The movie SHOCK CORRIDOR (1963), starring 1960s B-movie ingenue Constance Towers, is one of those campy flicks with an often shoddy script. However, it’s punctuated now and again with touching scenes of men in anguish over different social and political struggles (e.g., racism, the Cold War, and patriotism) and how these adversely affect one’s sanity and relationships with others. Borrowing blatantly from the earlier cinema genre known as “film noir,” the movie was filmed in black and white, has several night-time scenes, and highlights some of life’s undersides, such as a strip club. It is there where Ms. Towers’ character dances for the gawking fellas, all to make an honest living while her journalist boyfriend goes undercover as a mental patient in order to investigate an unsolved murder.

Trying to be focused and allegorical, the bulk and heart of the movie take place in a locked psychiatric ward. The stark set is believable but the kinds of mental problems the patients have are laughable, due to clinical inconsistencies of actual symptoms and seemingly arbitrary diagnostic labeling. The script writer has people suffer from a hodge-podge mix of PTSD, schizophrenia, and OCD– to name a few of the diagnoses that come to mind. Clearly, he had done, well, zero research about mental disorders. On the other hand, there were far less clinical studies completed by the mental health academe then that have long since been done. Also, other forms of psychotherapy beyond traditional psychoanalysis were not yet very widespread in 1963.  So, I guess I should cut writer and director Samuel Fuller a bit of slack. If you can turn most of your brain off and watch for sheer period piece early ’60s entertainment, the film is sometimes atmospheric and fun, if often, perhaps, unintentionally so. Preview hint: I’m thinking especially of the scene in which a male patient somehow gets trapped in a room full of raving nymphomaniacs. What was the director thinking (other than him clearly being a sexist pig)?? Oh, that’s right, the movie is campy, and we can leave it at that.

2 thoughts on “Movie Review (SHOCK CORRIDOR)

  1. Your review of this movie made me want to watch it, which I did. I was caught up in the loudness, overdramatizing and fear-based situations that the main character put himself in, the mental patients had to deal with, including being subjected to archaic modes of treatment and the sense that no one had any control over what happened to them. Towards the end, I sensed a familiarity with most of the shows/movies my parents watched at that time which were scary and left a sense of powerlessness over those with power that could abuse it. I’m sure seven years old was much too young to watch or understand that TV or movies were drama, not real life. I loved Peter Breck in Big Valley and thought he did a great job with his role, same for the lead actress. Thanks again, Sean, for another great review.

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    1. Thank you for your well-written input. All that loudness and overdramatizing, and emphasis of fearfulness you speak of all comes down to the purposeful sensationalizing that this movie, other ones, and TV shows from this same time period constantly did. Very formulaic and campy. To me, the over-the-topness is entertaining, when I’m in the mood for it. However, I certainly understand about finding such faire as this movie scary for you as a seven-year-old. It certainly would have been for me as well at that tender age. And as for the powerlessness theme, well, yes that sure is there in the movie. I do think SHOCK CORRIDOR tried to convey more shades of gray around morality and evil, which was certainly very rare for films to try and grapple with during that time period. I’m not sure how much it succeeded in this effort, frankly, though I often found it quite amusing at least.

      Mental patients had far less rights that they do now, which was indeed archaic and downright wrong, given that their humanity didn’t somehow leave them just because they entered a psych. ward. We still have quite a ways to go with mental health in the U.S., but I know I’m preaching to the choir, of course.

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