Thursday, June 2, 2016

Shock Corridor

Another movie that I watched over the Memorial Day weekend which does happen to be available on DVD is Shock Corridor. However, it only seems to be available on a Criterion print, which is a bit pricey, so you may want to look for it to show up on TCM again.

Peter Breck plays journalist Johnny Barrett, and we see him at the beginning of the movie talking to a couple of psychologists about how he's attracted to his sister. Only, we quickly learn that this is not the truth; Johnny is trying to act like somebody who would otherwside get committed to a mental hospital for having an incestuous desire for his sister. And needless to say, the "sister" -- she's actually his girlfriend -- Cathy (Constance Towers), doesn't like this idea. That's because it's all part of a risky scheme. Apparently, there was a murder at the state mental hospital, and Johnny has the brilliant idea that if he can solve the murder, he'll win a Pulitzer Prize. However, to solve the murder, he's going to have to get into the hospital and talk to the three witnesses, and to do that, he's going to have to become a patient there himself: the three witnesses are all patients, too.

Obviously, there wouldn't be a movie if Johnny didn't wind up getting himself committed, and that's what eventually happens. The three witnesses are Stuart (James Best), who "turned" as a POW in the Korean War, and now fancies himself to be a Confederate general at Gettysburg; Trent (Hari Rhodes), who lost his sanity as a result of the racism he endured being the student to integrate a southern university and now considers himself to be the founder of the Ku Klux Klan; and Boden (Gene Evans), a Nobel Prize-winning scientist who now thinks of himself as a child artist. It's not easy for Johnny to get close to these guys, and as he tries, he also has to go through his own treatment. When you consider that the treatment involves prescription drugs, and in one instance electric shock therapy, you have to wonder what spending all that time in the mental asylum is doing to poor Johnny's mind....

Shock Corridor was directed by Samuel Fuller, the maverick film director who was always unafraid to tackle controversial topics and do so in a compelling way. As such, the movie is full of interesting images. Cathy's real job is as a showgirl at a nightclub, and Fuller shows her routine as being incredibly creepy. Another scene, which has Johnny trying to get out of dance therapy, has him walk in to a room full of nymphomaniacs, who obviously want him. One of the fellow patients who wasn't a witness, Pagliacci, sings opera and looks the part of an opera singer with his corpulent frame and lush beard. And then there are the three witnesses, all of whom get interesting scenes to do.

That having been said, Shock Corridor has serious plot problems. First off is Johnny's scheme to get into the hospital. Stuart Whitman in Shock Treatment a year later did it much better. Here, there's no way the authorities would believe Cathy was Johnny's sister; a cursory investigation would reveal the ruse and there goes your plot. Johnny might get a story out of the experience, but really, would anybody believe the three insane people, especially since only one of them actually reveals the murderer? The police supposedly did investigate, and while I have no illusions about the quality of police work, surely they wouldn't have done such a shoddy job.

That having been said, this is a movie you watch not for the plot, but for the images. For that, the movie does deserve at least one watch; it really is that outrageous. But because of its flaws, it's a movie I'd recommend watching first when it shows up on TV (or renting the DVD/stream it if that's possible).

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