Criterion Sunday 19: Shock Corridor (1963)

Another pulpy noirish overheated delight from Samuel Fuller, this story of Johnny, a reporter (Peter Breck), going undercover at a mental institution to solve a murder probably bears little relation to the current state of either profession, but as a piece of filmmaking it’s punchy and bold. Johnny uses his sceptical exotic dancer girlfriend (Constance Towers) and the help of some willing psychiatrists to coach him in a story about incest that gets him admitted to the instutition, and once there he seeks out the three witnesses to the murder, but in the process loses his mind under the intense pressure of both his fellow inmates, and, more to the point, the ‘treatment’ delivered by the hospital. It’s all rather hysterical, but Fuller was always a torn-from-the-headlines kind of filmmaker, and he engineers some boldly expressionist scenes that use the starkly-contrasted black-and-white images of DoP Stanley Cortez to good effect. It’s a lurid tale about the malaise at the heart of early-1960s America, in particular marshalling through the three mental patients a history of racial unease and building nuclear tensions, and it remains a fascinating reflection of its world.

FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director/Writer Samuel Fuller; Cinematographer Stanley Cortez; Starring Peter Breck, Constance Towers; Length 101 minutes.

Seen at home (VHS), Wellington, June 1998 (and most recently on DVD at home, London, Sunday 15 March 2015).



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