Their Sickness Is Bound To Rub Off On You: Shock Corridor (1963)

To blatantly call a work by Samuel Fuller specific to any genre is to severely undersell its brilliance, this is certainly the case with any of his war movies, as well as his more unusual works such as White Dog. Considering this adding Fuller's Shock Corridor to my horror movie viewing list could be read as a bit misguided considering that it is a psychological thriller more than anything else, however, I would make an argument that the psychological thriller, at least as Fuller creates it, exists a work that also infuses horror elements, particularly when you consider that Shock Corridor makes it absolutely clear that in terms of frightening things, nothing is nearly as scary as human beings controlling the thoughts, believes and actions of others, something that saturates Fuller's narrative.  Of course, one cannot expect a melodramatic drama in good taste when talking about this often contested director, particularly considering that he has a way of being a bit on the nose with his social commentary.  Yet, Fuller's commitment to the absolutely exploitative and the dialogue that results from such avenues makes for one hell of a film that is both cinematically rewarding and socially condemning.  It rides happily on the coattails of everything that went wrong ethically in the late 1950's and early 1960's ranging from nuclear warfare, to red scare paranoia as well as a both brilliant and problematic reflection on race relations in America at the time.  Combined into an explosive and literal strike of lightening, Shock Corridor exists in its own world as a piece of cinema so otherworldly that you could only expect it from one Mr. Fuller.

Shock Corridor considers the experience of one Johnny Barrett (Peter Breck) as he, along with the help of some intellectual friends at his newspaper, plans to have himself admitted to a mental hospital with the intention of discovering who murdered one of the patients six months earlier.  In order to succeed at his task, something he believes will earn him a Pulitzer Prize, Johnny recruits the help of his girlfriend Cathy (Constance Towers) to pass as his sister, claiming that Johnny attempted to engage in incest with her on more than one occasion.  Using this socially condemned act as a means for access Johnny is admitted and plays the part of an insane person while he tries to navigate through the insane to discover who murdered a man named Sloan.  This navigation includes talking to individuals like Pagliacci (Larry Tucker) a obese ex-hitman who identifies as a opera singer, one Dr. Menkin (Paul Dubov) who has regressed to childhood after the burdens of being a nuclear physicist became too overwhelming and even a man whose war experiences left him in such shambles that he believes himself to be a Civil War general.  Along the way Johnny must also face a ward of nymphomaniacs, electrotherapy and the judging eye of the warden.  Cathy begins to worry as it become clear that Johnny's interactions with her are becoming more problematic as his mask of sanity is slowly slipping away.  Despite demanding that he leave and asking for help from Johnny's superiors, no luck is had and Johnny remains in the ward.  While he does discover who the killer was and manages to make him confess, by the time he is released from the hospital he is too far gone and is left simply an emotionless body, much to the dismay of a loving Cathy.

The social commentary in this film is a bit on the nose, considering that Fuller suggests that each individuals mental state is fractured as a result of their problematic interactions with other societal forces, whether it be condemning parents, corrupt mobsters or racist Southerners, all the patients clearly find themselves able to regain sanity when they reflect on the events that led them to the mental hospital.  These reflections are always in color, some abstractions, that nonetheless, suggest that their reality is a grounded place and the grey world of the mental ward has been projected upon each of them by societal condemnations.  It makes Johnny's experience quite interesting in that it is he who makes himself crazy, in his situation it is his desire to obtain a prize, something he finds far more valuable than having a loving girlfriend who is willing to bare skin to keep them financially afloat, a fact which haunts him through much of the film.  Interestingly, Fuller appears to consciously keep every physical interaction in the world of black and white, perhaps a suggestion that even the sanest appearing characters throughout the film also suffers from some degree of insanity, particularly the employees of the ward as well as Johnny's boss who clearly does not have his best interests at heart.  In the end, Fuller makes it clear that anybody is susceptible to insanity and that is its far more important to consider why somebody may have gone off the deep end, as opposed to simply condemning them for their lack of social conformity.

Key Scene:  The two scenes involving electricity are quite well edited and the montages are intense

This viewing is thanks to Criterion having an expansive Hulu page with most everyone of their films, yet, I had not realized that this would be such a beautifully shot film and plan to get the bluray in the upcoming months and so should you.

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