Monday, September 03, 2007

Shock Corridor (1963)

Delirious hothouse mania rules the day in Samuel Fuller's lurid melodrama, which happily delivers all the shock promised in its blunt title and then some. It's ostensibly the tale of an ambitious news reporter (Peter Breck) who devises a plan to get himself committed to an asylum in order to suss out a murderer and hopefully win a Pulitzer Prize, but that skeleton of a story exists only as a vehicle for Fuller to register his distaste for certain aspects of American life in as bizarre and overheated a way as possible. Jeremiads against Communist fervor, racism/anti-segregationism and the proliferation of war technology tear through the fabric of the narrative like rocks through a greenhouse, all rendered in the most brusque and lapel-grabbing way possible, though even the most vivid language I can conjure can't quite describe the sight of a black man shouting racist sentiments and wearing a sign proclaiming "Go Home Nigger." Meanwhile, despite the pulpy B-kick, Fuller's direction is cannier than first blush would have it: the first scene wherein Breck enters the asylum is filmed so that Breck passes through a tunnel of heavy shadow and darkness, then exits into bright, sterile hospital light, thus pointing up the seeming calmness of the asylum as a facade for a hellish nightmare, and the various inmates' moments of clarity are shown as carefully edited barrages of color footage that plays off nicely against the noirish black-and-white of the main story. And then there's scenes like the bit where Breck is savaged by a group of sexually insatiable women ("Nymphos!") while someone tunelessly croons "My Bonny Lies Over the Ocean" -- the whole scene plays like a scabrously funny outtake from Night of the Living Dead except that this is from five years prior to Romero's masterpiece so advantage Fuller. It would seem like splashy hyperbole to call this operatic except that Fuller makes the comparison himself by including Larry Tucker (of the awesome, underseen noir de nihilism Blast of Silence) in the character of Pagliacci, an immense mental patient who wanders around singing from The Barber of Seville. The structure is a bit repetitive, but the genius is in the details, and trash cinema has fewer pinnacles more dizzying than this.

Grade: A-

2 Comments:

Blogger Jeff Duncanson said...

I came a bit late to the party where the films of Sam Fuller are concerned, but you pretty much nailed it about the great SC. Fullers pulp sensibilites and newspaper background inform much all his stuff. My favorite Fuller is his terrific noir "Underworld USA" and I will do a commentary on it someday, providing I can get my hands on a copy.

8:05 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

This, surprisingly, is only the third Fuller I've seen (behind Pickup on South Street and White Dog). I have to say, I like the cut of his jib. I've got The Naked Kiss taped already, and on your recommendation, I'll keep an eye out for TCM to play Underworld USA one day. (They play everything eventually -- hell, this month they're playing A Child Is Waiting and the forgotten Peter Cushing vehicle Corruption.)

12:17 AM  

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