Motion Picture Purgatory: Shock Corridor

Before he became known as Nick Barkley on TV’s “The Big Valley”, actor Peter Breck starred in Samuel Fuller’s Shock Corridor, co-starring the lovely singer/actress Constance Towers. Not familiar with the film? Then read on for the details and Trembles’ take on it.

The flick is being re-released as a Criterion Collection DVD and Blu-ray this January 18, 2011, and its synopsis follows:

Maverick film director Samuel Fuller was doing some of his best work in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and in the years since its release in 1963, Shock Corridor has become a B-movie classic and a prime example of Fuller’s gritty tabloid style. Never hesitant to explore the darkened corners of contemporary life, Fuller depicts the chambers of an insane asylum as a microcosm of American society, telling the story of a cynical, ambitious journalist (Peter Breck) whose obsessive quest for a Pulitzer Prize leads him into the depths of madness.

To investigate a murder, the reporter goes undercover in a mental hospital, having convinced a psychiatrist that he needs treatment. Once inside the asylum, he pieces together clues to the murder, but his own mind begins to deteriorate until he’s trapped in a downward spiral towards insanity. Fuller heightens the melodrama with his aggressive style of filmmaking, and his imaginative use of black-and-white cinematography (by noted cameraman Stanley Cortez) fills the movie with raw, emotional power. It’s the kind of film one would expect from a rebellious director on the Hollywood fringe, and that’s why Shock Corridor remains an enduring low-budget examination of the “rat race” and the consequences of pursuing success at any cost. The Criterion Collection release presents the film in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and a rarely seen color dream sequence has been fully restored.

“Whom god wishes to destroy, he first makes mad.” – (pre-titles)

Rick Trembles' Shock Corridor review

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