Shock Corridor (1963)
May 31, 2016 6:23 PM - Subscribe

Bent on winning a Pulitzer Prize, a journalist commits himself to a mental institution to solve a strange and unclear murder.

Slant: Hysteria is the steady tone of Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor, a pulpy, feverish nightmare of a mental hospital as a metaphor for 1963 America. One of Fuller’s low-budget, cultishly adored features that followed his departure from 20th Century Fox, this melodrama maps the descent of a journalistic Icarus (Peter Breck) who feigns an incestuous mania for his sister—actually his wholesome stripper girlfriend (Constance Towers), grimly playing along after issuing Cassandra-like doubts—so he can be committed to an institution where a patient has been the victim of an unsolved murder. Fuller’s trademark of white-hot, idiosyncratic narrative that owes a stylistic debt to his youthful career in tabloid journalism unfailingly draws laughter in contemporary revival houses with its purple, punchy dialogue (“Do you think I like singing in that sewer with a hot light on my navel?” Towers’s nightclub angel pleads at one point). But with its focused, expressionistic marriage of florid, theatrically conceived “madness” and bleak social commentary, Fuller’s film overqualifies him as an artist to reckon with; it’s cinema pumped purely from the auteur’s heart.

NYTimes: In illustrating, that journalism can be a hard way to make an honest dollar, Mr. Fuller and his dedicated cast also have made their "Shock Corridor" vividly shocking, if not a scientist's dream.

Peter Bogdanovich: On his way down the long corridor of the title, the reporter digs up information from three inmate witnesses to the murder: a nuclear scientist who’s now drawing pictures like a six-year-old (Gene Evans); a Southern Civil War fanatic who went over to the Russians during the Korean War (James Best); and a black man (Hari Rhodes) who has been driven to becoming a rabid racist, a hater of himself and all who are not “100% American.” When this character—-one of the best acted in an otherwise uneven ensemble—-puts on a Ku Klux Klan hood and starts spouting racist vitriol, the picture’s subversive intentions become clear, and the image it projects so ironically of America’s worst tensions is as sharp and vivid as a slap in the face.

Not all of the movie is as potent, some of the plot machinations are pretty implausible, and sometimes clumsily handled, yet the almost primitive simplicity of the bold and daring concept manages to prevail. Shock Corridor is a picture which, if presented in Polish or German with English subtitles, would be considered an unqualified masterpiece.

It isn’t quite that. The very best of Fuller includes all of his war pictures—-Spielberg claimed Fuller as his major influence on Saving Private Ryan—-and the riveting Richard Widmark crime melodrama, Pickup on South Street (see Picture of the Week 9/18/10), the bizarre Barbara Stanwyck western, Forty Guns, the viciously compelling Mafia film with Cliff Robertson, Underworld, U.S.A. These should be seen before Shock Corridor, which is for those of us who already love Sammy Fuller, and can see around its faults–its budgetary, casting, and time limitations–to the wonderfully exciting, strangely innocent, and deeply moral man within.

Culture Court: Whom God Wishes To Destroy... He First Turns Mad.

Fuller bookends this film with the famous Euripides quote, just one of many "intellectual" references he makes throughout the movie (Hamlet, Freudian psychology, Dickens), which must have further widened the gap between the movie and its probably-uneducated audience. The trailer which comes with the DVD hypes this film as "incredibly realistic", clinically diagnoses the main characters, shows quick clips of virtually all the sex and violence, and promises an evening of entertainment that "Breaks The Shock Barrier!" with the "Biggest Jolt!". Audiences sucked in by this taboo-laden trailer must have been extraordinarily shocked by what they were actually shown. Rather than gasping at nothing but the violent antics of sex-mad crazies, they found themselves in an aggressive allegory, no doubt vaguely worried that all the mayhem on the screen might have a deeper, more sinister meaning. It does. Fuller's warning is the obverse of Euripides': because America is mad, that's proof of God's plan to destroy it. Shock Corridor offers a montage of "proofs" to back Fuller's then-radical assertion.

The Guardian: Possibly Fuller made better films, such as The Naked Kiss and Pick Up on South Street. Shock Corridor, though, is a good introduction to the artless art of a true original. I did two Guardian interviews with him at the National Film Theatre, when he was a still incredibly energetic old man. But by then, chewing his regulation cigar and spitting out aphorisms, he had cast himself in the guise expected by his adoring fans. Vastly entertaining as it was, you couldn't get beyond that to the real man. Truffaut put his worth as well as any. "Sam Fuller," he wrote, "is not a beginner, he is a primitive; his mind is not rudimentary, it is rude; his films are not simplistic, they are simple, and it is this simplicity I most admire."

Full movie on YouTube

posted by MoonOrb (3 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This is one of the weirdest movies ever. I think I kind of bailed when the dude sang "Largo al Factotum" from Barber of Seville while waving a knife around for a full three minutes (or thereabouts). It just sort of caused a power outage in my brain or something.
posted by holborne at 9:21 AM on June 1, 2016

posted by paper chromatographologist at 11:35 AM on June 1, 2016

Samuel Fuller was ideologically so ahead of his time. I also really recommend The Naked Kiss, about a prostitute who moves to a small town but still has to run from her past life. Also starring Constance Towers.
posted by JauntyFedora at 5:12 PM on June 2, 2016

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