Shock Corridor (Blu-ray)
Directed by Samuel Fuller
Aspect Ratio: 1.75:1 1080p AVC codec Running Time: 101 minutes
Audio: PCM 1.0 English
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: January 18, 2011
Review Date: January 10, 2011
Another of the sensationalistic melodramas from the pen and directorial hand of Samuel Fuller, Shock Corridor is an entertaining cinematic ride even if you know where it’s going very soon after the movie begins. As with his other 1960s drama The Naked Kiss, the subject matter of the film touches on topics which would have been taboo in a Hollywood film a decade earlier: incest, fetishism, impotency, and its depictions of a mental hospital come more than a decade after Fox’s mesmerizing The Snake Pit with its more stunning shocks and surprises. Still, there are some fine performances on display and an interesting story here about ambitions overtaking one’s common sense with dire consequences. As always, Fuller makes a movie that’s imminently watchable.
Ambitious reporter Johnny Barrett (Peter Breck) is eager to solve the murder of an inmate at a mental hospital, a murder that was witnessed by three other significently disturbed inmates: Boden (Gene Evans), Stuart (James Best), and Trent (Hari Rhodes). Knowing the hospital’s staff would never trust an outsider to question the ill men, he and his boss (William Zuckert) hatch a scheme to feign Johnny’s incestuous interest in his “sister” (actually his girl friend posing as his sister – Cathy played by Constance Towers) to get him committed. Once inside, the inmates with their various problems begin to affect Johnny as he sniffs around for the truth. Subjected to electroshock therapy and enduring the peculiarities of many of his ward’s inhabitants, Johnny is driven to the brink of madness himself knowing if he’s going to solve the crime, he’d better do it before he’s too far gone mentally to complete the job or be rescued.
Samuel Fuller’s writing and direction are tighter and more in control in Shock Corridor than in The Naked Kiss even if we do get the sense that we know some of the outcome long before we get to it. The murder mystery aspects of the story don’t seem to interest Fuller as much as showing Johnny’s gradual mental deterioration as he experiences continually more of the debilitating effects of living in such a place. Fuller manufactures a couple of rather horrifying scenes to illustrate the repulsion of the place: Johnny’s stumbling mistakenly into a ward of nymphomaniacs who pounce on him hungrily and a climactic “storm sequence” that’s by far the most evocative and effective in the movie. He throws some color inserts into the movie too during moments of mental epiphanies which have a jarring effect but aren’t nearly as suggestive as his regular monochromatic imagery. As would happen a year later in The Naked Kiss, the voice and figure of Constance Towers are exploited for maximum use since she plays a stripper in the movie: we see and hear a song and a striptease to “I Want Somebody” (she has a sweet, sexy voice and is quite beautiful even if her strip moves are awkward and unflattering for the actress), and some of those images are later used in some effective double exposures as Johnny’s troubled dreams begin confusing fiction with reality. But some other moments don’t quite deliver: a fight in the lunchroom can’t match anything in The Snake Pit and a scene of Towers eavesdropping on the hospital’s chief of staff simply couldn’t have happened the way it’s pictured.
Peter Breck gives a praiseworthy performance as the recklessly ambitious Johnny convincing us utterly that his mind is weakening by degrees with every fresh intrusion into his psyche. Constance Towers also gives a desperately emotional performance as the driven Cathy while James Best is at his best as the patient suffering from Civil War dementia. Hari Rhodes is positively chilling as a black man convinced he’s a white bigot railing about his hatred of black people while Larry Tucker makes an unforgettable impression as the opera-loving Pagliacci. John Matthews as Dr. Cristo and Chuck Roberson and John Craig as two hospital orderlies are very effective as the men who become Johnny’s chief suspects at the mental facility.
The film has been framed at 1.75:1 and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. The grayscale rendering of this mostly black and white movie is exquisite with excellent sharpness and superb contrast which gives the picture vibrancy featuring deep blacks and fine shadow detail. Detail overall is excellent with only the slightest examples of line shimmering in an early scene. The three color inserts vary in quality. Shot by Fuller with a 16mm camera, they feature scratches and debris, especially the first of the three and have a wonky symmetry with the rest of the movie. The film has been divided into 25 chapters.
The PCM (1.1 Mbps) 1.0 audio mix is typical for its era lacking in bass and sounding a trifle shrill in its upper registers. There is also a slight hiss which is ever-present during the presentation. Dialogue is always intelligible, however, and inhabits the track comfortably with sound effects and music by Paul Dunlap.
All of the bonus features are presented in 1080i.
A previously unseen interview with Constance Towers was recorded in 2007 by director/interviewer Charles Dennis. In this one she talks about her early career, her refusal of a Paramount contract because she wanted a career in opera, her two films with John Ford, and, of course, her memories of working on Shock Corridor during its quick 10-day shoot!
The Typewriter, the Rifle, and the Movie Camera is Adam Simon’s loving 1996 tribute to the legacy of Samuel Fuller (who died in 1995). Friends Tim Robbins, Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, and Jim Jarmusch discuss his life and many careers including his film legacy with clips from such Fuller films as The Steel Helmet, Park Row, Scandal Sheet, Shock Corridor, The Big Red One, Fixed Bayonet, Verboten!, I Shot Jesse James, Pickup on South Street, Forty Guns, and Underworld U.S.A. The film lasts 55 minutes.
The film’s theatrical trailer runs 3 minutes.
The enclosed 30-page booklet features cast and crew lists, the chapter listing, some film portraits and psychological analyses of various characters in the movie, a reflective essay on the movie by critic Robert Polito, and excerpts from Fuller’s autobiography expressly concerning the making of Shock Corridor.
The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc and the title of the chapter you’re now in. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
3.5/5 (not an average)
Feverishly entertaining, Shock Corridor is another Samuel Fuller melodrama that’s compulsively watchable. Criterion’s new Blu-ray release presents the film with optimum clarity, and some rewarding bonus material makes it an easy recommendation.