“My title became Shock Corridor. It had the subtlety of a sledgehammer. I was dealing with insanity, racism, patriotism, nuclear warfare, and sexual perversion. How could I have been light with those topics? I purposefully wanted to provoke the audience. The situations I’d portray were shocking and scary. This was going to be a crazy film, ranging from the absurd to the unbearable and tragic.”–Sam Fuller, “A Third Face: My Tale of Writing, Fighting and Filmmaking ”
DIRECTED BY: Samuel Fuller
FEATURING: Peter Breck, Constance Towers, Hari Rhodes, Larry Tucker
PLOT: Johnny Barrett is a journalist obsessed with reaching the pinnacle of his profession—winning a Pulitzer Prize—and convinced that an unsolved murder at a mental institution will provide him the investigative opportunity his career needs. Barrett arranges to have himself committed so he can interview the three patients who witnessed the crime, over the objections of his stripper girlfriend, who fears that he will lose his mind if he enters the asylum. Once inside, Barrett tries to pry the information he needs out of the three witnesses during their rare lucid moments, but his constant intercourse with madmen, electric shock treatments, and a traumatic incident in the nympho ward take a toll on his own sanity.
- Samuel Fuller, who had made successful and stylish B-pictures like I Shot Jesse James (1949), The Steel Helmet (1951) and Pickup on South Street (1953) for Twentieth Century Fox, began producing his films independently in 1956 to escape studio control.
- Fuller’s script was inspired by journalist Nellie Bly, who deliberately had herself committed to the Women’s Lunatic Asylum in 1887 in order to write a piece exposing conditions there.
- Fuller’s first career was as a journalist; he was a crime beat reporter for the New York Evening Graphic at the age of 17.
- Shock Corridor was made back-to-back with The Naked Kiss (1964), also starring Constance Towers and also dealing with potentially exploitative, shocking subject matter (in Kiss, prostitution and pedophilia). The two films are usually considered to be spiritual siblings and are often screened together.
- The corridor set (the “street”) ended in a painted backdrop meant to give the illusion of stretching off to infinity. Dwarfs were hired as extras to mill about at the end of the hallway to create a false perspective.
- Cinematographer Stanley Cortez had previously shot The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) and The Night of the Hunter (1955), but ended his career lensing schlock like Madmen of Mandoras, Ghost in the Invisible Bikini and Navy vs. the Night Monsters.
- The film was shot in about ten days; Fuller friend John Ford dropped by to visit the set and asked, “Sammy, why are you shooting on this two-bit set?” to which Fuller replied, “No major would touch my yarn, Jack. It’s warped.”
- The color scenes are composed of unused Japanese location-scouting footage from Fuller’s House of Bamboo, from an unreleased documentary on the Karaja tribe of Brazil, and home movies from a vacation.
- Fuller claimed that producer Samuel Firks never gave him his promised share of the profits, but was nonetheless happy with the arrangement because the producer allowed the director complete creative control.
- When Shock Corridor was awarded a special Humanitarian Award at the San Sebastian Film Festival, Fuller reportedly declined with the words “this isn’t a goddamn humanitarian film, it’s a hard-hitting, action-packed melodrama. Give your award to Ingmar Bergman.”
- Shock Corridor was selected for the National Film Registry in 1996 (the prestigious list of films preserved because of their cultural significance stands at only 550 titles as of 2010).
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Though it’s hard to beat the thunderstorm in the corridor, it’s the scenes of Constance Towers as a naughty angel doing her hoochie-coochie dance in a feather boa on Peter Breck’s shoulder while he tries to grab some shuteye that make the biggest impression.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Though it features its fair share of stormy strum und drang hallucinations, Shock Corridor would be a weird movie even without the schizoid interludes. Fuller’s film imprisons us inside a mental hospital full of patients who act nothing like normal people—but the uncanny thing is that they don’t act anything like lunatics, either. They act like symbols. Drenching the film with melodramatic performances, expressionist visuals, outlandish dialogue, and blatant sensationalism, Fuller (consciously or unconsciously) constructs a uniquely nightmarish vision of Cold War America as a hyperreal asylum.
Trailers from Hell on Shock Corridor
COMMENTS:After nearly 50 years, Shock Corridor has lost much of its power to shock Continue reading 80. SHOCK CORRIDOR (1963)