On the radar: photo l.a. show returns to Santa Monica, Lynch and Sirk films at the Aero, Carole Lombard classics on DVD

© Julius Shulman, Case study number 22, Playboy Image, C-print, 1960, Courtesy of Be-hold

Focus on style: photo l.a., now in its 22nd year, opens Thursday, Jan. 17, at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. Work from 70 galleries and photography dealers from around the world will be on display. The show closes Jan. 21.

Auteurs at the Aero: On Friday, Jan. 18, at 7:30 p.m., the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica has a cool double-feature: David Lynch’s 1986 neo-noir “Blue Velvet,” starring Kyle MacLachlan, Laura Dern, Isabella Rossellini and Dennis Hopper, and “All That Heaven Allows” (1955, Douglas Sirk), a subversive love story about the romance between a lonely widow (Jane Wyman) and her gardener (Rock Hudson).

The Carole Lombard DVD set

Lombard love: TCM is bringing three early and rarely seen Carole Lombard performances to DVD. Carole Lombard in the ’30s will be available exclusively through TCM’s online store beginning Monday, Jan. 21.

With her sparkling presence and sharp timing, the stunning Lombard delighted audiences in some of the greatest screwball comedies ever made, but she spent the early part of her brief career playing dramatic roles and romantic ingénues. (Lombard died in a plane crash in 1942.)

Highlighting her lesser-known films, this DVD set includes fully restored and re-mastered editions of “No More Orchids” (1932), “Brief Moment” (1933) and “Lady By Choice” (1934).

The collection also features an introduction by TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz and bonus materials, including production stills, behind-the-scenes photos, lobby cards and movie posters.

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‘Naked Kiss’ crowns queen of beautiful bald leading ladies

The Naked Kiss/1964/F & F Productions/90 min.

What better way to celebrate hump day than with a Sam Fuller double feature?

As part of the UCLA Wednesdays Classic Film Series, the Million Dollar Theater in downtown Los Angeles will show “Shock Corridor” (1963) and “The Naked Kiss” (1964) at 7:30 p.m. this Wednesday, Jan. 18. The Million Dollar Theater is at 307 S. Broadway Ave., Los Angeles, 90013; tickets are $10.

By Michael Wilmington

This Sam Fuller movie begins with one of the great shocker low-budget opening scenes: Kelly, a beautiful bald prostitute (played by Constance Towers) beating the crap out of her procurer, losing her wig, pulling out the cash he owes her, and dumping the rest on his whimpering chest. Fuller, freed of any strictures of big studio propriety, has Kelly aiming her purse at the camera and battering us movie voyeurs right along with her ex-pimp.

But “The Naked Kiss” is also a romance (of sorts) and a woman’s picture (of a particularly dark kind). And soon we see Kelly in a typical ’50s-early ’60s American small town, called Grantville, trying to escape her violent past by becoming a nurse’s aide: a care-giver specializing in adorable children, who sing sentimental songs. Kelly also happens to love Beethoven, especially “Moonlight Sonata.” Can she escape the past? Maybe not. The only movie playing in Grantville’s cinema is Fuller’s own previous Constance Towers picture, 1963′s “Shock Corridor.”

Kelly’s nemesis seems to be a salty cop named Griff (played growlingly by Anthony Eisley, of TV’s “Hawaiian Eye”). He beds her right off the incoming bus, pays $20, and then directs her to the nearest brothel (a bordello run by film-noir regular Virginia Grey).

Her salvation seems to be the strangely gentle playboy/philanthropist/Lothario (and Griff’s Korean War buddy) Grant (Michael Dante). Like Kelly, he loves Beethoven and Lord Byron. And something else. In the end, the appearances of her apparent nemesis and salvation prove to be deceiving. As it turns out, the naked kiss is the kiss of a pervert.

Like Fuller’s “Shock Corridor” the year before, “The Naked Kiss” was cheaply but strikingly art-directed by Eugène Lourié (Renoir’s “The Rules of the Game”) and gorgeously shot in black and white by Stanley Cortez (“The Night of the Hunter”).

“The Naked Kiss” is a fine showcase for Constance Towers.

Full of sock and sensation, “The Naked Kiss” has qualities we don’t see as much in “Shock Corridor” – a bizarre tenderness, a tough romanticism, and something part way between schmaltz and weltschmerz. “The Naked Kiss” is also Fuller’s most stylishly soap-operatic work in the Douglas Sirk tradition, just as 1949’s “Shockproof” (co-written by Fuller) was Sirk’s most Fullerian movie.

“The Naked Kiss” is also a fine showcase for Constance Towers, an underrated leading lady who worked for John Ford (in “The Horse Soldiers” and “Sergeant Rutledge”), but whom Alfred Hitchcock unfortunately missed. She’ll never be forgotten for that opening scene, though. Among bald prostitute pimp-battering leading ladies, Constance Towers is the queen.

The movie is also available from Criterion and includes these extras: New interview with Constance Towers; 1967 and 1987 French television interviews with Sam Fuller; trailer. Booklet with Robert Polito essay, excerpt on “The Naked Kiss” from Fuller’s autobiography “A Third Face,” and illustrations by the great cartoonist and comic artist Daniel Clowes.

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