Thursday, December 2, 2010

Guest Review: The Naked Kiss (1964)

By Philip Schweier (NOTE: Mr. Schweier felt his review would be more TDOY-appropriate if he included his own observations, which are printed in snarky red.)

The Naked Kiss (1964) opens to some jazzy trumpet straight out of Greenwich Village, as a woman (Constance Towers) proceeds to smack a nameless joe (Monte Mansfield) around with her purse. “I’m through, Kelly. Please,” he whimpers, in between shots of her with her dress on from one angle and off from another. Finally her wig is peeled from her head, only adding fuel to her fire and enabling her to send the challenger to the mat and declare a winner, seemingly by a knock-out. To quote Jean Shepherd, he “lay there like a slug; it was his only defense,” as she removes $75 from his wallet, money he allegedly owes her.

But before leaving, she pauses at the mirror, replaces her wig and freshens her make-up, just long enough for credits to roll. As the loser (in more ways than one) struggles to his feet, a strategically-placed desk calendar tell us its July 4, 1963; Independence Day, in one ironic sense.

Flash-forward to Aug 12, 1963; we’re told this by a strategically-placed banner strung over the main street of Grantville, a quiet little burg not unlike Mayberry … or perhaps its evil twin. You see, unlike Andy Taylor, the law hereabouts is represented by Griff (Anthony Eisley), a cop clearly bent, as we’re about to find out. While at the bus depot to run a young delinquent out of town, Griff tells him, “I’m giving you a break because your brother was in my outfit.”

Well, that’s the risk you take when you lend people your clothes. No appreciation.

As the bus rolls into town, off steps Kelly. “Please check my trunk,” she asks with the bedroom eyes (Facial Expression #1. Or is she just drunk? It’s so hard to tell). Judging by the knowing leer Griff and the Greyhound clerk give each other; they think her trunk checks out fine. So fine Griff decides to follow the young lady down the street, where she pauses long enough to give an infant his bottle, and to watch little girls skipping rope and creating a public nuisance.

A short time later in the town park, Griff gets to know Kelly a little better, learning she’s a sales rep for Angel Foam, a new champagne. “It’s an exclusive line I’m introducing in this state.”

Of inebriation?

“It goes down like liquid gold, and comes up like slow dynamite.”

I had some of that in college. It’s what we got when we poured all our leftover alcohol into one big bucket.

“I’m pretty good at popping the cork, if the vintage is right,” he tells her. Yep; subtle as a hand grenade in a bowl of oatmeal. Nevertheless, for only $10, she’s willing to give him a sample.

Cut to his place, where, judging by his missing tie and her mussed hair, there’s clearly been some form of hanky-panky to the tune of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. A bottle of champagne is gone and $20 lies nearby. He invites her to enjoy the room, but only for the night. Her brand of “champagne” isn’t welcome in Grantville, and the “toast” they shared was just his way of saying so. He only “bought her merchandise because he was thirsty.”

He advises her to head across the river, to another state where the town is wide open, and Candy a la Carte has the local franchise on the flesh trade. He promises to visit once in a while.

The next morning, Kelly goes looking for a place to stay, and finds not just a room to rent, but a “pleasant” room to rent. We know this thanks to the close-up of the sign on the house. Kelly chooses this point to display Facial Expression #2 (amusement/wonder/oh-for-crying-out-loud-how-quaint).

The landlady (Betty Bronson) shows her the room. “It has a beautiful view. It faces the river.” (On a clear day you can see all the way to the brothel where you’ll be turning tricks with factory workers and shifty-eyed school board members). She takes great pleasure in showing off the bed, which is some sort of family heirloom. “Do you realize we spend a third of our lives in bed?”  Yeah, and some even more than that,” says Kelly’s Facial Expression #3.

Mrs. Landlady share with Kelly a verse she knows:

“Four corners on my bed,
Four angels ‘round my head.
One to watch and one to pray
And two to bear my soul away”

HOW CREEPY IS THAT?! Not creepy enough for this movie, as we’ll eventually find out. But clearly by Kelly’s Facial Expression #2, she’s going to rent the room. But as a stranger in town, how can she do that without a character reference? As the background music swells, the landlady takes her hand with a knowing smile and leads her across the bedroom to…

...the mirror. “That face is your reference, Miss Kelly.” I guess since she hadn’t seen it on any poster in the Post Office, she passes. “Good heavens, I’ll have to move Charlie. I wouldn’t want him to bother you while you’re asleep.” To explain, she moves aside a screen, revealing a dress-maker’s dummy wearing a chest full of medals and a vintage web belt.

