The Naked Kiss, 1964, written and directed by Samuel Fuller.
I'd heard of Samuel Fuller recently because a restored cut of The Big Red One was in theaters this year. I read the reviews; it's a WWII epic. So I was expecting something up Terence Malick's alley. Man, was I ever wrong. If you're planning on seeing this movie, the less you know the better; not because it's a surprise ending, but because it's the weirdest movie I've ever seen in my life. And I see a lot of movies. I wouldn't want to spoil anyone's slack-jawed disbelief at what's onscreen. So feel free to skip this and just rent the movie.
If you're still here, the opening scene: a woman beats the shit out of an extremely drunk guy with her purse. Jazz plays on the soundtrack, really insane bebop. And she's shot head on, swinging with the shoe; the first shot is her just pulling back and walloping the guy; you can't help but flinch. She's wearing a slip, heels, a strapless bra, and a scarf. Halfway through the fight, he grabs her hair, which all comes off; it's a wig, and her head is shaved. This just makes her madder. So now you have this really angry bald woman beating away at this guy; she knocks him down, sprays him in the face with a seltzer bottle (!), and steals $75 from him. Then she gets dressed and puts her wig back on; the minute she puts it back on, the music changes to weepy strings. Looking into the camera like it's a mirror, she carefully adjusts the wig, combs it, and makes experimental pouts at the camera over the opening credits. Then, the jazz comes back on the soundtrack while she walks over to a wall of photos, takes hers down, and rips it up. And if you think that's weird, you should see the rest of the movie.
The basic story is pretty straightforward. Kelly, the woman from the first scene, is a prostitute. She moves to a small town called Grantville, and after sleeping with a local police officer, decides to go straight. She then falls in love with the most prominent guy in town, much to the dismay of the cop, who's good friends with the guy. So far, this could be a late-fifties weeper. But the devil's in the really, really, really bizarre details. Kelly doesn't just go straight, she gets a job as a nurse at a local hospital for handicapped children. And she dresses them all up like pirates, for some reason. And teaches them to sing. Teaches them to sing Cab Calloway's "Little Child,"1 to be precise. So about an hour into the movie, you get a full-on musical number, starring a multiracial group of eight-year-olds in crutches and leg braces. Sample lyric: "Tell me where is the bluebird of happiness found?" And remember, they're all wearing pirate hats. I'm not kidding about this, it's really in the movie.
What else is in the movie:
- An old woman who talks to a dressmaker's doll that she's dressed in her long-dead fiancé's military uniform. She calls him "Charlie." And he's in the credits: "'Charlie'...Himself."
- A brothel called "Candy's," where the girls are called "Bon-bons," and a sign above the bar reads "Sweets Guarantee Indescribable Pleasure."
- Unwanted pregnancy.
- Child molestation.
- A whole lot of Beethoven on the soundtrack, and a guy who has a Schroeder-style bust of Beethoven up above his reel-to-reel tape player.
- The following line of dialogue, spoken without a trace of irony:
I see myself by moonlight, by the lake of the Siene, in a boat wandering through a leafy alley, and Beethoven's hands playing the Moonlight Sonata. He carved that sonata out of moonlight.
So as you can see, Samuel Fuller is not the most understated writer you'll ever run across. The closest thing to the feel of this movie that I'm familiar with is David Lynch. Not too surprisingly, Lynch stole from Fuller; that brothel called Candy's shows up in Twin Peaks as "One Eyed Jacks," down to the design of the place. It's not theft, it's homage!
- A recurring theme in coverage of Johnny Carson's recent death was that Carson gave kids the idea that adulthood was cool, and slightly mysterious; that at his height, he was an emblem of a certain kind of adult world that no longer exists. (Now, the meme goes, adults act like kids. I certainly do. I think it has to do with not wearing suits to work, or drinking every night, or being drafted). Anyway, this movie has that kind of adult in it, and that kind of adult dialogue. Some of it is nearly as good as Billy Wilder, but not quite. My favorite line; the cop to the prostitute: "You and me will get along like noise and a hangover." Nearly as good, Kelly saying that all she had to look forward to in life was "the buck, the bed, and the bottle."
- There's a scene in this movie where Kelly makes Candy, the madame, eat $25 she'd offered to a local girl to get her to work in her brothel. Whacks her in the head with that deadly purse from the first scene, and shoves it in her mouth; leaves her with a mouth full of bills. (Her line is, "Ten. Ten. And five! Now you stay away from Bunny!") I'm going to steal that idea; I'm amazed I haven't seen it in more movies. Especially given the number of Se7en rip-offs that pride themselves on creative revenge. Anyway, in this movie, it works like gangbusters.
The next movie I'll be seeing is Shock Corridor, also by Samuel Fuller. He's insane! I can't wait.
1This song is actually referred to by any number of names. It's been called "The Little Child (Mon Enfant)," "The Little Boy and the Old Man," "Mommy Dear," "Daddy Dear"... and so on. Best reference ever: Tony Danza apparently had his daughter record a version, and then told Pat Sajak about it. See, the more I try to learn about The Naked Kiss, the deeper down the rabbit hole I go. To find out more, go here (the Who's The Boss Resource page, of course!) and search for "Bluebird." Googling monkeys forever!