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.