serafina to fight for every last bit of dignity. Once she learns her dead husband was having an affair, the spell that imprisoned her with mourning breaks and she awakens to celebrate life once again. She is stubborn, passionate, and she has a strength that commands the birds out of the trees.
Serafina: “We are Sicilians. We don’t leave girls with the boys they’re not engaged to!” Jack: “Mrs Delle Rose this is the United States.”
Serafina “But we are Sicilians, and we are not cold-blooded!”
22. Anna Lucasta (Eartha Kitt) in Anna Lucasta (1958): Young Anna is rejected by her sanctimonious father Joe played to the hilt by Rex Ingram. While the rest of the family wants Anna to come home, her self-righteous father can’t resist demonizing his daughter, with an underlying incestuous desire that he is battling. Anna takes the cliched road of the fallen woman and becomes a good time gal who meets Danny (Sammy Davis Jr.) a cab driving sailor who is as smooth as silk and as fiery as molten lead. Though there is an underlying sadness because of the estrangement with her father, Anna possesses a strong sense of self, and exudes a fiery passion that cannot be denied… She isn’t a bad girl, she had to find her own way and again, it often leads to taking control of who you love and how you love. She and Sammy have a smoking hot chemistry on screen, and Kitt is a powerful woman who made that road her own…
Danny: “Tell her who Papa is” (Papa is a little carved wooden Haitian idol) Lester: “That’s the model of Agwé the Haitian god of the sea. Seems he’s good to sailors.” Anna: “Looks like Papa and me’s got something in common…”
23. Kelly (Constance Towers) in The Naked Kiss (1964): The opening of the film is one of the most audacious entrances in early exploitation cinema as Kelly confronts her pimp who has shaved off her hair and stolen her money. She brutally pummels the rat with her handbag. Stripped of her hair, looking like a mannequin (signifying her as an ‘object’), ahe is introduced to us as a fighter. She manages to fit in to her quaint new town of Granville until the perverse secret about the Granville’s benefactor is exposed. Kelly stumbles onto Grant’s (Michael Dante) dark secret that ultimately explodes in scandal.
Kelly is persecuted by local cop Griff (Anthony Eisley), who assumes she’s still a prostitute. Griff tells Kelly that it’s a “clean town” and he doesn’t want her operating there, although he isn’t adverse to taking Kelly to bed himself or frequenting Madame Candy’s (Virginia Gray) high class “cat house’ acting like he’s above reproach. But Kelly wants out of the business. She takes a job at a children’s hospital and brings joy and a special brand of love. Grant woos her, but before they reach their wedding day, Kelly stumbles onto Griff’s deviant secret and winds up accused of his murder. The story is a mine field of social criticisms and hypocrisy. Kelly initially starts out as the ‘whore’ of the story; as the one who needs redemption. But it’s the town that must be redeemed of it is jaundiced complacency. Kelly is a powerful protagonist, because she kicks down hypocrisy and judgement, shattering the limitations that are placed on women. In the end she no longer is labeled or objectified or persecuted. She is embraced as a savior, a heroine who becomes the catalyst for cleansing the ‘white middle-class’ town of it’s hypocrisy…
“I washed my face clean the morning I woke up in your bedroom!”
24. Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow) in Rosemary’s Baby (1968): Rosemary has a fearless defiance in an ordinary world that becomes an unsafe space of paranoia. Aside from guarding her body and motherhood against intruders, Rosemary has an open mind, a delicate brand of kindness although troubled by a catholic upbringing that haunts her, she is still ‘too good’ and too independent to taint. She winds up taking life and the life of her baby on her own terms. Mia Farrow’s Rosemary Woodhouse is an indomitable image of striking resiliency. A heroine who takes on an entire secretive cult of devil worshipers entrenched in the high society of NYC. That takes a lot of guts, people!… And Ruth Gordon is a meddling old New York busybody who just happens to be a modern day witch. As Minnie Castavets she does what she wants. She is empowered with her quirky style and her beliefs, as wicked as they may be…And her wardrobe is bold, kitschy, and fabulous! “Pain, begone, I will have no more of thee!”
