I don’t have much to say about Sam Fuller’s The Naked Kiss (1964). It’s one of those movies that seems fascinating in retrospect, but I had to fast-forward through a lot of it. Those who love the flick use adjectives like crazy, whacked-out, bizarre, biting, sardonic and cynical, etc. to describe it. I agree.
The opening sequence is a shocker – a violent prostitute is beating up her drunken pimp, and her wig flies off displaying her bald head. She removes the money she’s owed from the creep’s wallet, and stalks out to a new life away from the city. Two years later, she’s hitting the small-time in a little town (her hair has grown back), using a case of champaigne to make new marks, including a good-looking cop who accosts her in a park.
The dialog is filled with pulpy, cynical phrases that are somewhere between laughable and incredible vulgarity. She’s selling “angel foam” that “goes down like liquid gold and comes up like dynamite.” He says he’s thirsty – can they go to his place? “I’m pretty good at popping the cork if the finish is right.” Since he’s the local cop, he advises her to never ply her trade there again, but she can go across the river to Candy’s place, where the slogan is “indescribable pleasure guaranteed.” The matter-of-fact portrayal of his total hypocrisy is striking.
She gives up her hooking and becomes a nurse aid at a local charity hospital funded by the town’s benefactor, Grant, who is the great-grandson of the town’s founder, a rich swell, and everybody’s friend. She’s a natural at the job, and works wonders with the kids. Here the film veers towards unutterable sentimentality and pathos – it’s not schmaltz – it’s just totally at variance with everything that has come before!
She falls in love with Grant, and he loves her. Not only is she sexy, but she can quote English Romantic poetry! Their first passionate kiss – during a Venetian gondola ride fantasy brought on by Grant’s travel flicks – leaves her with a bad taste in her mouth, but she gets over it. She confesses her past – he doesn’t care! Later, she realizes it was a naked kiss, a term from the trade that means a kiss from a serious pervert. You can just tell. He saw her as a fellow deviant.
The film continues to ricochet between emotional and dramatic poles. A local girl is seduced by Candy into taking up the life of a hooker, but our heroine dissuades the ingenue with some tough, very realistic talk. Then she goes and beats up the Madame and stuffs her money into her mouth.
Her premonitions about Grant are correct, and she discovers the secret of his sexual deviancy. In a fury of disgust, she brains him with a phone and kills him. Her former customer, Griff, the cop, investigates, the town is shocked, and pillories her. No one will come forward to speak up for her. Candy gloats over her in jail, “Nobody shoves dirty money in my mouth!” I love that line!!
Finally, the truth about Grant comes out and she is now a heroine! Griff tells her the town now puts her on a pedestal for revealing the truth, and for her marvelous work with the kids, to which she replies, “They sure put up statues overnight around here.“
It turns out I had more to say than I thought. This essay, however, does an even better job at parsing the weirdness and wonder of this very unusual movie.