Monday, February 5, 2007


dir. Douglas Sirk

A Magnificent Obsession... with MURDER!

January 25, 2007 - 35mm/Pioneer Theatre

With The Naked Kiss Samuel Fuller takes the domestic melodrama and injects a harsh bite of reality by infusing it with the urban emotional landscapes of his earlier noir. He relishes exposing unspeakable suburban perversion without condescension, in a way that should make the Todd Field’s and Alan Ball’s of the world cry themselves to sleep every night. A tiny twinge of what would make The Naked Kiss one of the best movies anyone has ever made can be felt in the Fuller-scripted Shockproof, directed by Douglas Sirk.

Douglas Sirk is no slouch of a moviemaker either, and the simple fact that this early collaboration of these soon to be legendary moviemakers exists should be indicative that, considering the guts of the content of their output, the pairing is not all that unlikely. On the surface, yes, Fuller is attributed to a certain run and gun, blood and guts hard-boiled type of junk movie, whereas next to “melodrama” (the word was practically invented for Sirk) the most common attribution of Sirk’s movies is “weepies.” Fuller’s movies, full of madness and nihilistic rage are often full of touching, subversive, politically progressive interpersonal behavior, whereas Sirk’s, caked in upper-middle class Technicolor, are filled with emotionally dry relationships that get turned upside down by scandal and a rage and helplessness below the bright, fancy dresses. The similarity between the two genres really come to a head in The Naked Kiss and Fuller firms himself as a far riskier director, but the suburban sentiment is the same.

A parole officer, Griff (a name Fuller would recycle for a crooked cop in The Naked Kiss), is assigned to keep tabs on a recently released murder, Jenny (Patricia Knight), who just so happens to be a leggy blonde knockout. Griff is a hard luck George Bailey type Good Samaritan caring for his blind mother and very young kid brother, while inviting parolees into his home for dinner. Despite his incredibly bland goodness, Griff (Cornel Wilde) carries a quiet desperation, nursing an oddly placed band-aid wrapped around his ring finger. Is it a bandage suggesting a previous heartbreak? Possibly.

Though at first she rejects it, Jenny eventually becomes swept up in the goodness and parolee and parole officer become husband and wife, but THEN! Bonnie and Clyde! The Honeymoon Killers! Jenny’s murderous streak strikes again, and her doting husband does everything to protect her, abandoning the comfort of suburban domesticity and his loving family. It would be easy to assume the rich Sam Fuller content kicks in hardcore with a murder, but this is where the movie starts to fall off the rails. The hard-nosed Jenny trading words with the well-intentioned citizens of this small town early on is where Fuller’s knack for dialogue shines. The melodrama hits hardest when the lovers are on the run as they struggle from meal to meal and toward the Mexican border. This is very typical genre material, with an added stroke of weepy drama yielding something a little north of boring, but lacking the life and vitality of the domestic scenes.

Shockproof is an oddity, as two not-yet young auteurs join forces in a movie that quite basely does combine what would come to define their careers. For fans of either, this is essential history, and considering the lack of availability of Fuller’s movies, a treasure for his fans, myself included. The boring bits are worth the always-priceless lyrical snap of Fuller dialogue, and while Fuller’s writing chops were established, Sirk’s direction is not what it would become.

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