Director Samuel Fuller is a controversial figure in American cinema history.Audiences either love him or hate him, and there is usually no in-between.Incorporating a style that is often over-the-top, no matter what the genre or story might be, Fuller’s films are very much in your face.Outspoken, opinionated, and an auteur who wasn’t afraid to stand on a soapbox and shout to the masses what he felt was injustice, bigotry, or hypocrisy, Fuller belongs in the camp of directors who attempted social change but never achieved popular success doing it. Today he is revered as a cult figure by such filmmakers as Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Jim Jarmusch, and Tim Robbins (all who appear in the documentary, The Typewriter, the Rifle and the Movie Camera, a bonus feature on the Shock Corridor DVD).One can certainly see Fuller’s influences on the films of Scorsese and Tarantino.Scorsese admits “stealing” a sequence from an early Fuller war film, The Steel Helmet, and using it in Raging Bull.
The Criterion Collection has remastered and restored in high definition two of Fuller’s gems from the sixties—Shock Corridor (1963) and The Naked Kiss (1964) for DVD and Blu Ray.Anyone unfamiliar with the director’s work will do no better than to dive in to these powerful, dynamic dramas—or shall I say… melodramas.And that they are.In both pictures, the acting is heightened, the dialogue borders on the corny (some sequences are unintentionally funny today), and the subject matter is lurid.How these films were released in a time when the Production Code was still in effect is a mystery (they were issued “for mature audiences only,” several years before the ratings in America came about).
Shock Corridor is about a journalist (Peter Breck) who craves the Pulitzer Prize.His plan is to pretend he’s crazy so he can be admitted to a mental hospital where a murder has taken place.Solve the murder, break the story, and he’s famous.His girlfriend (Constance Towers) must masquerade as Breck’s sister and claim he tried to force incest on her, thus being grounds for committal.Inside the madhouse, it’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to the nth degree, complete with a “nympho ward,” an African-American patient who parades in a Ku Klux Klan hood, and all sorts of other misfits and whackos.The imagery is often truly shocking, as are the situations in which Breck finds himself.
The Naked Kiss concerns a prostitute (Towers again) who flees her life of debauchery and attempts to make good in a small town by becoming a nurse at a children’s hospital.Unfortunately, as is always the case in a melodrama such as this, her dark past stays with her and threatens to unhinge a budding romance with the town millionaire.And then we find out the millionaire’s dirty secret—and if that wasn’t enough to upset a 1964 audience, I don’t know what would.
In many ways, one can view the two pictures as “exploitation films,” for they do have that kind of sensibility; the difference is that Fuller manages to turn what could be deemed exploitative into a socially cautionary tale.As for the DVDs, they look as if the negatives had just been processed.An enlightening extra is a recent interview with Constance Towers (who looks as gorgeous today as she did in 1963) that’s in two parts—one on each DVD.The aforementioned documentary about Fuller rounds out Shock Corridor.The Naked Kiss contains a South Bank Show interview with Fuller from 1983, and a 1967 interview from a French TV series.Both DVDs are adorned with excellent artwork by graphic novelist Daniel Clowes (Ghost World), as well as booklets with essays and excerpts from Fuller’s autobiography.
This is great stuff.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER THE NAKED KISS ON DVD FROM AMAZON