Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Naked Kiss

 The Naked Kiss grabs you right away with one of the three best opening sequences in all of cinema -- the other two being Touch of Evil and Shakes the Clown
Yes, the legendary bald hooker beatdown. It's a doozy. And while it's over-the-top and attention-grabbing, it also sets the right tone. It tells you that The Naked Kiss is going to be very weird and also that our heroine is utterly fearless and, while her morals may be questionable, her ethics are incorruptible... 
It's an opening very typical of the film's director. Samuel Fuller may have used some of exploitation's tools, but it was always in service of a higher, idealistic message -- a stance that is something of a holdover from his early days as a tabloid crime reporter. Come for the leggy babes, explosions and fistfights; stay for the lessons about racial equality, women's rights, political corruption and social justice.
Kelly, played by Constance Towers, puts her hair back on and puts herself back together. We next see her three years later, getting off a Greyhound bus in Grantville. (This was back when people with monogrammed luggage took Greyhound buses.) Kelly is a "champagne saleswoman" now and a man quickly chats her up and samples her wares.
"Angel Foam goes down like liquid gold, and it comes on like slow dynamite.
For the man of taste... If you can afford it."

Unfortunately, said gentleman is Griff, a local cop. He has no problem with her hooking, just not in his precinct. He suggests that Kelly pack up her booze and her box and head for Del Mar Falls, "a wide open town." He even gives her a reference to the Del Mar whorehouse, Candy's, and offers to, erm, visit once she's settled there. She quotes Goethe and calls him a hypocrite. He has no idea what she's talking about on either count.

Then Kelly has some kind of Come Ta Jeezuz Moment and decides to give up hooking, rent a room from a lovable old lady and start working with disabled children. She dresses them up as pirates. It's insane. The weird dream sequences of kids running around shrieking "I have legs! I have legs!" and the surreal scene where they all sing...
Griff goes to find Kelly out at Candy's, where he knows all the girls and the Head Bitch in Charge is none other than Virginia Grey, pal of Lana Turner and  paramour of Clark Gable and a broad whose career extended from playing Little Eva in Uncle Tom's Cabin in 1927 to guesting on episodes of Love, American Style in 1973.
He doesn't find Kelly, but he does find Edy Williams (of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls) among the bon-bons. He apparently sent her to Candy's as well, after finding her in a bus station. So he's a cop, but he procures women for the whorehouse across the river. Nice.
When he does find Kelly in the little crip's ward, he is pissed. Yeah, most cops would be glad to see a hooker reform, but not this guy. I'm guessing he was supposed to get a finder's fee from Virginia Grey. And, of course, now Kelly is free to say no to him and his sorry-ass dick.
 "I'm trying your side of the fence now. Is there a law against it?
Is there anything wrong with that?"

 "You'll have a problems breaking in those little girls to walk the streets on crutches." [smack]

Kelly does eventually make it across the river, but not to work. Nope. It seems that a young nurse she works with is being lured into the world's oldest profession by Virginia Grey and Kelly. Ain't. Having. It.
She has a heart-to-heart with the lass about what hooking is really like (and it ain't Pretty Woman). Then she dresses up in her chic-est little black dress and heads out to kick ass and take names.

Meanwhile, we also meet Grant, scion of Grantville, boss of Grant Mill, benefactor of Grant Hospital, and buddy of Griff. International playboy, local philanthropist and all-around totally awesome guy. Really.
He takes a shine to Kelly and the two sit on his leopard-print sofa in his mansion, listening to Beethoven and watching home movies... not the kind you're thinking. Of Venice. Or at least the ones he shows Kelly are of Venice. I suspect there are others stashed somewhere, yet to be revealed. The man does have a leopard-print sofa, after all...
Griff wants to marry Kelly. But she hesitates, concerned about her, ah, prior career. She should be thinking more about the fact that he's a rich creep with a leopard-print sofa. And here comes the plot twist!
Having a dark past that keeps coming back to haunt her is another way in which Kelly is like one of those doomed, damaged noir heroes played by Robert Mitchum or John Garfield, especially when she says things like, "I was a broken down piece of machinery. Nothing but the buck, the bed and the bottle for the rest of my life." That's some Bukowski shit right there.

The Naked Kiss was made in 1964 and, while Kelly's maquillage, girdle and stilettoes plant her in the Kennedy era, the film, the script, and its independent, fearless, badass heroine could be moved ten years ahead to the days of Watergate without changing anything but the aesthetics. Kelly may be a whore, but she's the only person who won't sell out.
If i'm giving away less than i usually do about The Naked Kiss, it's because it's simply one of those movies that i think everyone needs to see. Let's just say that Kelly's ending is happy, although less "women's movie happy," than "hero of a western" happy. As well it should be: Kelly buys no one's bullshit. And she ain't going to sell it to us either.


  1. Awesome recap as usual. The Naked Kiss reminds me of The Honeymoon Killers. A weird little film that defies logic and is criminally under appreciated. How is a film that has someone selling something called Angel Foam not at Rocky Horror cult-like status?

    The one thing I took away from this post is that Edy Williams didn't devolve into the creepy, forced sexy lady she is today. She was always working that angle.

  2. Poor Virginia Grey. She was a real beauty and a very classy lady. She was, however, in her share of bad B's: