Saturday, November 24, 2012

Shock Corridor

Written and directed by Samuel Fuller, Shock Corridor is the story of a journalist who enters a mental hospital in hopes to get a story about an unsolved murder. The film is an exploration into a man’s desire to become great only to succumb to madness during his stay at a mental hospital. Starring Peter Breck, Constance Towers, Gene Evans, and James Best. Shock Corridor is an intense yet harrowing film from Samuel Fuller.

A journalist named Johnny Barrett (Peter Breck) wants to report an unsolved murder at a mental hospital in which he hopes the story would give him the Pulitzer Prize. While his editor Swanson (Bill Zuckert) is reluctant to let Barrett do this, he gives Barrett the go-ahead claiming that Barrett is having an incestuous relationship with his sister. Barrett’s girlfriend Cathy (Constance Towers) reluctantly has him committed by pretending to be his sister as Barrett goes on the search to find out who killed a man named Sloan. Trying to befriend three witnesses in Stuart (James Best), an African-American named Trent (Hari Rhodes), and a former doctor named Boden (Gene Evans). Barrett tries to get answers but as his time at the hospital increases, he starts to fall apart as the voices in his head along with images start to take its toll. Though he eventually finds out the truth, the big question for everyone close to him is at what cost.

What happens when a man is willing to go way into deep to get what he wants just for the sake of a prize? That is the premise of a film that explore a man’s desire to gain greatness only at the expense of himself as he would start to crumble emotionally and mentally. Even as his girlfriend begins to worry as she is the one who is completely against this stunt where she is forced to play along as she would also fall apart. Once the story progresses as the man befriends three very different witnesses, his search for the mystery of who killed a man named Sloan starts to get more difficult as he would have to endure all sorts of things including shock treatment.

Samuel Fuller’s screenplay doesn’t have a lot of plot but does manage to showcase a sense of realism of what goes on in a mental hospital. Particularly as it is shown from a man who enters a world that is very unique to him and has no idea what’s in store for him. He would encounters characters who definitely seem to have lost some aspect of reality yet are able to live in a world that can contain them. For Johnny Barrett, he is this outsider that finds himself being surrounded by these strange characters as he eventually starts to become more and more insane where he would eventually make everyone else around seem a bit more normal. Particularly as Fuller is suggesting that what’s in the hospital is really a reflection of what is happening at the world as there’s lots of things that is happening that mirrors what is going on during the early 1960s.

Fuller’s direction is truly mesmerizing for the way he explores the world of the mental hospital as if he portrays it in a noir-like tone. While Fuller maintains something has an air of realism, he also creates something is very surreal such as a dream sequence where Johnny dreams about Cathy as she’s dancing seductively as if she’s going to cheat on him. Fuller’s sense of framing of the way he shoots the hallway showcases a world where only Johnny is seemingly out of step with everyone else. Particularly as Fuller uses a lot of voiceover narration to explain everything Johnny is thinking about where it starts to get emotional as if Johnny is starting to lose a semblance of his sanity. Through the three witnesses he talks to, there’s always something that gets him closer to what he can get yet they revert back to their insane selves.

By the time it reaches third act, Johnny struggles to speak out as his voiceover does all of the talking. In a moment where Cathy visits him as she tries to kiss him, he starts to lose control as if she’s the insane one. Fuller would create more chilling scenes with the lighting set-ups and strange inserts of colored images, that were shot by Fuller, to establish the surrealism the characters are thinking about. The framing would have more hypnotic moments to help further Johnny’s insanity as it includes a truly unforgettable scene that plays to his descent. Overall, Fuller creates a truly terrifying yet evocative film that explores the world of ambition and madness.

Cinematographer Stanley Cortez does amazing work with the black-and-white photography to maintain an air of a noir in its look with its shadows and some nighttime interior settings to help maintain a dark mood for the film. Editor Jerome Thoms does excellent work with the editing to create an array of rhythmic cuttings to play out Johnny‘s emotion during his descent to madness as well as more slower cuts in the conversation scenes. Art director Eugene Lourie and set decorator Charles S. Thompson do wonderful work with the look of the mental hospital including the room where the nymphomaniacs stay in that is filled with strange drawings.

Costumer Einhar H. Bourman does nice work with the costumes such as the clothes that Cathy wears including the one she wears for her striptease shows. Choreographer John Gregory does terrific work with the choreography of Cathy‘s striptease to play out the kind of seduction that Johnny sees in his head. The sound effects of Gordon Zahler is superb for the atmosphere it creates in some of the more chilling scenes such as the moments in the dance hall and at the kitchen. The music by Paul Dunlap is great for its sense of bombast and orchestral swell to play out the intensity of the drama that occurs throughout the film.

The film’s ensemble cast is brilliant as it features some notable small roles from Philip Ahn as the doctor who interviews Johnny to prepare him for his plan, Bill Zuckert as Johnny’s editor, John Matthews as the doctor in the hospital, and Chuck Roberson as the orderly Wilkes. Hari Rhodes is great as the African-American patient Trent who believes he’s a white man and a member of the Ku Klux Klan while James Best is terrific as Stuart who believes he’s a member of the Confederate army. Gene Evans is amazing in a low-key yet charismatic role as a former scientist turned artist named Boden who has the mind of a child but the art skills of an adult. Constance Towers is wonderful as Johnny’s girlfriend Cathy who deals with what Johnny is going through as she believes that he’s losing a grip of reality. Finally, there’s Peter Breck in a mesmerizing yet eerie performance as Johnny Barrett as he plays a man bent on ambition only to succumb to craziness through his voiceovers as he starts to go out of control in all aspects as it’s really a performance full of terror.

Shock Corridor is an incredible film from Samuel Fuller that features top-notch performances from Peter Breck and Constance Towers. The film is truly one of Fuller’s great works for the way it explores odd worlds that seems much more realistic than the real world as well as the fallacy of ambition. It’s also a film that showcases a man’s descent into madness in gripping detail that is filled with images that are truly startling. In the end, Shock Corridor is a triumphant film from Samuel Fuller.

Samuel Fuller Films: I Shot Jesse James - The Baron of Arizona - The Steel Helmet - Fixed Bayonets! - Park Row - Pickup on South Street - (Hell and High Water) - House of Bamboo - (China Gate) - Run of the Arrow - Forty Guns - Verboten! - The Crimson Kimono - Underworld U.S.A. - Merrill‘s Marauders - The Naked Kiss - (Shark!) - (Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street) - The Big Red One - White Dog - (Thieves After Dark) - (Street of No Return) - (The Madonna and the Dragon)

© thevoid99 2012

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