The Naked Kiss

January 7, 2011

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.


Some very ugly Americans

November 28, 2010

House of Bamboo (1955) is a technicolor, wide-screen noir gangster film set and filmed on location in Tokyo.  Robert Stack plays a tough-guy Army inspector going undercover with some very slick and vicious gangsters who pull big heists in the city.  The main attractions of the film are the locations, the sociopath character Sandy, played by Ryan, and some very cool Sam Fuller touches.

Baths are a very important part of Japanese culture, and they figure prominently in this movie:  First, as Shirley Yamaguchi, an actress with quite a tangled past, leaves the communal bath in a hurry to escape Spanier, Robert Stack, whom she thinks is a gangster out to kill her, just as he killed her husband.  The entire sequence is a wonder of suspenseful choreography and erotic teasing and she rushes to get dressed and make her getaway.  You can watch the sequence in this rather strange Youtube clip from the film that has Yamaguchi on the soundtrack – not from the movie! – doing one of her pop hits.  I think there are few frames snipped out when Yamaguchi steps out of the tub – her work with the towel is awfully fast!  This film probably had enough issues with the censors without having to deal with excess cross-racial sexual titillation.

[Note:  I spoke to several Chinese friends about Yamaguchi, and they all know of her by her Chinese name.  Her songs are still popular.  The song on the Youtube clip is "When Will You Come Back?" which does, in a way, relate to the action from the film.]

 

…Also, an Ugly American can get cute as he is introduced to Japanese bathing customs while eating his bacon and eggs;

Baths make for a good mise en scène in this shockingly violent rub-out .

The thugs carry on their work in Japan with seeming impunity – they don’t even bother to learn a word of Japanese.  Their hangout is a former baronial residence in aristocratic Japanese style, and they are always dressed for success.  After Sandy takes a fancy to Spanier – top image – he invites him to join the gang, and hands him a wad of bills:  “Get yourself a nice suit.  Make yourself presentable!”

The culture-clash aspects of the plot are played up by Fuller – Here Spanier, who only speaks in English to the Japanese, tries to question some performers who tell him, “Sayonara means goodbye.

The sexual energy between Yamaguchi and Stack is hardly more than chaste:  their most passionate moment comes at the beginning when he assaults and wrestles her to the ground.  She thinks he’s going to rape or kill her, but he’s only trying to help.  (It’s at the end of the video clip linked above.)  On the other hand, the energy between Sandy and some of his underlings seems charged with homoerotic tension.   It’s very evident in this scene where Sandy chats with his dead former right-hand man whom he killed thinking he had turned informer. “Riff, you aren’t responsible for what you do.  You’re too explosive.  I was right, as always.”  He seems to be addressing a former lover.  Which was more taboo then?  Man on man sex or interracial sex?

I was taken by the staging of the first big heist, especially this scene of the gang racing down an industrial alley with the loot.  Call me crazy, but it brought to mind another image from 1955, New York, New York, by Norman Parkinson.  Oh, what a blast it is to be alive!  But the thugs have a code to which they adhere ruthlessly – anyone who is hit in the action is finished off by the gang so he can’t be taken alive and forced to talk.

Well, love conquers all, and despite the rule on leaving no wounded behind, Sandy spares Spanier only to realize later that he’s a spy.  He tries to frame him so he’ll be killed by the Tokyo police.  (That’s Star Trek’s Bones holding the gun there).  It’s a bit inept, but then as Spanier tells him, “A straightjacket will fit you just right.”  Yes, Sandy is a bit of a delusional megalomaniac, or maybe he’s just rattled by the betrayal handed him by his new love object.

The entire adventure is resolved nicely in a shootout in an amusement park on the top of a high-rise featuring a giant rotating globe.

The whole business got started when the thugs robbed an army supply train and an American soldier was killed.  That got the U.S. Army investigators involved.  Fuller gives us a depressing shot of the dead guard that he no-doubt witnessed many times serving in the Big Red One.


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