“I named him Charlie after a gentleman I was supposed to marry. I’ve kept this room ready for him ever since I got the president’s wire that Charlie was killed in the war. That was 20 years ago… Last week I realized the president was right and Charlie was dead. I’d never get married.”

Yes, because we all know what a practical joker President Roosevelt was, what with those rumors of polio and all. After all, what better way to fight the Depression than with a little prank or two? But after 20 years, the punchline just isn’t funny, so it’s time to rent Charlie’s room (as if he would have slept in there AFTER they were married.)

Kelly insists she leave the dummy right where he is. After all, having a dummy in uniform in her room at night will seem like old times.

During a brief interlude at the rumpus-room-like establishment that is Candy a la Carte’s, where the madam (Virginia Grey, looking like Steve Tyler in drag) greets Griff; we learn Kelly never took advantage of Griff’s recommendation. We cut back to her new digs where we learn the Grantville’s leading resident, J.L. Grant, is the scion of the town’s founder, as well as a wealthy playboy and philanthropist. “Why, his very name is a synonym for charity,” exclaims Mrs. Landlady.

–verb (used with object)
1. to bestow or confer, esp. by a formal act: to grant a charter.
2. to give or accord: to grant permission.
3. to agree or accede to: to grant a request.
4. to admit or concede; accept for the sake of argument: I grant that point.
5. to transfer or convey, esp. by deed or writing: to grant property.
6. something granted, as a privilege or right, a sum of money, or a tract of land: Several major foundations made large grants to fund the research project.
7. the act of granting.

Well, I’ll be. It really IS a synonym.

Kelly’s soft-spot for kids leads her to take a job as a nurse’s assistant at the local hospital, funded by the good graces of town hero, J.L. Grant.  Clearly there’s something in the water, because it seems half this small town’s under-12 population suffers some form of crippling disease. Griff naturally tests her resolve by accusing her of using her position at the hospital as a means to recruit the kids to shill for her, and drum up clients among the staff. She insists she’s gone straight, but Griff isn’t buying (for once).

Meanwhile, Griff is chumming it up with his BFF J.L. Grant, who’s holding a little shindig to celebrate his recent return from Europe. And who should be on the guest list but everybody’s favorite former floozy, Kelly. But first, she must make the rounds of her charges in the hospital (who have adopted a pirate theme for the children’s ward), weeping over the ailing youngsters.

Kelly’s nursing supervisor, a hefty piece of womanly charm known as Mac (Patsy Kelly), pauses in the hallway of Stately Grant Manor to point out their host’s ancestor. “This is the founder of the town, Grant’s great-great-grandfather. He’s a doll.” And you would know.

Immediately, the town’s favorite son is taken with Kelly, much to the dismay of Griff. “Everybody calls me Grant, Ms. Kelly.” And everybody calls her anytime. But all Grant offers her is a seat, after sharing with her a little something he picked up in Venice. Later, they share a moment listening to the aforementioned Moonlight Sonata, and talk of Beethoven, poetry and Baudelaire. He then cheats her by implying he’s going to take her to Venice, but instead shows her stock footage of his trip to Europe. But hey, she used to be a woman of negotiable affections, so it does the trick and the two are soon enjoying a snog.

Single women in this film seem to have a single-minded approach to the poor sickly children, as Buffy, one of Kelly’s co-workers, has decided she can’t handle them any more and has decided to go work as one of Candy a la Carte’s bon-bon girls. But since the newly converted are often the peachiest, it isn’t too long before Kelly is reading Buff the riot act. Kelly goes to pay a call on the local Wayland Flowers-less madame, where we’re treated to cat fights as bon-bons fight over the clientele. Candy is one the receiving end of one of Kelly’s trademarked purse lashings, and Kelly feeds Buffy’s advance to the withered old hag.

