film 5 of 7

Shock Corridor

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 16, 2015

Shock Corridor reminds me a lot of Fritz Lang’s Beyond a Reasonable Doubt. Except that it’s way crazier. Sam Fuller’s film is set in an insane asylum. It’s built on three main, very striking set pieces. They are powerful, and undeniable in their pertinence. There’s been a murder, and there are three witnesses to a murder. They are not, shall we say, reliable, the which fact provides the movie’s dramatic interest, forward motion, suspense. But this is not just intended as entertainment, as witnesses and investigator alike end up being characters in a morality play, the which reference demonstrates how and why Fuller’s sometimes, seeming inelegance is not a problem, or even relevant. He believes unto knowledge, and he wants to communicate that knowledge in as urgent a way as possible. Subtlety isn’t always apt, or even appropriate. When is a loony bin not a loony bin? This is the US, he says, and at an extremely important juncture. What Fuller finds constitutes more than an emergency: it’s all ignorance, and prejudice, and dire proliferation. Of course he’s screaming at us.

Shock Corridor is not just topical, though; Stanley Cortez’s camera work is in its own way as impressive as what he did on The Magnificent Ambersons and Night of the Hunter. Those terrific colour interpolations resemble nothing so much as a Werner Herzog movie. Make that vice versa, eh? We do get some very nice comedy, as with Larry Tucker’s Pagliacci character. Also, there are nymphomaniacs. And our reporter protagonist’s stripper girlfriend, played by Constance Powers (she of the wig removed to reveal a bald head, and the whacking that guy with the heel of her shoe in Fuller’s The Naked Kiss) provides us with some of the most conflicted and preposterous gender discourse in all cinema. She’s certainly a good sport, or a brave warrior. That opening number, its faithful lyrics juxtaposed with those problematical platter hips, gives as mixed a message as the song/video for Beyonce’s Single Ladies.