Film Noir Classics: THE NAKED KISS
Writer-Director Sam Fuller often began his movies with indelible imagery that would jump out from the screen and this film has one of the best examples as we witness a call girl named Kelly (Constance Towers) beating up her pimp. As she hits him repeatedly with her shoe he grabs for her wig, pulling it off revealing…a bald head! Kelly, who now looks like a true psycho, knocks him out and then takes the $75 dollars he owes her, puts her wig back on and fixes herself up.
While on the lam, Kelly arrives in the small town of Grantville where she quickly introduces herself to a local policeman named Capt. Griff (Anthony Eisley) under the guise of being a saleswoman and the two have a one night fling. Griff explains to Kelly that she shouldn’t stay around due to her profession and points her to a brothel in Delmar Falls across the state line where she can get work without trouble. Instead, Kelly decides to leave her seedy lifestyle behind and rents a room in Grantville from a kind old woman who has no knowledge of her past. Meanwhile, Griff visits the cathouse noticing Kelly isn’t there, but is approached by several of the girls who sell candy in between their “real jobs”.
After learning about the local hospital for handicapped children, Kelly aspires to work for the community and becomes a nurse. Griff confronts her about covering up who she really is and is promptly slapped but she promises him she’s sincere about trying to change. Kelly is then introduced to a wealthy man named J.L. Grant (Michael Dante) whose family founded Grantville, he also happens to be Griff’s best friend. The two fall in love at first sight and have a dreamlike romance as he woos her with his charms making her feel like a brand new woman.
One of Kelly’s co-workers Buff (Marie Devereaux) begins having emotional troubles, unable to stand seeing the sick children every day and turns to prostitution. When Kelly learns of this she reprimands her, and in a standout trademark Fuller monologue explains the realities of that unforgiving lifestyle.
In one of the most memorable sequences in the film Kelly sings a beautiful, touching song along with the handicapped children of the hospital as her co-workers watch on. The title is “Mommy Dear” and with what we know about Kelly’s sordid past, seeing it unfold causes an emotional response. It’s as if all the things she has ever done that were wrong have been erased and her life has been renewed.
Upon learning that Grant and Kelly are set to be married, Griff objects and wants Kelly to leave town. She lets him know that Grant is aware of her past and that she has nothing to hide. After hearing this, Griff changes his attitude and goes along with things wishing her and Grant lots of luck.
When she returns to Grant’s home, Kelly overhears a recording of the children singing made by Grant and notices a young girl skipping out the door. Grant then appears and confesses to Kelly that he’s a deviant just like her and they are the perfect match because of that fact. This shocking revelation causes her to lash out in anger once again and she kills him with a telephone receiver, her dreams of a normal life shattered.
Kelly is immediately arrested and interrogated by Griff but explains why she killed Grant. Knowing her past, he doesn’t believe the story and thinks she blackmailed him. It’s here we learn just what the term “Naked Kiss” means. The witnesses who back up Griff’s claim are her ex-pimp and the owner of the brothel who try to drag her name through the mud making chances of the truth coming out even tougher. Only one of her friends, Dusty (Karen Conrad) a girl she gave money to have an abortion comes to her aid in hopes of helping her clear her name. Kelly’s only true way of getting out of her situation is to find the little girl she saw at Grant’s house that fateful day.
Sam Fuller had been a newsman (copyboy, reporter, cartoonist) for many years before he became a director and that world and mentality found its way into all his cinematic work. He made his movies big and bold like the headlines on a front page and usually did it on modest budgets. The Naked Kiss is another Fuller adventure into the seedy underbelly of society where people try to hide who they really are with veneers of respectability. Being a reporter, Fuller knew people like these and based much of what he wrote for the screen based on them. The Naked Kiss remains a very potent piece of 60s neo-noir cinema that acted as a mirror of things the public didn’t normally look at with such a strong focus until it was made.
– In nearly every film Sam Fuller made there was a character named “Griff” which was his tribute to a soldier he knew that died.