Not to keep her soul-saving to one co-worker, Kelly is quick to lend a hand to Dusty, another nurse’s aid who has found herself in that kind of trouble.

Kelly fesses up to Grant about her checkered past, and pours her Angel Foam-fueled heart out to Charlie the dress-maker’s dummy. She takes Grant at his word when he tells her that her past doesn’t matter to him, agreeing to not only marry him, but to pay for her own wedding gown. “Oh, darling. I paid for every stitch on my back (on my back.)” He presents her with a key, a move he will live to regret (Welcome to the club).

Creepy as the movie has been so far, nothing compares to the dirge of a children’s choir that follows, as Kelly’s sickly young pirates serenade her with a song only slightly less depressing than a Jerry Lewis rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

With wedding dress in hand, Kelly pays a surprise visit on Grant, tempting fate with the old wives’ tale about wedding dresses before the Big Day. Arriving at Casa del Grant, she is appalled to discover her betrothed fooling around with a much younger woman – a MUCH younger woman (a much, MUCH younger woman, if you get my drift and I think that you do).

It seems Grantville’s favorite son has a thing for Grantville’s favorite daughters, the younger the better, and in his mind, a lifetime of wealth and privilege has him thinking it’s okay. He tries to convince Kelly that they’re both broken, and as a result made for each other, but she isn’t buying. Despite her checkered past, she never went for young boys, though she may have been the object of a fantasy or two (“Dear Penthouse Magazine, I never thought it would happen to me…”)

She picks up the phone and lets him have it, allowing the wedding dress to fall like a shroud. With only the bust of Beethoven for company, she sits shiva, waiting for the cops (or I should say, cop) to come take her away, while the town mourns the loss of the local perv. Griff is handed the task of interrogating Kelly to get at why she killed Grant, because clearly, molested children is no motive for playing judge, jury and executioner, not even in 1964.

Who should show up to “vouch” for Kelly but Farlunde, the wuss what took a shellacking from Kelly in the opening scene. A little provocation and he comes damn close to a rematch. Kelly explains how as her pimp, Farlunde took it out on her when she convinced a number of girls he was scumbag (methinks they already knew that), so he drugged her, shaved her head and sent her on her merry way, passing word to anyone inclined to do her harm. On the lam, she eventually found her way to Grantville.

Despite Farlunde’s damaging testimony, Dusty and the other nurses who worked with Kelly start stepping forward to praise their former co-worker. But when Candy comes to call, telling Griff of Kelly’s alleged plan to start a nationwide network of blackmailing johns, Buffy refuses to corroborate Kelly’s story

Spying the little girl Grant was molesting outside her jail cell window (No, the local lock-up isn’t the ideal place for a child to play, but since the kid was spreading her graffiti, we’ll let it slide), Kelly realizes the kid is her key freedom. With Buffy recanting her statement, Kelly and Griff go on a hunt for a needle in a hayseed town. Little girls by the score are marched in front of the jail (Again, not the wisest course of action for the convicts within) for Kelly to identify until the kid is found, but she fails to recognize Kelly. Tearfully, Kelly and the girl remember together the day Grant got his, and thanks to a not-so-carefully hidden tape recorder, the charges against Kelly are dropped and Kelly is the town hero.

Her work done, she packs her bags, and the townspeople gather to see her off, many looking like the Desperate Housewives of Grantville… but Kelly still takes time to give a kid his bottle. And the banner over Main Street reads Jan. 5, 1964.

So what we learned from this experience? Well, clearly every small town has a secret; singing children are kinda creepy, which is why such music has become a staple of horror films for the past 30-40 years; and whorehouse madams and small town cops aren’t to be trusted.

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1 comment:

Adam Zanzie said...

Se, The Naked Kiss had me until that absurd ending. I know, I know: this is a Sam Fuller film, and it's intentionally ironic. But when Kelly walks free at the end of the movie after murdering Grant, I don't think we're meeant to be puzzled--I think we're meant to cheer for her. A lot of fans of the movie love it precisely because they think it endorses vigilante justice.

The movie has an excellent performance by Constance Towers going for it, but to me it's easily one of Fuller's weakest and most overrated efforts.