25. Julie Kohler (Jeanne Moreau) in The Bride Wore Black (1968): Julie Kohler is on a mission of revenge for the men who accidentally shot her husband on their wedding day outside the church. Julie has a maniacal almost macabre sort of presentation to her theater of revenge, she moves through the film with the ease of a scorpion. But there’s dark humor and irony running through, like a good mystery thriller. Julie is a captivating figure of sadness and passion put out at the height of it’s flame. Once passion for her late husband, and now passion for revenge. It’s playful and sexy and Moreau is utterly brilliant as the resourceful Julie Kolher. She creates a satirically dire and elaborate, and slightly Grande Guignol adventure of a vengeful woman on a crusade to exact poetic justice where the system has failed.
Coral: “Permit me to make an impossible wish?” Julie: “Why impossible?” Coral: “Because I’m a rather pessimist.” Julie: “I’ve heard it said: There are no optimists or pessimists. There are only happy idiots or unhappy ones.”
Here’s to those Empowered Women of Silent & Classic Film! — Your Ever-Lovin’ Joey
“Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.”
― Sigmund Freud
“Ladies and gentlemen- welcome to violence; the word and the act. While violence cloaks itself in a plethora of disguises, its favorite mantle still remains sex.” — Narrator from Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)
THE DARK PAGES NEWSLETTER a condensed article was featured in The Dark Pages: You can click on the link for all back issues or to sign up for upcoming issues to this wonderful newsletter for all your noir needs!
Patricia Morán as Rita Ugalde: The Exterminating Angel 1962:“I believe the common people, the lower class people, are less sensitive to pain. Haven’t you ever seen a wounded bull? Not a trace of pain.”
Ann Baxter as Teresina Vidaverri Walk on the Wild Side 1962—“When People are Kind to each other why do they have to find a dirty word for it.”
The Naked Venus 1959–“I repeat she is a gold digger! Europe’s full of them, they’re tramps… they’ll do anything to get a man. They even pose in the NUDE!!!!”
Baby Boy Franky Buono-Blast of Silence (1961)“The targets names is Troiano, you know the type, second string syndicate boss with too much ambition and a mustache to hide the facts he’s got lips like a woman… the kind of face you hate!”
Lorna (1964)-“Thy form is fair to look upon, but thy heart is filled with carcasses and dead man’s bones”
The Snake Pit (1948): Jacqueline deWit as Celia Sommerville “And we’re so crowded already. I just don’t know where it’s all gonna end!” Olivia de Havilland as Virginia Stuart Cunningham“I’ll tell you where it’s gonna end, Miss Somerville… When there are more sick ones than well ones, the sick ones will lock the well ones up.”
Delphine Seyrig as Countess Bathoryin Daughters of Darkness (1971)– “Aren’t those crimes horrifying. And yet -so fascinating!”
Julien Gulomar as Bishop Daisy to the Barber (Michel Serrault) King of Hearts (1966)–“I was so young. I already knew that to love the world you have to get away from it.”
The Lickerish Quartet (1970)–“You can’t get blood out of an illusion.”
THE SWEET SOUND OF DEATH (1965)– Dominique-“I’m attracted” Pablo-” To Bullfights?” Dominique-” No, I meant to death. I’ve always thought it… The state of perfection for all men.”
Peter O’Toole asSir Charles Ferguson Brotherly Love (1970): “Remember the nice things. Reared in exile by a card-cheating, scandal ruined daddy. A mummy who gave us gin for milk. Ours was such a beautifully disgusting childhood.”
Euripides 425 B.C.–“Whom God wishes to destroy… he first makes mad.”
WHAT DOES PSYCHOTRONIC MEAN?
psychotronic|ˌsīkəˈtränik| adjective denoting or relating to a genre of movies, typically with a science fiction, horror, or fantasy theme, that were made on a low budget or poorly received by critics. [1980s: coined in this sense by Michael Weldon, who edited a weekly New York guide to the best and worst films on local television.] Source: Wikipedia
In the scope of these transitioning often radical films, where once, men and women aspired for the moon and the stars and the whole ball of wax. in the newer scheme of things they aspired for you know… “kicks” yes that word comes up in every film from the 50s and 60s… I’d like to have a buck for every time a character opines that collective craving… from juvenile delinquent to smarmy jet setter!
FILM NOIR HAD AN INEVITABLE TRAJECTORY…
THE ECCENTRIC & OFTEN GUTSY STYLE OF FILM NOIR HAD NO WHERE ELSE TO GO… BUT TO REACH FOR EVEN MORE OFF-BEAT, DEVIANT– ENDLESSLY RISKY & TABOO ORIENTED SET OF NARRATIVES FOUND IN THE SUBVERSIVE AND EXPLOITATIVE CULT FILMS OF THE MID TO LATE 50s through the 60s and into the early 70s!
