Shock Corridor Review

Shock Corridor is part of a double disc presentation from Metrodome that also features Samuel Fuller's 1964 film The Naked Kiss. Simply follow the link to read my thoughts on the second movie in this set.

Once banned by the BBFC for it's supposed sensationalism of mental illness, Samuel Fuller's Shock Corridor is a remarkable film. The idea of a journalist going undercover in a mental hospital had existed in Fullers mind at least since 1946 when he submitted a story entitled Lunatic to the Screen Writer's Guild. Though unsuccessful, the germ of the idea appeared in Budd Boetticeher's 1948 Behind Locked Doors and it's still debatable whether the idea was stolen from Fuller or if this was one of the many projects upon which he worked as a ghost writer.

Shock Corridor is a dark, brooding nightmare of a film. Johnny, played by Peter Breck, is obsessed with the idea of winning the Pulitzer Prize ("Every man wants to get to the top of his profession") and decides, with the complicity of his editor, to have himself committed to an insane asylum where an unsolved murder has taken place. If he cracks the case, he believes, the Pulitzer is as good as his. His girlfriend, Cathy, poses as his sister, and he pretends to be obsessed with her and she unwillingly plays along.

From this promising premise, Fuller takes the audience on a journey they might prefer not to be taken. Fuller uses the imagery of the institution as a metaphor and plays with expectations throughout. Johnny is an all-American hero, the newspaper man, determined to seek the truth at whatever cost and this is taken to it's logical extreme. It's possible to read the institution as a microcosm of The United States, all the usual 1964 concerns are represented; race riots, the red menace and nuclear war are each represented by a patient who was a witness to the murder. On this metaphorical level, the question of what the murder itself represents is left to the viewer to decide but it's reasonable to assume that Fuller is at least questioning the morality of Post WW2 America. The film begins and ends with a quote from Euripides "Those whom God wishes to destroy he first makes mad and of course, many Americans believed (and still do) that America is God's very own country and suggesting that the US is an insane society and then using the quote to suggest that God might wish to destroy this society was, perhaps even more so today, an incredibly subversive thing to do. Of course, this is just one interpretation, and the genius of Fuller is that the film is open to many. As to the actual identity of the murderer, and the motive, an answer is provided, but, for reasons that are obvious when viewing the film, it's not at all clear-cut.

One character says to another at one point "It's good to sleep, that's when they can't tell a sane man from an insane man" and this thin line between sanity and insanity is emphasized by the very nature of the narrative. Johnny is sane, apparently, but being institutionalized has a definite effect and this is deeply traumatic for the viewer. Johnny is our voice in the narrative, this is his story and at the start its made very easy for an audience to identify with him; he's successful, wants more success, has a beautiful girlfriend and wants to uncover the truth. He is, as stated, an all-American hero, an archetype seen in countless Hollywood films before this one and to see this hero deconstructed and have his sanity bisected is an uncomfortable process. Without a rational voice to guide the audience, the film becomes less and less concerned with the narrative process and more about the inner workings of Johnny's mind and this gradual deterioration is handled with the utmost skill by Fuller.

Samuel Fuller's direction throughout is thought provoking and evocative. Although the film takes place in only a few locations, it's never static and the impeccably timed pace never slackens. Fuller uses the frame like a canvas and paints a picture that still has the power to disturb. Claustrophobia is heightened by the use of slow close-ups and the camera never rises above the action; the rooms and corridors of the institution seem to get smaller as the film progresses and there are some marvelous scenes that use double exposures to represent the thoughts of the characters. Colour is also sometimes used in a shocking way, that serves to highlight the gulf between the characters thoughts and their actual situation and Fuller's experimentation with technique and form is always a joy to watch.

If you've not seen Shock Corridor and have any interest in film, then you owe it to yourself to see it as soon as opportunity allows. It still has the power to shock and is one of those films that you will return to again and again. This is a film that fully deserves the label of classic and it'll stick in your mind for days after you've seen it.

The Disc

Metrodome have done us proud with the picture and sound quality. The print is mostly damage free and the transfer is wonderful, there is a large level of detail and the contrast is sharp and the the B&W photography still looks wonderful. There is some grain at times but not enough to complain about. The colour segmants are stock footage and this is clear, but to complain about that would be to do a disservice to the film. They are supposed to look different to the film itself and they do. The soundtrack is clear from any distortion and the score is deep and majestic.

There seems to be a possible issue here with the Aspect ratio. The film is mainly presented in 1.33/1, which looks open matte, as there is no evidence of P&S; however, there are some colour sequences and these appear to be 1.85/1 anamorphic which means that they look ‘squeezed when watching the film on a 4.3 setting.

Many thanks to Gary Couzens who has pointed out that "The colour sequences came from a travelogue Fuller shot in CinemaScope and are meant to look "squeezed". (Spike Lee uses a similar technique in Crooklyn.) The correct ratio of Shock Corridor is 1.85:1."


Many text extras here, and quite interesting they are as well. First up, is Film Notes which give a fairly detailed analysis of the film and it's history. You also get a complete Biography and Filmography for Samuel Fuller and Filmography’s of Peter Breck and Constance Towers and these seem accurate and do as they say. You also get a quite detailed Interview with Samuel Fuller taken from a film journal, and it's interesting and detailed and runs for 38 text heavy pages. There's also an Image Gallery which offers images from the film, so no surprises there.

A word about Spoilers, if you've not seen Shock Corridor, watch it before you even click on the Extras option, because the disc has those menus that offer little snippets of the film and the one they've chosen for the Extras page might give something away.

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Last updated: 19/04/2018 15:02:33

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