6/18/2010

Top 6 Words: Naked

Posted in Top 6 Words at 5:00 am by Sam

The word for this entry in the Top 6 Words series is, er, “naked.” I was certain this was not actually a usable word, but my random title word script spit it out, and so I figured I had to try. It turns out that it’s more usable than you’d think.

My Top 6 list after the jump. I can’t believe I’m going to ask this, but what are your favorite “naked” movies?

The Barbarian Queen (1985) qualifies for this list if you go by one of its alternate titles, Queen of the Naked Steel. (A more apt word order would be Steel of the Naked Queen, but that might have been a bit too literal.)

That aside, “naked” seems to be less of an indicator of prurience than subtler words like “obsession” and “desire.” I thought of seven titles I’d be happy to include. The missing one is The Naked Kiss (1964), an early Samuel Fuller film. It made the list of the 100 most amusingly bad movies in The Official Razzie Movie Guide, but the mention was unfair: The Naked Kiss may have the superficial appearance of a bad movie, including the melodramatic acting, but it doesn’t have the required lack of substance and style.

6. The Naked Jungle (1954)

No, this isn’t one of the jungle adventure B-pictures I have a weakness for. This is mostly a character study, of a fussy, eccentric man (Charlton Heston) with an almost obsessive need to live away from civilization and yet have all the finer things of it. He devotes his life to building a mansion in the jungle and filling it with fine furnishings. He’s not a hermit — he has a whole crew of locals working his plantation for him — but he won’t re-enter civilization even to find a wife. His brother selects a wife for him, whom he marries by proxy. The film opens with the woman (Eleanor Parker) travelling to meet her husband. What kind of a woman would agree to an arrangement like this?

Learning about these two characters, and watching them learn about each other, is what keeps the film interesting. Unfortunately, it never seems to explore the characters as thoroughly as it probably should have. By the end, I didn’t know them as well as I would have liked.

Oh yeah — and then billions of ants eat the continent. It’s a weird shift, this character drama suddenly turning into an insect version of Zulu (1964), but it’s not entirely gratuitous: the characters’ decisions to stay instead of evacuate serve as climaxes to their character arcs. The visuals in the ant sequences are impressive. Admittedly, the budget constraints are apparent, but effects need not be convincing to be effective.

In the end, I’m not sure that the film really accomplishes what it set out to do. But it introduces us to some intriguing people with intriguing lives, and that’s enough.

5. The Naked Prey (1966)

Cornel Wilde made his name in the 1940s playing romantic, clean-cut swashbuckling heroes. There’s nothing romantic or clean-cut about this latter-day work, in which he directs himself enduring a punishing ordeal in the African wilderness. Most of the film’s dialogue takes place in the first few minutes: Wilde is managing an expedition for an unethical ivory hunter. When hunter insults a tribe of natives, the crew is attacked and ritualistically killed. Wilde is given some semblance of a sporting chance: he’s stripped of his clothes and weapons and allowed to run for it. Already, the movie is grueling and difficult to watch, and there is more to come. Although it works as rousing action, the film is a testament to the mercilessness of nature and man’s inhumanity to man.

4. The Naked City (1948)

A woman commits suicide in the bathtub of a New York apartment. Or was it murder? So begins a noirish police procedural that’s every bit as convoluted as its claustrophobic urban setting. Shot on location in New York, The Naked City makes wonderful use of the city. The film is full of back alleys, rickety staircases, dumpy apartments, and seedy harbors. Director Jules Dassin, famous for the great heist film Rififi (1955), is in his element here.

3. The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988)

This Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker comedy is second only to Airplane for sheer unbridled lunacy. It’s actually based on their television series Police Squad, which lasted only six episodes but remains a cult favorite. Television wasn’t ready for this kind of craziness, I guess.

Leslie Nielsen, who built the second act of his career on this kind of film, started hamming it up as the Naked Gun series went on, which diluted much of the humor. Here in the original, he seems to know what Buster Keaton learned in his early days in vaudeville as a child: take a pratfall with a stone face, and we laugh that much harder.

2. The Naked Spur (1953)

The partnership of Jimmy Stewart and Anthony Mann may not have been as prolific as John Wayne and John Ford, but they, too, turned out a series of westerns that includes some of the greatest ever made. Winchester ‘73 was probably their best, but The Naked Spur comes close. The Stewart/Mann collaborations, this no exception, are almost like spaghetti westerns with more classical values. Stewart’s character was almost always a true hero, not an anti-hero, but the movies were no elegies to more honorable times. These are violent and dirty action flicks with ruthless badguys that do as they please because no one is around to stop them.

Stewart usually played men who just want to be left alone. In The Naked Spur, however, he plays a bounty hunter chasing a murderer for the $5000 reward. But why? The movie’s slow unveiling of the character and the complicated backstory is as fascinating as the taut action scenes.

1. The Naked Truth (1957)

I love the paradoxical way British comedy can build an outrageous farce upon understatement. The Naked Truth is a great example of that. At first the laughs come out of nuances of character and behavior, but, almost before we realize it, outward chaos has erupted, and the world goes mad.

The set-up to the proceedings is deceptively simple: a blackmailer makes his rounds, threatening important (or at least self-important) people in turn. They plead and panic, but their desperation leads them to take matters in their own hands. The trouble is, they refuse to work together, and their various elaborate plans of retribution run afoul of each other in hilarious ways.

Among the cast are such luminaries of British comedy as Peter Sellers, Terry-Thomas, Joan Sims, and Shirley Eaton.

3 Comments »

  1. ThePhan (128) said,

    June 18, 2010 at 11:49 am

    I haven’t seen a single movie with “naked” in the title. Looks like I have six new movies I can add to my Netflix queue.

  2. Sam (405) said,

    June 18, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    TP: Put them all in in a row. Then you can have a naked marathon!

  3. joem18b (231) said,

    June 19, 2010 at 11:10 pm

    I saw The Naked Jungle when I was ten and it scared the bajeesus out of me. Along with Invaders From Mars and Them!, it was one of the most unnerving movies I saw as a kid. Forget the human relationships in the movie- who noticed them? It was those ants on the march that had me eyeballing the anthills around my house, just in case. Course now, Heston grumbling about the fact that his mail-order bride wasn’t a virgin and he was might seem better than the ants.

    I was listening to some old Suspense radio shows a while back, and “Leiningen vs. the Ants” came on - one of the versions with William Conrad. It was, well, suspenseful. The story came out in the late 30s in Esquire and Suspense and Escape made multiple shows of it - a real crowd-pleaser.

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