The Films (5/5)
This review discusses both Naked Kiss and Shock Corridor.
Sam Fuller's films are an intense mixed of hard-edged pulp fiction, highly compelling melodrama, and genre-smashing narratives. I came to the films of Sam Fuller in much the same way I have discovered many of my favorite filmmakers, which is discovering references to them through the work of other filmmakers/actors and following them back to the source. In this case I discovered Sam's films 2 ways, the first was through a reference to Fuller's Shark in Lloyd Kaufman's Terror Firmer, the 2nd was through Mark Hamill of Star Wars. In the mid 90's I was watching an episode of Outer Limits starring Hamill, and noted that for someone who had been in one of the most successful films of all-time I hadn't seen him in much. The next day I went to the bookstore, and looked through a capsule review book (probably Maltin's), and found out about the Big Red One. It took a few years before I made the connection between the 2 films, and even though I had a less than stellar opinion of Shark, I absolutely loved the Big Red One, and as I was now as the point of paying attention to director's entire filmography’s I wanted to see more.
It was around this time that I heard about his one-two punch of Shock Corridor and Naked Kiss, and just from the descriptions I knew I had to see them. However, before I could pick them up I discovered they were part of the first 50 DVD titles Criterion issued on DVD, and thus were non-anamorphic. These were the days before Netflix, and I had a buyer's mentality at the time so I decided to wait until the inevitable anamorphic re-release. I figured these were some of the most popular films in those 50 titles, so it probably would not be too long of a wait.
I was wrong. The rerelease took quite a long time.
Was it worth it?
Yes, it was definitely worth the wait. Not only is this an anamorphic release, but it is remastered in high definition on Blu-ray, and both films look and sound AMAZING.
Naked Kiss (5/5)
Sam Fuller's Naked Kiss is a hard-hitting drama about a prostitute looking to redeem herself in small town America. Of course, that is just the most basic of synopses, there is so much depth to this film it is unreal. It has the distinction of opening with one of the most iconic moments of 60's American cinema.
Kelly played by Fuller favorite Constance Towers (also Shock Corridor) is a prostitute who is angry at having been ripped off by her pimp. She attacks him to get the money she is due, and in the process gets her wig ripped off revealing that she is bald underneath.
The film then picks up 2 years later, Kelly has been hopping around town to town for the last 2 years, and has just arrived in the very typical American suburb Grantville. Upon arrival she takes on one last client, the Grantville town sheriff Griff, it is right after this she decides to take a job at the local hospital. The pay is not quite as good as her prior career, but she is happy that she is doing real honest work. Aside from doing good for the children at the hospital, she also befriends Buff a local girl who also works at the hospital. Upon discovering that Buff has been talking to local Madam Candy about becoming one of her Bonbons (aka prostitute), she approaches Candy in Buff's defense, and ends up stuffing the advance money given to Buff into Candy's mouth.
During this time Kelly meets, and falls in love with local millionaire playboy J.L. Grant for whose family the town is named. Grant soon falls for Kelly seeing in her everything he ever wanted in a woman, but before she will agree to marry him she spills the beans on her former life. He wholeheartedly accepts her prior life, and sees her for the woman she is now. Unfortunately, for Kelly this is not Pretty Woman, and a happy ending is not in store for her.
I know this movie is close to 50 years old, but I am one of those people that refuse to give away too many spoiler-ish details about any movie, but I will say this. The third act twist in this film is up there with the shower scene in Psycho, with the best shocking plot changing moments in 60's cinema. Fuller really knows how to work an audience, and this film just hammers that point home.
Naked Kiss definitely plays in the small town with a secret ball park, and does it well. It sets up the template that would be used by directors like David Lynch in films like Blue Velvet, and of course, Twin Peaks. Everything about this film is uniformly excellent, from the direction, and the performances, right down to the wonderfully crisp cinematography courtesy of Stanley Cortez (Night of the Hunter). The film does deal with some pretty heavy themes, but never falls into the realm of overly serious drama, and as such is incredibly rewatchable.
