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RELEASED: 1963, Cert. Unknown
RUNNING TIME: Approx. 100 mins
DIRECTOR/SCREENPLAY/PRODUCER: Samuel Fuller
MUSIC: Paul Dunlap
Peter Breck as Johnny Barrett
Gene Evans as Boden
James Best as Stuart
Larry Tucker as Pagliacci
Constance Towers as Cathy
Paul Dubov as Dr. J L Menkin
John Matthews as Dr. L G Cristo
Bill Zuckert as 'Swanee' Swanson
Chuck Robertson as Wilkes
Neyle Morrow as Psycho
John Craig as Lloyd
FILM ONLY REVIEW
Johnny Barrett is a journalist who has his hopes set on winning the Pulitzer Prize. He has learned of a murder which took place inside of a psychiatric hospital, so, using the advice of a psychiatrist friend, he fakes mental illness in order to get inside the hospital and investigate the murder.
Johnny presents to the hospital staff as having incestuous feelings towards his 'sister' Cathy, who actually in real life is his girlfriend, not his sister.
Once firmly entrenched in the hospital, Johnny befriends some of the patients with the intention of trying to find out what they know about the murder which took place that he is investigating and eventually wishes to publish a book about.....with some interesting results as his own state of mind begins to deteriorate.
Shock Corridor is a skilfully made art noir film, being a brave attempt by its writer/director/producer (Samuel Fuller) at pushing the boundaries. It is mostly shot in black and white, although a couple of short minor scenes which depict various people's thoughts and memories, are in colour.
As far as I can establish, Shock Corridor carries no censorship rating, due to being banned for a number of years. I am uncertain as to whether the ban was because of strong references to incest in the storyline - even though Johnny's claims of having sexual feelings towards his fake sister are merely a ploy to gain entry into the hospital as a patient - or whether it was down to the overall shock factor of the film from the aspect of serious mental illness. Perhaps it was a combination of both?
In more recent years, Shock Corridor has been re-released and transferred over to DVD, and I must say the quality of both the picture and sound is excellent, especially bearing in mind the film is now fifty years old.
The acting by the whole main cast is superb, although it must be appreciated that it is very much in the mode of its era, but it is still nonetheless impeccable. The musical score is also very typical of its time, being dramatic orchestral in nature....a little overpowering at times, but that must be expected for a film made in the early 1960s.
There are many interesting aspects present in this film, especially that of the psychoses some of the patients in the hospital suffer from. The ones which stood out most for me were a hugely overweight man who fancies himself as an opera singer, a fully-grown middle-aged man who has regressed back to childhood and a black man who believes he is the founder of the Ku Klux Klan. The acting from all of these hospital patients is stunning, each one handling a complex dialogue with skill and passion.
As is common with films from bygone eras that deal with the topic of mental illness, the way the medical staff handle the patients and diagnose their conditions is faulty, to say the least, but that is exactly how it was in those days when far less was known about various psychiatric conditions than today. That, along with the style of acting and the music, is something which I feel anybody who watches this film should take at face value and not try to make comparisons with anything from more recent times which deals with the topic of mental illness.
I am certain that when Shock Corridor was first released, it was probably viewed by the masses as something intensely shocking....so very shocking, that it was banished from seeing the light of day until its release on DVD a few years ago. The film doesn't particularly contain any educational 'messages' due to it simply being for entertainment purposes, but it is a hard-hitting drama which is a tortuous journey inside of a mental hospital where many of the patients are extremely disturbed. Having said that though, some of the story does align itself to what was going on politically in the USA at the time, with particular reference to racial tensions in the Deep South.
Overall, despite the crux of the storyline being totally different, I did get a feel of it having some loose similarities to One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest.
Shock Corridor came across as a huge surprise to me once I began watching it, because I was expecting one of these tacky yet highly entertaining early 1960s American films that are out of the same bag as those bearing titles such as, for example, The Ten-Legged Purple-Eyed Monster From The Deep....but, it isn't like that at all. It is an extremely well-acted, highly unusual, intense art-noir drama which held my attention rigidly throughout, and doesn't compromise on quality in the slightest.
I wouldn't say that Shock Corridor is a kind film, because it rolls its sleeves up and really gets down to work, without any kind of pussy-footing or sensationalism. I couldn't help raising a slight smile here and there though at the antics of some of the hospital patients, and I do believe (perhaps wrongly?) that these parts were intended to be vaguely amusing, but overall the mood and atmosphere is darkly fascinating.
Although Shock Corridor was banned (as mentioned above) and more recently re-released on DVD, I'd guess that the topic of incest, despite it being of the fake variety in the film, could upset a lot of people more nowadays than it perhaps did back in 1963, as our societal attitudes to such things has changed monumentally since then.
Would I recommend Shock Corridor? Of course I would, although I'd urge anybody who chooses to see it, to without question accept the little idiosyncrasies which were typical of films made during the latter half of the 1950s and into the early 1960s. Prepare to be fascinated, and I can assure that there is no blood and guts contained within....there is a 'fisty-cuffs' fight, but it is astonishingly tame compared to what we have sadly become inured to in more recent years.
At the time of writing, Shock Corridor can be purchased from Amazon as follows:-
New: from £12.97 to £14.99
Used: only one copy currently available @ £11.69
Some items on Amazon are available for free delivery within the UK, but where this doesn't apply, a £1.26 charge should be added to the above figures.
