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The Naked Kiss: The Criterion Collection

Voyager Home Video

Starring Constance Towers

Written and directed by Samuel Fuller

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As lurid melodramas go, you'll be hard-pressed to dig up a yarn as campy and disturbing as Samuel Fuller's sentimental, decadent masterpiece The Naked Kiss.

Forced to flee from a cruel pimp, call-girl Kelly (Constance Towers) relocates in the idyllic small-town community of Grantville, a genial place of cute quirks and neighborly compassion. Her first local trick is Griff (Anthony Eisley), Grantville's swanky sheriff, who tells her, after sampling the product, to move her business over the state line. Perversion isn't welcome in his town.

After a long, hard look in the mirror, Kelly decides on a makeover — of her whole life. Boarding with a cute spinster, Kelly gives up the sex trade for orthopedics. Through force of personality alone, she lands a top role at Grantville's renowned children's hospital. With tough affection she reaches out and challenges her paraplegic moppets to look past their disabilities. She also looks out for the younger nurses, helping them gain strength while avoiding her mistakes.

Griff doesn't trust her new persona, certain she's playing the town for a chump. He thinks he's got her scam sorted out when she gains the affections — and engagement — of local millionaire bachelor Grant, who saved Griff's life in the Korean war.

The first half of The Naked Kiss is a skillful exercise in crafting absurdly gripping melodrama. From its alarming opening sequence, in which Kelly beats her drunken pimp with a shoe, Fuller's vision of covert corruption takes off like a rocket. Grantville, despite its innocent facade, bears its share of sad delusions, wayward souls, and sickening crimes, and Kelly's battle for purification is an uphill battle. Even the town's true innocents, its children, are physically deformed — or worse. When Kelly leads her crippled charges in a sappy, yet haunting, chorus for a charity record, the film hits its campy apex, but it is also at its most unsettling and rueful.

The Naked Kiss delves darker into more disturbing territory as it reaches its sordid climax, and its few prosaic moments are swept along in a strong current of menacing noirish desperation, with superb, tough, haunted performances by all.

Great transfer of Stanley Cortez's black and white cinematography in 1.66:1 widescreen and 1.0 Dolby Digital. Keep case.

— Gregory P. Dorr

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