Shock Corridor Reviews
"The Naked Kiss," a psychological thriller and firm believer that you can find any frightening message in a Norman Rockwell painting if you look hard enough, deconstructed the mythologies of charming suburbia and came to the conclusion that monsters are always slinking around in the shadows - doesn't matter what your social standing nor your reputation suggests. But that film was more inescapable night terror than outright cultural critique; you have to look for the meanings embedded in the celluloid.
"Shock Corridor," by contrast, is a resolute lashing of the many insincerities of the American Dream, growing in its power the more you try to interpret its many symbolic layers. It stars Peter Breck, in a fearless performance, as Johnny Barrett, an earnest crime reporter who decides that the only way he's going to get himself a Pulitzer Prize is by investigating a murder that recently took place at his local mental hospital. Figuring it'd be easier to get to the heart of the truth by immersing himself in the situation rather than stand by as a mere observer, he goes undercover as a psychologically tortured proponent of incest, his stripper girlfriend (Constance Towers, the lead of "The Naked Kiss") hesitantly pretending to be the sister and victim who brings her "familial troubles" to the attention of the police.
His professional dedication so ardent, Barrett puts on a performance that immediately convinces the asylum's authorities of his faux hysteria. It isn't long before he's living alongside unhinged men whose instability seem to have more to do with being victims of society than with being stereotypically mad. Initially does his decision seem conducive: he gets good intel and has plenty of time to refine the various profilings for the overreaching story. But as time passes does he start to feel the effects that inevitably come when you're surrounded by insanity that looms like air being breathed, causing both him and his always rational lady to ponder if getting ahead occupationally is really more important than the putting of one's mental capacity on the line.
In a more traditional genre exercise would the murder that draws Barrett to the hospital in the first place be the pivotal plot point, the thing that absorbs us the most. But obvious is that Fuller isn't much concerned with the story Barrett intends to write nor the intrigue that lines the walls of the forever sanitized asylum. What sticks with us, and what makes "Shock Corridor" so interesting, are the interactions Barrett has with the three men who witnessed the murder, once brilliant men who have since been riddled with derangement after finding themselves not being able to psychologically handle the stresses put on them by a status quo dependent society.
One is a former soldier (James Best) who was brainwashed by his Korean opponents into becoming a Communist (and now believes he's Confederate General J.E.B. Stewart). The next is a black man (Hari Rhodes) who thinks he's white and a member of the Ku Klux Klan. The last is an atomic scientist (Gene Evans) who's reverted to the mental state of a six-year-old.
But the soldier is only so damaged because he was taught racism as a child, changed his ways in adulthood, suffered PTSD during the war, and was tormented by the eventual dishonorable discharge that became him. The black man was one of the first African-American students to attend a newly integrated Southern university but was destroyed by the acrimony that buzzed around him on a regular basis. And the scientist's psyche has been ravaged by the otherworldly stress that comes with the knowledge of nuclear codes. "Shock Corridor" reminds us that you can do everything right, be a game-changer, and live up to the expectations of the American Dream and still fall flat on your face when societal norms seem to contradict everything you've ever worked for.
But while its commentaries are ingeniously placed, "Shock Corridor" still manages to feel weirdly inconsequential, like a hellacious hallucination with a couple of soap box baiting moments to enliven the sum of its parts. I prefer "The Naked Kiss," if only because its idiosyncrasies, similar to those of "Shock Corridor," better suit its pulpy, distinctly ethereal stylistic cues. But Fuller's artistic ticks, crushing criticisms, and glistening dialogue make it a fever dream to make the blood boil, the actors complementing his noirish sensibilities exquisitely.
Anyway, Peary's interesting observations on this movie:
-director's trademark is unpretentious movies for the working class
-you're not meant to identify with the protagonist (interesting, considering the first point) but you do identify with Cathy who (he thinks) is smart, and who's had it worst of anyone in the film
-no resemblance to real mental hospitals
-stuck on the crassness: it goes too far and for no reason but to be tawdry
-filmically punishes people who couldn't handle the responsibility of being race and cold war resisters, and the protagonist who's too ambitious/greedy.
Johnny is coached by an imminent psychiatrist to appear insane and to fabricate stories of incest with his "sister" unwittingly played by his girlfriend. Three witnesses witness the murder. All three were productive members of society until the stresses of war, bigotry and nuclear war regressed them into thinking they were Confederate soldiers, Ku Klux Klan members and six year old kids. Johnny is able to receive information from the three in little periods of time when they become rational before they fall apart again into a case of their delusions.
This is masterfully directed by Samuel Fuller and it's a shocking, disturbing film that shows in 100 minutes how fragile the human mind can be at times.
The starkness of the film is undeniable & all the fascinating side characters that make up the asylum are a movie in themselves.
The film has some wonderful trick effects & has such a feel of tension & unease the whole way through. It's an exhilarating film that's a memorable one.
(1963) Shock Corridor
PSYCHOLOGICAL MYSTERY DRAMA/ SOCIAL COMMENTARY
Written and directed by Samuel Fuller, and despite the critical acclaimed rating, I just wanted to say that before I watched this movie, the ending had already been revealed to me way before I had even started watching it, meaning that the surprising ending effect, had been lost way before the movie was even over. Furthermore, the movie already made suggestions sometime at the beginning, about what viewers are going to expect in advanced. It regards an egotistical, ambitious journalist, Johnny Barrett (Peter Breck) attempting to solve an unsolved murder at a mental institution for the prestigious Pulitzer prize as his goal. He does this by pretending to act like one, for the intention of inquiring 3 specific mental patients who were said to be there when the murder occurred. What viewers are going to subject themselves to, are more than a hours worth of insane people screaming and babbling over nothing, just because this is what they do. There's a reason why I'm not a huge fan of these type of movies that dwell much of it's time in insane institutions, and this is precisely the reason. It is because, I as a sane viewer would have to subject myself to a considerable amount of time listening to actors/ actresses acting insane, even when viewers had already figured out the movie's point way before the movie is even over- it's like witnessing unnecessary additional scenes, just because it's supposed to be a two hour movie.
Footnote: Although, the movie is initially in black and white, it's dream sequences are in color.
2 out of 4 stars