director Samuel Fuller
I’m not exactly sure where my relationship with Samuel Fuller began, but it feels like it started with The Naked Kiss. I got a good deal of introduction to world cinema my one year in England, 1995, the 100th anniversary of the medium of film, simply by the brilliant programming on BBC1, BBC1, and Channel 4 and the good writing at The Guardian, which gave me the heads up to the movies to look out for each week.
I saw The Naked Kiss on a little television but the impact was stark. The film opens with the pulpiest of pulp moments, a good-looking blonde beating a drunken man with her shoe til her wig is pulled off, showing a shaved head. Basically, from the word go, you’ve got a lot of compelling sex and violence and questions. Hooked right in.
It’s funny, but now, 20 years later, that’s the image of the film that stayed with me. I kind of recalled the story of a prostitute moving to a small town and trying to clean up her life, but all the other lurid details became a bit more of a blur. And for its other shocking elements, explicit references to child sexual abuse, the most shocking thing for me this time through was realizing that the film had a happy ending.
The Naked Kiss and Shock Corridor (1963) are perhaps the most exemplary or Fuller’s films, crystallizations of the wide range of lurid melodrama, action, and I don’t even know what else.
It’s a funny thing because most of The Naked Kiss isn’t nearly as lurid as its opening. It’s a morality drama, empathizing with the prostitute gone good, who understands some of the more sordid sides of American life but also knows where to draw the line between the extremities of right and wrong, and of a judgmental society that can also learn to adapt and not remain as judgmental as it really is.