Thursday, April 23, 2009

'The Naked Kiss' is interesting but flawed

The Naked Kiss (aka "The Iron Kiss") (1964)
Starring: Constance Towers, Anthony Eisley, Michael Dante and Patsy Kelley
Director: Samuel Fuller
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Kelly, a reformed prostitute turned nurse's aide (Towers), finds her struggle for a new life and self-respect negated when she is arrested for murder and past deeds come back to haunt her. To make matters worse, the chief investigating officer is Capt. Griff, the man who was her final "trick" (Eisley).

"The Naked Kiss" is a startling movie from beginning to end. It starts so abruptly that I thought the DVD might have somehow skipped, but, no... the very first image of the film is a sharp-featured woman beating the hell out of a man using her shoe.

The film's approach to such topics as prostitution and pedophilia is equally startling and shocking, because neither topic has rarely been dealt with in such a realistic fashion--the way the romance between Kelly and millionaire J.L. Grant (Dante) develops and turns out is probably far closer to what the truth would be than any other of the various movie treatments of such, with "Pretty Woman" being the stupidest of the lot--and I dare say that few films even now have dealt with the topics so frankly and realistically.

The realism of the film also helps keep the final resolution in doubt. In most movies, some form of "Hollywood Ending" can be predicted from other elements of the movie--either everything will work out for the main character , or everything will be utterly miserable and everyone dies --but in "The Naked Kiss" is so matter-of-fact that one can't help feel the outcome is in doubt until almost the very end.

The film is far from perfect, however. There are some scenes that are strangely, abruptly edited--such as the one covering the night Kelly spends spends at the house of Griff, and the visits of Griff and Kelly to a "gentleman's club" across the river. There's also a scene where Kelly records a song with the little children who are her patients at the hospital; while this scene is crucial for developing Kelly's character and is a key element in the tragic events that follow, it goes on for too long. These weak points prevent this film from getting an Eight rating.

"The Naked Kiss" is a film that deals frankly with mature subjects... and it does so without lots of cursing and sex to ensure an R rating. It's the sort of movie that all those contemporary filmmakers running around congratulating each other for being edgy and for pushing the boundaries can only dream of making.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

'Woman in the Shadows' is predictable but fun

Woman in the Shadows (aka "Woman in the Dark") (1934)
Starring: Ralph Bellamy, Fay Wray and Melvyn Douglas
Director: Phil Rosen
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Fresh from serving a prison term for manslaughter, John Bradley (Bellamy) finds himself on the run from the law after coming to the defense of a woman (Wray) fleeing her possessive boyfriend (Douglas).

"Woman in the Shadows" is a decent little "innocent man on the run" crime drama with a good script and equally good performances by the three stars and most of the supporting cast. (The comic relief character is more annoying than funny, but that may only partially be the actor's fault.)

This film is nothing spectacular, and the characters and storyline are what you expect at every turn, but it's nonetheless a fast-paced, solid bit of entertainment. It's like a 1930s version of an average summer-time action movie or drama. Nothing's going to surprise you, but if it's well-made you have a good time anyway.