Shock Corridor (5/5)
Shock Corridor is the earlier of the 2 films in this set, and the one I looked forward to most to seeing. Having recently watched Scorsese's Shutter Island, and knowing that this was a heavy influence on that film I knew it would be up my alley. Also, Shock Corridor itself, plays less as a drama, and more as a thriller and so I knew I would better acclimate to this film. Finally, the film combines the conventions of a great thriller, with a story about investigative journalism which will almost always sell me on a movie, as many of my favorite films deal with similar issues (All The President's Men, Zodiac, Killing Fields, etc).
Shock Corridor stars Peter Breck as Johnny Barrett, a determined newspaper reported who enters a mental institution, in the guise of a patient. He is doing this to get to the bottom of a recent murder case, and hopefully win himself a Pulitzer for the article that he will write about it. The only people aware that is acting are his editor, his girlfriend played by Naked Kiss Constance Towers, and a few of the psychiatrist who taught him to act the part convincingly.
Unfortunately, for Johnny he is playing the part a little too well, and the Doctor's begin to take notice. As the treatments he is undergoing are not having the effect the Doctors are hoping for they begin more hardcore treatments including shock therapy. As he gets himself more involved in his investigation, his grip on his sanity begins to slip, and he starts to become confused. He begins having trouble discerning the truth, and facts from the useless gibberish ranted by the other patients. As he gets closer to solving the case, he begins to lose his connection with reality, getting to the point where he rejects his girlfriend, and spends all his time in endless speculation about the identity of the killer.
Shock Corridor is a great, and compelling pulp thriller from Sam Fuller, and while it was a compelling plot that engates the viewer throughout the films running time, one of the films strongest points are it's characters. And while a typical thriller might focus more on the plot, Shock Corridor chooses to focus on Johnny and the various inhabitants of the mental institution to create an atmosphere of mental unrest, where Johnny and the viewer begin to have trouble discerning reality from fantasy.
Both Shock Corridor and Naked Kiss come to Blu-ray in a 1080p transfer, in the original 1:78:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The films obviously look better than they have before, and even without having seen them just the anamorphic upgrade helps them to tower above the quality of the prior Criterion release, and of course all the crappy public domain versions of this film that have come out since the film hit PD.
The transfers are not perfect, however, the level of detail especially in closes up are nothing short of amazing, the contrast is quite sharp, and the black levels are solid. There is a tad bit of grain throughout, but this is far from a distraction, and contributes to the film look of this Blu-ray. The only negative I can find within the transfers are some softer moments in both films, but regardless the restoration work here is absolutely stunning, and maintains Criterion's consistent quality standards.
The audio for both films is presented in a LPCM 1.0 mono track. The track is far from a fancy mix, but it does exactly what it is supposed to do. The dialogue is clear and crisp throughout without any obvious auditory imperfections, as in no hissing, pops, cracks, etc.
Both Naked Kiss and Shock Corridor feature extended interviews with actress Constance Towers who plays the lead in Naked Kiss, and one of the major supporting characters in Shock Corridor. Both films run roughly half an hour in length, and deal with both films, her career in general, her working relationship with Fuller, and and more. Naked Kiss also features a collection of clips from the South Bank Show that discusses director Sam Fuller, and another collection of clips from 2 French television shows the first called Cineastes de notre temps, and the second titled Cinema cinemas also focusing on the films of Sam Fuller and features interview footage with the director. Naked Kiss is rounded out by the films trailer, and a 24 page booklet of liner notes.
Shock Corridor on top of the Constance Towers interview features the 1996 BFI documentary The Typewriter, The Rifle, and the Movie Camera. A documentary about director Sam Fuller that pays homage to the director and features as guest Jim Jarmusch, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, and more. This disc is rounded out by the films trailer, and a 28 page booklet of liner notes. Also, I do not normally focuse on the cover art for any films as an extra or otherwise, but both Naked Kiss/Shock Corridor have cover artwork from Ghost World/Eightball creator Daniel Clowes, and really add an additional excellent touch to these already superb Blu-ray editions.
If you're a fan of Fuller, or great cinema these are must buys. The transfers and audio work are absolutely stunning, and the extras are in depth and interesting. Shock Corridor and Naked Kiss come extremely highly recommended.