Thanks for reading!
~~ Also published on Ciao under my CelticSoulSister user name ~~
Peter Breck as Johnny Barrett
Constance Towers as Cathy
Hari Rhodes as Trent
With its tagline of Euripides's "Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad", this 1963 movie is quite an oddity. Written and directed by Samuel Fuller, who made various other unusual and gritty films ranging from the great Film Noir 'Pickup on South Street' (1953) to the strange and controversial 'White Dog' (1982), this film deals with the experiences of a reporter posing as a mental patient so that he can report, from the inside, some dodgy goings-on in a certain psychiatric hospital.
Fuller started out as a reporter himself, so this helps give the look and feel of the film a bit of a ring of authenticity. The style of direction makes it seem almost like a documentary, but it is one weird film, with many surreal moments and almost dreamlike in parts - a really odd mixture. It's in black & white and has a very 'dark' and dramatic look to it, much like a Film Noir.
The main character is Johnny Barrett, played by Peter Breck who has an uncanny resemblance to comedian Denis Leary. Johnny is a very ambitious young reporter who wants to make a big name for himself. So he decides to fake a mental illness and try to have himself admitted to the afore-mentioned psychiatric hospital, hoping to find clues to a murder that had been committed there but that had only been witnessed by three inmates, all of whom have conditions that make them too out of touch with reality to be able to be credible witnesses.
For some reason, Johnny decides that his particular mental illness will be that he has incestuous thoughts about his sister. He gets his girlfriend Cathy to pose as his sister and back up his story, though she's not at all happy with that concept. 'Caressing my braids, kissing them - what a disgusting story!' she snaps contemptuously at Johnny's boss about Johnny's story of how he'd lusted after his 'sister' as a child. 'What happens if they find out I'm not really his sister?' She berates Johnny for his deceit and ambitiousness in taking on this project: 'Don't be Moses leading your lunatics to a Pullitzer prize.'
Despite these initial doubts, his tales of sisterly love do successfully get him admitted to the hospital and now he can set about trying to find the three men and question them - a hard task, as they are all very hard to communicate with. Little by little he starts to piece some information together, but at a cost: having to pose as a patient means he also has to undergo the treatment deemed appropriate by the medical staff, which includes such undesirable practices as shock therapy. As a result, Johnny starts losing it as time goes on. Can he keep it together enough to gather the information he needs and write his article?
This is a fascinating film. It's weird, compelling, and holds the interest. I think it would have been considered a really hard-hitting and controversial film when it was released, though it seems a bit quaint now. But the overall feel of the film is quite unique, being a truly strange mix of Film Noir, semi-quasi-documentary and fantasy. Both the direction and the cinematography are superb, and the dialogue is snappy and hard-hitting. The acting quality is superb if rather OTT on many occasions - there's a lot of shouting in this movie.
There are a lot of strange set-pieces that are sort of reminiscent of something out of David Lynch films, such as a seemingly gratuitous scene of Cathy performing a torch song and strip-tease in a night club in her evening job, which looks like something straight out of 'Blue Velvet' or 'Mulholland Drive', and which seems very out of character with her no-nonsense and straight-laced daytime persona, and then later she appears in Johnny's dreams, standing on his shoulder in miniature form wearing her strip tease outfit of lingerie and a feather boa, taunting him, like one of those 'little devil on your shoulder' scenes from old films and cartoons.
More weirdness occurs in scenarios such as Johnny being befriended by a huge curly-haired bearded man-mountain calling himself Pagliacci who likes, as you may have guessed, singing opera - very loudly, in the middle of the night, when everyone's trying to sleep; and Johnny mistakenly wandering into a women's ward where he is immediately set upon by a group of sexy women patients who appear to be nymphomaniacs. 'He's mine. He's mine! He's MINE!' one of them repeats over and over in a breathy but robotic voice. 'Er, hello, girls,' Johnny says unsurely. They all approach and form a tight circle around him, wrestle him to the floor and attack - they appear to be biting him - while singing 'My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean' in girlish Marilyn Monroe type voices. There's also the odd way the film suddenly bursts into colour stock film footage on a couple of occasions to represent a patient's dreams.
Possibly the weirdest set-piece is when Johnny encounters fellow patient Trent, a black guy who thinks he's white and that he's the founder and leader of the Ku Klux Klan. We first see Trent marching down the hospital corridor brandishing a picket sign reading 'Integration And Democracy Do Not Mix. Go Home, N*gger.' He sits down next to Johnny and cosies up to him, ranting about white supremacy, then spots a black janitor taking a drink from a nearby water fountain. 'Aha,' shouts Trent, 'Let's get him before he MARRIES MY DAUGHTER!' Trent rushes after the poor hapless janitor and it takes Johnny's utmost show of strength to tackle Trent and subdue him.
In fact, many set-pieces such as the above, presented as specific kooky quirks among individual patients, seem to be symbolism for issues troubling society as a whole but personified here in a way that uses the characters as a mouthpiece for messages that the writer wants to deliver via this movie. They are not 100% successful but they are interestingly and thought-provokingly presented nonetheless. Despite the age of the film, much of it is still relevant.
Recommended, as a strange, uneven but fascinating experience.
Also on Ciao as thereddragon.