SHOCK CORRIDOR (director/writer: Sam Fuller; cinematographer: Stanley Cortez; editor: Jerome Thoms; music: Paul Dunlap; cast: Peter Breck (Johnny Barrett), Constance Towers (Cathy), Gene Evans (Boden), James Best (Stuart), Hari Rhodes (Trent), Larry Tucker (Pagliacci), Philip Ahn (Dr. Fong), Bill Zuckert (‘Swanee’ Swanson), John Matthews (Dr. Cristo), Chuck Roberson (Wilkes), John Craig (Lloyd); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Sam Firks/Leon Fromkess/Sam Fuller; The Criterion Collection; 1963)
“As amoral as a room full of nymphs.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
This low-budget excessive psychological drama is produced, written and directed by Sam Fuller (“Pickup on South Street “/”The Steel Helmet”/”40 Guns”) has the thin plot of ambitious newspaper reporter Johnny Barrett (Peter Breck), filled with visions of winning the Pulitzer Prize, conspiring with his editor Swanson (Bill Zuckert) and wartime buddy psychiatrist Dr. Fong (Philip Ahn) to get himself committed to the state mental asylum ward as a sex pervert to identify a murderer in the asylum known only to three inmates. Strip-tease joint singer Cathy (Constance Towers, Fuller’s wife at the time) reluctantly agrees to pose as her lover’s sister after she’s emotionally blackmailed into going along with this crazy scheme and is pictured as the object of his incest who presses charges against him which soon gets him committed.
Treated by Dr. Cristo (John Matthews) and looked after by sweet-talking attendant Wilkes (Chuck Roberson) and the hostile attendant Lloyd (John Craig), John is allowed the freedom of being in the central corridor which is known as “the street” and is a place where the inmates socialize and the place Fuller uses to shock us with race riots, electrical storms and mad opera singing among other shocks. There John contacts the three witnesses (all causalities of America’s racism, violent history and warmongering) and individually pumps them for the name of the killer, hoping he can catch them in their few lucid moments. Stuart (James Best) is a racist Korean War veteran Southerner, who disgraced himself during the war and betrayed other captured American soldiers to the Reds. He has since withdrew from reality and believes he’s Confederate General Jeb Stuart, who is only concerned about carrying on the Civil War. Trent (Hari Rhodes) was the first black student to ever be admitted to an all-white southern university but cracked from the pressure and now thinks that he is a white supremacist. He uses pillow cases as KKK hoods to complete his fantasy of being the founding Grand Wizard of the Klan and when not spouting hatred against the blacks is determined to lynch the only other black patient on the ward. Dr. Boden (Gene Evans) was considered America’s most brilliant scientist and worked on developing the atomic bomb, but cracked-up and now has the mentality of a six-year old who likes to play hide and seek and draw with crayons. Not a witness but also roaming the corridor is the imposing madman gentle giant Pagliacci (Larry Tucker), who has temper tantrums and is always singing opera arias from the masters.
Johnny at last finds out the killer, but the price is that he has lost his own sanity. Though you need to view this pic by accepting its outrageous premise and campy hysterical set pieces with a sense of disbelief, it tosses out the reasonable moral lesson that you can’t mess with madness without expecting big problems and that unbridled ambition could lead to insanity.
If anything, the sensationalized crudely made pulp melodrama more than lives up to its title. This minor classic is quintessential Fuller, lively as a handful of bees and as amoral as a room full of nymphs.
REVIEWED ON 2/19/2007 GRADE: A-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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