As The Criterion Collection upgrades their titles to Blu-ray, DVD buyers benefit from the new, restored high-definition digital transfers that become available in standard definition. Two such titles to have experienced this are early entries in the collection as evidenced by their catalog numbers, Shock Corridor (#19) and The Naked Kiss (#18). Both also have in common writer/director Sam Fuller, a former crime reporter and pulp novel writer, whose grittiness became a trademark.
Shock Corridor tells the story of newspaper reporter Johnny Barrett (Peter Breck) going undercover in an insane asylum to solve the murder of a man named Sloan. The longer Barrett stays the more his stripper girlfriend Cathy (Constance Towers) worries about him, and rightly so, as the effort to appear insane, even against treatment by doctors, begins to wear on him.
The film is one of Fuller’s best. As the screenwriter, he uses residents and their mental problems as metaphors for issues affecting 1960s America. Trent (Hari Rhodes) is an African American who thinks he is a racist white Klansman, reminiscent of a popular Dave Chappelle Show sketch that would air four decades later. James Best gives a great performance as Stuart, a man who thinks he’s a Civil War soldier but in a moment of rare lucidity talks about his family and his brief time when he went AWOL during the Korean War and joined the Communists. Fuller also made a great creative choice as a director to only use color when showing dreams and visions of the residents.
The DVD comes with Special Edition Features that include a new Video Interview with Constance Towers (29 min) conducted by filmmaker Charles Dennis in 2007 as she talks about the film and working with Fuller. The Typewriter, the Rifle, and the Movie Camera (55 min) is a BFI/IFC documentary from 1996 by Adam Simon with Tim Robbins, Martin Scorsese, Jim Jarmusch, and Quentin Tarantino. The Original Theatrical Trailer is available and the booklet features an essay by critic/poet Robert Polito called “Lindywood Confidential” and “Love Your Country Despite the Ulcers” from Fuller’s autobiography A Third Face: My Tale of Writing, Fighting, and Filmmaking.
The Naked Kiss is a pulp noir that examines the seediness of a small town. The film opens with a POV shot of a woman (Constance Towers) beating a man, set to a wild, jazzy score. The scene concludes with the woman having her wig ripped off, revealing her to be bald. We soon learn her name is Kelly and she is a prostitute trying to make a new life for herself in a new town. She first meets the local sheriff Griff (Anthony Eisley) who doesn’t reveal his identity until after he sleeps with her and then orders her out of town. She refuses and takes on a job as a nurse. Griff keeps an eye on her not believing she is going to stay on the straight and narrow. Kelly can’t escape her past, but the audience learns prostituion is the least of the town’s problems.
Though not as strong as Shock Corridor because it lacks the social commentary, The Naked Kiss is an enjoyable warped diversion and earns points for its strong female lead Towers brings to life.
This DVD comes with similar Special Edition Features such as a new video interview with Towers (29 min) conducted by filmmaker Dennis from the same session that focuses The Naked Kiss, the Original Theatrical Trailer, and the booklet with an essay by Polito called “Fractured Fairy Tales” and “Want to Be a Lindy” from Fuller’s autobiography. In addition, there is “The South Bank Show” (31 min) with Sam Fuller from the UK’s Grenada Television in 1983. He’s a passionate, entertaining fellow as he talks about his life and his career. There are also two segments from French television. “Cineastes de notre temps” (23 min) from 9/30/1967 finds Fuller with pipe instead of his trademark stogie, and “Cinema cinemas” (13 min) from 1/20/1987 shows Fuller looking at old pictures of himself and discusses life at those captured moments.
Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor and The Naked Kiss are two very different films connected by the thread of their filmmaker’s storytelling sensibilities that are the hallmark of independent cinema. The Criterion Collection honors the work and the man with these releases.