I just got myself this collection of goodies from Something Weird!
Just like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, Noir took a journey through an even darker lens… Out of the shadows of 40s Noir cinema, European New Wave, fringe directors, and Hollywood auteurs, brought more violent, sexual, transgressive, and socially transformative narratives into the cold light of day with a creeping sense of verité. WhileFilm Noir pushed the boundaries of taboo subject matter and familiar Hollywood archetypes it wasn’t until later that we are able to visualize the advancement of transgressive topics.
The Naked Kiss (1965) Part III Meaning it bares no emotion. It’s empty of real substance. It has the taste of perversion to it.
SPOILER ALERT!!!! I DO THE SYNAPSES RIGHT TO THE END OF THE FILM…
Working at the hospital while Kelly and one of the nurses are bathing the children Kelly notices that she is troubled and asks “Do you want to talk about it? Have you been to a doctor?”She has that intuition that the young girl is pregnant. Kelly instead of bringing the ‘plague’ to Grantville has brought insight and compassion to the women who are troubled in this provincial prison. In this way, the film can be view as feminist. She brings her strength and independence.
Cross fade, Kelly and Grant are slow dancing at Grants house. Kelly tells him that she wants to talk about something, something she needs to get off her mind. “I’m afraid our dance is over.”Asks him to sit down and listen to the words. “When I came to this town, the first day I came… I was a prostitute. My first customer was my last one, next morning I quit. Now I’m in love with a man who’s the dream of every woman.” Grant is seated looking puzzled Kelly continues “every woman who has the right to dream…but the man has got to stop seeing me before the volcano erupts.”
Grant looks up at her and grabs her hand. Pulls her close to him.“I love you Kelly.. .will you marry me?” She says “I’ve got to think it out.. .(now cheek to cheek) Oh I’ve got to think it out.”
Kelly’s in her room drinking from the blown Venetian glass from Venice that Grant gave her. She’s contemplating the marriage proposal. We hear a voice over, it’s Grant’s monologue “I wasn’t cut out to be a monk and you’re not the type to turn nun… but together we’ll prove our whole existence for each other, the only woman I want for my wife.”
Voice over by Grant “I wasn’t cut out to be a monk, and you’re not the type to turn nun. But together we’ll prove our whole existence for each other. You’re the only woman I want for my wife… If they condemn you for your past, I don’t want them for my friends. Kelly darling no one can forbid you your tomorrow. And I’m all your tomorrows.
Kelly gets up from the bed, sighs and walks over to the tailor’s dummy and asks “Charlie, what should I do?” Again we hear Grants voice “If they condemn you for your past, I don’t want them as my friends, Kelly darling…no one could forbid you tomorrow, and I’m all your tomorrows, all of them.” Kelly raises her glass and answers to Charlie “that’s right!…why should Grant want to marry a woman like me?.. .confidentially Charley, (her arm around the fake soldier now) we girls are always chasing dreams… why shouldn’t I have a right to catch mine?”
Now Kelly has an internal monologue “many woman had a past like mine, and they made out didn’t they?” She answers aloud asking the question “or did they?… ah, of course they did.. .and you know why, because there was always the Rock of Gibralta to give them strength” She raises the blown glass to Charlie in toast “That’s what Grant is…The Rock…The Rock of Gibralta.”
So Kelly needs a man to legitimize her self worth, otherwise she is still considered machinery. “Oh Charlie”now we hear Grant’s voice again “we’d be living an endless honeymoon” she goes back over to Charlie, and hugs him “Oh Charlie, the dread of every woman in my business…is ending up alone…I know that world.”
She looks at the glass again and says “and I know his world( chuckles ironically) and that makes me a woman of 2 worlds… and that’s not good, or is it?” She looks at Charlies hat. She’s got her arm around his stuffed shoulders. “With him I’m complete, a whole woman”the voice over by Grant breaks in again “I’ll never strike at your past, not even with a flower” Kelly hugs Charlie closer, “oh Charlie, Charlie Charlie,Charlie…what should I do?…”
Fade to Black.
in this look on Grant’s face we sense something cold and unsavory deep rooted in his soul. A removed reptilian hypothermic smile. It is not his fine breeding, it is something dark and unwholesome he keeps bubbling below the surface of his refinement.
