Friday, January 27, 2012

Sam Fuller: Shock Corridor, Part I

Sam Fuller's Shock Corridor (1963) is a classic film in the same way that Billy Wilder's The Lost Weekend (1945) is: compelling, controversial topic, interesting twists, over the top performances, music and effects. What's not to love? 

Setup: an investigative journalist (played by Peter Breck, who reminds me mostly of James Remar and a little of Charlie Sheen) aims to inflitrate a mental hospital to crack a murder case and win a Pulitzer. His exotic dancer girlfriend Cathy (played by Constance Towers) is dubious. 

Fifty years on, the setup would more likely be a cop, gangster or post 9/11 equivalent doing the infiltration, but in the early 1960s, work by journalists was considered compelling, too: John Howard Griffin's Black Like Me (1961), for instance, or Gloria Steinem assuming the role of Playboy Bunny. These were years when people were curious about such matters.       

In Shock Corridor, Sam Fuller delves into the psychic origins of some forms of madness. Even as the US was on the verge of escalating into a new major war in Vietnam, thoughtful people like Fuller were at this time trying to absorb the Korean War (1950-1953) and its attendant horrors, and there are some overlapping similarities with contemporary films like John Frankenheimer's The Manchurian Candidate (1962) and Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1963-1964).

There are different types of mental illness on display in Shock Corirdor, but Fuller concentrates on three characters in  particular, the men who've witnessed the murder being investigated. One, a former share-cropper who thinks he's Confederate cavalry general J.E.B. Stuart, was a Korean War veteran who'd been captured by North Koreans and brainwashed in captivity, exchanged and later dishonorably discharged. Then there's Trent, the first ever black student in a particular Bible Belt college, who's cracked and since taken on the hatred shown him over the years, becoming a Klansman in his mind. And there's Boden, who's helped develop atomic-nuclear weapons systems and feels the whole world has gone to pieces and who now acts as a child. What they have in common is severe shell shock, acute posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

(A little bit more on Shock Corridor in the next post).

Today's Rune: Possessions.  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of something "The Ghoul" would show in the 70's. Kaiser Boradcasting. "Pluck your magic twanger", and "overdey" are some of the comments he would be making while the film rolled.
Enjoyed the read. MW