Shock Corridor (1963)

Article 3314 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-25-2010
Posting Date: 9-10-2010
Directed by Samuel Fuller
Featuring Peter Breck, Constance Towers, Gene Evans
Country: USA
What it is: Offbeat thriller/drama

An ambitious reporter hopes to crack a murder case by faking mental illness and being committed to an insane asylum; the only witnesses to the murder are inmates there. However, will the extended exposure to the insane destroy his own sanity before he can crack the case?

It’s not a horror movie, but the element of madness obviously plays a role in making it at least marginally genre. The movie walks a very interesting line between drama, crime thriller and exploitation; it manages to be all three without one of them ever really dominating. It’s far from an accurate portrayal of madness or mental institutions, and occasionally it becomes quite campy, especially when our hero accidentally stumbles into the nympho ward. But insofar as the madness of the various inmates is concerned, it works from a dramatic perspective, and the performances go a long ways towards selling the story. The actors playing the reporter (Peter Breck) and the most prominent inmates he encounters (Gene Evans as an atomic scientist gone infantile, James Best as a soldier who believes he’s a general during the civil war, Hari Rhodes as a black man who thinks he’s a klansman, and Larry Tucker who thinks he’s Pagliacci) all give excellent performances. The ironies and dramatic strokes are at times convenient and broad, but once again they work well within the context of the story. Samuel Fuller is a director with a cult reputation, and this is one of his best and best-known movies. It’s definitely worth a watch.


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