Shock Corridor (1963)

Shock Corridor
Directed by Samuel Fuller
Written by Samuel Fuller
1963/USA
Allied Artists Pictures/Leon Fromkess-Sam Firks Productions/F&F Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Pagliacci: Life is a messy weapon.

Courage and talent mix with an outsider’s view of reality to make a truly weird and wonderful experience of life in a mad house.

Investigative reporter Johnny Barrett (Peter Breck) wants nothing, not even stripper girlfriend Cathy (Constance Powers), more than the Pulitzer Prize.  Oddly, he decides the best way of getting it is having himself admitted to an insane asylum where he hopes to solve a patient’s murder.  He studies for a year to impersonate a man with an insatiable yen for his sister, to be played by Cathy.  Cathy gets very cold feet as the time for admission approaches but Johnny coerces her into keeping her promise to play along.

Johnny starts out well by getting clues from a number of the inmates.  These all suffer delusions.  One thinks he is an opera singer.  A man who turned traitor in the Korean war thinks he is a Confederate general.  A nuclear scientist’s guilt causes him to retreat into childhood.  Perhaps the most striking case is that of a black student who integrated a white university and now masquerades as a white supremacist.  Time in the institution takes it’s toll on Johnny’s own sanity.  His experiences in the “nympho ward” and with electric shock therapy do not help.

This movie is great!  It’s as if somebody like Ed Wood actually had talent and a budget. Fuller gave full vent to his most lurid impulses and it all works surprisingly well.  My favorite bit might be Cathy’s strip-tease.  The camera opens on her face which is totally wrapped in a feather boa making her appear a bit like Big Bird singing a torch song.  And the dance just gets odder and odder.  Stanley Cortez’s (The Magnificent Ambersons) cinematography gives the film stunning lights and shadows.  Recommended.

4 thoughts on “Shock Corridor (1963)

  1. I had the thought watching it that the “reality” outside the ward is just as crazy as that of the inmates. The stripper, the coach, Johnny himself. They are not normal.
    I am sure Fuller had great fun making this and it shows.

  2. I love Sam Fuller’s work. The idea that he’s Ed Wood with talent is perhaps closer to the truth than you know. At the very least, that’s how I’m going to start thinking of him, because he does walk down those same lurid streets–he just does it so much more convincingly and better.

    • The main difference between Fuller and Wood may be that Fuller could execute his fantasy vision and Wood could not. Of course, Fuller could also direct a decent mainstream film, something Wood could not do if his life depended on it.

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