At Grant’s house, the door bell rings, and Kelly comes bursting in “Oh it’s a wonderful day Barney!… it’s a beautiful day!” Barney tells her that Grant is still asleep. She ignores him and yells “it’s a glorious day!” She goes to the stereo and puts on Beethoven’s 5th symphony and conducts. Barney still in his robe goes upstairs to get Grant. Kelly is conducting the music, she spins the large globe as if she’ll be able to see the world now.
Grant comes down in his silk pajamas, yawning and putting his robe on, he watches as she pretends to conduct the music. She runs to him and grabs his hands “I love you…it’s a deal” He looks oddly at her, pleased but more like he’s just sealed a business deal, not the reaction from a man truly in love. As they discover wedding plans he wants to send her to Paris to buy the most expensive wedding gown. Kelly has always paid for every stitch of clothing on her back. That tells you how independent she has been while working as a prostitute. Not taking any more than for her services to get by. Kelly has throughout shown to be a woman of integrity, thus the challange in narrative to balance the conflict of judging her as a whore with morals.
Dusty gets help from Kelly. Who gives her $1,000 and tells her whether the guy marries her or not she is to keep the baby. Dusty tells her, “Boy or girl I’ll name it Kelly.”
Kip’s gaze, the sadness shared with a child, as he watches Dusty crying. Sympathetic.
Now nurses and orderlies are bringing in the children in one by one. And a record begins to spin. Kip the little boy wearing the First Mate pirate hat begins to sing this song which has an eerily tragic poignancy.
“Mommy dear, tell me please, is the world really round” another little boy takes it from there, “tell me where, is the blue bird of happiness found” now a little girl sings “tell me why is the sky up above so blue” now they all sing in unison “and when you were a child, did your mommy tell you?”
All of the children standing like wounded soldiers with their hats and crutches singing this sad little song together. The song creates an element of melancholy,and pathos in the film. It’s the children asking the question where is happiness?
The children are a diverse group of races, the spirit of these children fuel the film’s angst and alienation, for they are like castaways in a world that is perfect, while they are broken and striving to be whole.
“What becomes of the sun when it falls in the sea” “and who lights it again, as bright as can be” together they sing again “Tell me why can’t I fly without wings through the sky” back to Kip who sadly sings “tell me why mommy dear…are there tears in your eyes?”
Now Kelly joins in as an answer to the songs questions singing “little one, little one, yes the world’s really round, and the blue bird you search for is surely is found… and the sky up above is so blue and clear (the staff including Mac is watching Kelly serenade the children they are so sullen, yet proud) so that you’d see the blue bird if it should come near… and the sun doesn’t fall in the sea out of sight, all it does is make way for the moon’s pretty light… and if children could fly there’d be no need for birds… and I cry little ones cause I’m touched by your words.”
The children surrounding Kelly sing the song together, she has left a mark on them, she has found a different way to have worth, she sees herself through these child’s eyes. They are ultimately truly innocent, yet they are the ones who don’t objectify Kelly.
“Tell me please mommy dear is it true the world’s round, I will search, round the world til the blue bird is found” then Kelly sings “little one there’s no need to wander too far, for what you really seek is right here where you are.”
Griff and Grant are walking out of a building. Grant has asked Griff to be best man at the wedding but Griff can’t fake how miserable he is. Grant tells him to get it off his chest. Bunny comes running over to Grant with her dolly and he picks her up and spins her around. Griff still visibly upset, holding his cigarette and frowning. Bunny congratulates Uncle Grant on his wedding, and he kisses her cheek, she beams a smile half filled with baby teeth.
Now in the classroom back at the hospital, the children are getting a spelling lesson. Kelly is fixing Kip’s shoe lace. Griff knocks on the window glass to get Kelly’s attention. Through the glass panel in the door we see them talking seriously again a frame within a frame, symbolizing the entrapment of both characters who are stuck by their roles. They move into an empty room so they can continue to talk.
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 Maginficent 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 disconnect to 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 a raw energy that fuels some crude reactionary moments on film. Normally I wouldn’t write about the ending of a film 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 along side his noir masterpiece Pickup on South Street (1953) starring Richard Widmark and Thelma Ritter as Moe Williams.
From Alain Silver and James Ursini’s Film Noir Reader 2 “Fuller’sNaked 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 it’s narrative of womens’ 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 it’s 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 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 beating 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 underscoring the bashing. Her wig comes flying off, and now we see a bald Kelly still attacking the man relentlessly. The jazz more coherent with hyper active 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 is applying her eye pencil transforming herself back into a woman and not blood thirsty 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, throws 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.