Aside from setting gender precedents, in approaching this film with the protagonist starting on the “bad” side and trying to switch to the “good side”, Fuller makes his noir setup more powerful. By using the prostitute as the lead, this forces the audience to not identify with the lead from the start.
But as Kelly uncovers more dark secrets of the town, while she tries to stay on the sheriff’s “side of the fence”, we realize not only that the town is rotten on the inside, but we realize Kelly’s kind nature at the same time, a double revelation as opposed to just the discovery of the town’s hypocrisy, a double blow to the audience that Fuller exploits and rubs in the audiences’ faces.
Part of this is how Fuller puts the audience in the shoes of the morally decadent. No doubt coming from 1964, a good percentage of the audience would have been judgemental of the prostitute. They would have associated themselves with the townsfolk, as the outsiders looking in and judging Kelly.
Fuller uses this to his advantage, by showing that not only are the townspeople in the film hypocritical and morally decadent, but also the audience members themselves who identify with the townspeople. Fuller in effect forces the audience to realize that they themselves may not be as upstanding as they think.
How does he do this?
He gets the audience involved. Right from the start of the film, as previously mentioned, we get a first person shot of Kelly striking at the camera. She is striking at her pimp, and because the audience is placed in his point of view, they are immediately put in his low moral position as a pimp, an indictment of the viewers.
This in itself is a quick scene and the effect is subconscious, if noticeable at all. More effective is how Fuller encourages the audience to use its imagination. Instead of showing the actual dirty secret, it is only hinted at, forcing the viewers to guess and imagine lurid matters. By guessing what it is that is bad, the audience becomes the very thing that they castigate. It makes their minds as dirty as those in the film that they are critical of.
For example, in revealing a main character’s pedophilia, Fuller shows Kelly walking in a room first, only expecting to find her friend. Then he cuts to a close-up of her face, which has a happy smile on it at first that slowly dissolves into outrage. The next shot is of a child’s face, confused, half hidden in shadow, and then there is a cut of the child quickly running out. We go back to a close-up of Kelly’s face and the disgust is heightened. Finally, a cut to a close-up of the man’s face, an expression of feverish desperation.
This scene doesn’t say what it is that the man has done, but the way the scene is set up makes it clear. As the audience comes to realize this perverse secret, it provides a different and more personal kind of shock – the shock that they could ever think of such a thing.
It is this subjective nature that gives Fuller’s films their hard hitting impact. It provides his films with an excitement and provocativeness that puts them at a higher level than Blue Velvet and American Beauty. It is also no wonder that on initial release it was very controversial, not only in its subject matter but in offending the audience. After all, Fuller is basically calling everyone in the audience hypocrites. And the audience goes to view a film to feel good, not to feel guilt.