Newest Review: ... 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 pictur... more
Warning: pretending to be crazy can make you crazy (Film Only)
Shock Corridor (DVD)
Member Name: thereddragon
Shock Corridor (DVD)
Date: 13/07/10, updated on 15/07/10 (54 review reads)
Advantages: A fascinating curiosity, a bit surreal, unusual story and characters
Disadvantages: Uneven and some straining of credibility
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.
Summary: Strange, sometimes surreal, hard-hitting drama