SHOCK CORRIDOR deals with an insane idea, is set in an insane asylum, and feels insane while you watch it. Written, produced & directed from the feverish imagination of Samuel Fuller, it’s now a cult film among champions of Fuller’s no-holds-barred style, and the jolting impact, a mix of mirth at its excess and bravo for its passion, has you shaking your head over the wallop it must have had (for the relatively few who saw it) back in 1963.
Desperate to break a murder story he’s certain will catapult him to a Pulitzer, intense reporter Peter Breck (34, two years before hitting paydirt in The Big Valley) pretends to be a sex deviant in order to get put into a mental hospital undercover (where the murder occurred). His stripper girlfriend (Constance Towers), his editor and a psychiatrist pal (some friend) go along with the ploy. Bad idea. Whether the movie itself a bad idea is open to interpretation. Fuller’s defenders see him bravely pointing an angry finger (shoving it in your eye) at American societies hypocrisy–racism, pursuit of fame, sex hysteria, corrupt authority, science serving destruction, lensed through his deeply confused characters and their spouted declarations, ramblings and admissions. Amused scoffers see cheap sensationalism, wingding histrionics, garbled exposition and mangled theorizing. It’s a free country.
Shot in a lightning ten days (!) on a few barely dressed sets, photographed in stark black & white by the esteemed Stanley Cortez, it gets experimental when a few color scenes Fuller shot for other projects are inserted for dream sequences. Fuller & Cortez’ lingering shots of provocatively attired Towers are downright lurid, but she was gutsy enough to say “to hell with decorum”: her bump & grind number a far cry from the demure ladies she played in The Horse Soldiers and Sergeant Rutledge.
Fuller’s hysteria-pitched script suits the wall-to-wall demented behavior, which starts from scene one and never lets up until the closing kick in the teeth. Full-throttle performances from the leads and key supporting ‘cases’ are so daring and baring that if higher-profile actors were doing them, and in the same way, they’d have likely received awards nominations. Great work from Breck (this guy can howl!), Tower, James Best (shattered), Hari Rhodes (furious), Gene Evans (logically out to lunch) and Larry Tucker (is this guy an actor or an actual patient?) Longtime stunt double for John Wayne and frequent bit player Chuck Roberson is allowed the most dialogue he’d ever been given, and does fine by it. Others ripping holes in their vocal chords include Paul Dubov, William Zuckert, Neil Morrow, John Matthews, John Craig and Philip Ahn.
Nonsensical & ridiculous, bracing and nightmarish, cartoonish and starkly honest—and then there are the “Nymphos“–ravenously attacking Breck in one of the most bizarre scenes of the decade. Many Fuller fans consider this a subversive masterpiece. I wouldn’t go that far (or close), but it’s quite a trip, one that isn’t afraid to hit you smack dab in the kisser and sticks with you afterwards. 101 minutes.
’63 was dominated by epics, but this found a niche with several other releases that dealt with mental illness, psychic trauma or the developmentally disabled: The Caretakers, David And Lisa, A Child Is Waiting and Captain Newman M.D.