by Michael S. Gant
IN Godard's Pierrot le Fou, director Sam Fuller made a memorable cameo, chomping on a cigar and describing for Jean-Paul Belmondo's character the essence of moviemaking: "A film is like a battleground. There's love, hate, action, violence, death ... in one word: emotion." There is plenty of fraught emotion in two of Fuller's most flamboyant black-and-white films of the early 1960s, The Naked Kiss (1964) and Shock Corridor (1963), now reissued by Criterion in handsome packages full of extras and with essays illustrated by Daniel Clowes.
The Naked Kiss opens with the frenetic immediacy scored to raucous sax-filled jazz. In agitated, hand-held-camera close-up, a prostitute named Kelly (hard blonde Constance Towers) attacks her pimp with her spike-heel shoe. He desperately reaches for her head, only to pull off her wig; she finishes the job bald and then faces the screen as if it were a mirror and puts herself back together. All this before the title appears.
Hoping to start a new life, Kelly moves to a small town, drawing the attention of a moralistic police captain (Anthony Eisley) and a rich man (Michael Dante) harboring twisted secrets. Her past, however, keeps reasserting herself, and Kelly has to use that deadly shoe on several people who need straightening out. The disc includes a recent interview with a very elegant Towers plus three early TV pieces on Fuller, in which he discusses the significant influence his days as a reporter had on his movies: "The average newspaper reporter could make a very good filmmaker."
Although Shock Corridor is pitched at fever level, it is surprisingly interesting in the social issues that Fuller crams into the characters (an African American patient imagines he is a KKK member and so on), and the production values are high—the cinematographer was Stanley Cortez, who worked with Orson Welles and Fritz Lang. Fuller also throws in a line that must have greatly pleased his ink-stained soul: "An insane mute will win the Pulitzer Prize!" The extras include the excellent documentary about Fuller The Typewriter, the Rifle and the Movie Camera.