Shock Corridor (Filmmakers Collection) (1963)

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Released 5-Aug-2007

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Theatrical Trailer-Good quality, sensationalist.Image/ audio as for film
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1963
Running Time 96:01
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Samuel Fuller
Allied Artists Picts
Umbrella Entertainment
Starring Peter Breck
Constance Towers
Gene Evans
James Best
Hari Rhodes
Larry Tucker
Paul Dubov
Chuck Roberson
Neyle Morrow
John Matthews
Bill Zuckert
John Craig
Philip Ahn
Case Amaray-Opaque
RPI $39.95 Music Paul Dunlap

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, Info and voice-over prior to credits.

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis


 "Brace yourself for the biggest jolt that ever hit you in a theatre." 

    In the late fifties and on into the sixties Samuel Fuller produced, wrote and directed a series of low-budget independent films. These predominantly crime films have their equally enthusiastic defenders and detractors. Shock Corridor : Sam Fuller Filmmakers Collection, is a movie from the four disc Umbrella release which deviates from the pure crime theme, and a work from this period which continues to arouse extreme reactions in its audiences.

    Fuller begins his film with a pre-credits quote from Euripides: "Whom God wishes to destroy he first makes mad." A male voice is heard : "My name is John Barrett. I'm a reporter on the Daily Globe. This is my story - as far as it goes." Then we have the credits, and the "story" begins, and instantly Fuller alienates his audience.

    In searing close-up we see John Barrett (Peter Breck) in an intense interview situation, being questioned by psychiatrist  Dr Fong (Peter Ahn) about some sexual relationship involving a young girl's braids.. We think we have come to grips with what's happening, and then in an instant our reality is snatched away and we realise that what we have seen is a rehearsal, a rehearsal for an interview that is going to be part of newspaper reporter John's near future. Reality is a major theme in this film, Barrett later being warned that "Freud was invented for Hamlet, not for you", Hamlet being literature's greatest questioner of reality and "seeming" - "to be or not to be". The scene progresses with a massive amount of information thrown at us. It seems that Dr Fong and his "closest friend",  Barrett's managing editor, Swanee (William Zuckert) "were in psychological warfare back in World War II". There has recently been a brutal murder of a patient in a mental hospital, and Swanee has proposed to Fong that a "plant" posing as a patient in the institution would be able to find the murderer and write a sensational book which would surely win the Pulitzer Prize. Barrett is the reporter who has suggested the assignment, hungry for the promised fame to come from the book. Also in on the scheme is Cathy (Constance Towers), Barrett's girlfriend, a stripper in a sleazy nightclub. Cathy is to pose as Barrett's sister, and to lodge a complaint against her "brother", claiming that for many years she has been a victim of his incestuous advances. Barrett will have to undergo psychological examination for his claimed aberrant sexual behaviour, and what we first saw was tutoring for this examination. Barrett must convince the court psychiatric examiners that he is mentally unbalanced, ensuring that he will be admitted to the mental hospital and able to begin his undercover exposure of the murderer. Cathy calls the whole fabrication a "disgusting story" telling Barrett that he has "gotta be crazy". Dr Fong warns Barrett that he will be "living on a sexual powder keg". End of Scene One. Phew! This has the power of an operatic quartet, the tenor, bass and baritone vocally duelling against the imploring sopranos protestations.

    Cathy has refused to help with the scheme, and her "Johnny" disappears for four days. She is desperate - I Need Somebody to Love she sings, on stage in the strip club, draped in not much more than a feather boa. (An extremely strange shot opens the club scene that really has to be seen to be believed. I was alienated out the door!) Finally Cathy goes to the police and lodges the complaint against her brother. Johnny is charged, and convinces the judge of his "borderline psychosis" leading to his admission to the mental hospital and his journey down "the long corridor to the Pulitzer Prize".

    From this point the film falls into three distinct "chapters", as Barrett talks with the three witnesses to the murder - "with a butcher's knife, in the kitchen". (Cluedo anyone?) However, the solution of the murder is not the primary concern of Fuller's script, indeed it is some time before we learn that the victim's name was "Sloan". Witness number one to Sloan's murder is Stuart (James Best) a young farm boy who believes he is a Confederate general, still fighting the Civil War. Number two is Trent (Hari Rhodes) a young negro who creates the Ku Klux Klan as an outlet for his anti-negro white supremacist sentiments. Thirdly there is Boden (Gene Evans), once a brilliant atomic scientist, now with the mind of a six-year old.

    As Barrett tries to uncover the identity of the murderer, he is increasingly mentally brutalised by his experiences in the institution. There are knife-point threats by other inmates,  hydrotherapy, dance therapy, a rape by a dozen or so female inmates, straight jackets and ultimately shock therapy - for which Cathy has given approval hoping to halt his emotional deterioration. She is shocked to realise that her boyfriend is starting to believe that she really is his sister. This is a misogynistic film, the women in the tale unaware of the insanity in the world around them. In a nice touch, Cathy even mispronounces "schizophrenia". The fellow strippers are a mindless bunch, and the hospital's female inmates are summed up in one hilarious outburst from the trapped Barrett : "Nymphos!"  

    The resolution of Barrett's situation is one which is disturbing and thought provoking. That is the word for this film, provocative. The three "witnesses" seem to be representative of 60s American society as a whole, encompassing racism, communism  and the threat of "the bomb". The mental hospital becomes a microcosm of contemporary American society. As Barrett questions them, he is questioning the sanity of his society, but in doing so he may risk his own sanity. As well as the explicit images on the screen there is the undercurrent of man's playing with reality, of hiding behind exteriors which are acceptable in this insane society, while concealing the dark shallows just beneath. The sexually charged "inquisition" that Cathy is forced to undergo from seemingly respectable Dr Cristo (John Matthews) is as threatening as any dark alleyway. Cristo is always more than ready to share in Barrett's sexual fantasies, but how far would he be prepared to go? "Pagliacci" (Larry Tucker) mimes stabbing Barrett from behind, his hand firmly clasped over the helpless Barrett's mouth. Where is this scene heading? In many scenes there is the apprehension that at any moment events could take a turn towards extremes that would test the limits of the audience. Fuller's world is an asylum and we must be prepared for the unthinkable.

    Technically this is a rough film. The sets are cheap, and the stark high contrast photography emphasises their cheapness - and that of the women. The camerawork itself is brilliant, under the direction of Stanley Cortez (The Magnificent Ambersons, Night of the Hunter), and there are many images that linger disturbingly long after seeing the film. Much of the continuity is poor and the sound recording is rough and edgy. Each witness has a short colour sequence, each sequence in particularly poor quality looking more like home movies. These sequences were originally shot on 16mm in CinemaScope, and were shown "squeezed" in the original theatrical release to emphasise the hallucinatory quality of these coloured dreams. These inserts are still "squeezed" here, and can be morphed to widescreen dimensions, but this would defeat Fuller's purpose.

    The technical  imperfections of Shock Corridor add to the raw emotional quality that gives the film so much of its edge. I can understand those who would say that it was just a rough "B" picture, but there is such a strong driving force within this film, and the roughness somehow adds to the power of the whole experience. The imperfections momentarily alienate us from the narrative, reminding us that we are watching a film. Alienation forces our mind into active thought, even if that thought is simply the impulse to turn the d*** thing off! Alienation is an age old theatrical device and, intended or not, it forces the audience to think. Why am I watching this? What was the director thinking? (That boa!!) What am I to make of this?

    Performances are intense and powerful. Fuller pushes his actors to places I would guess they never knew existed. Peter Breck gives his all in every scene, and Constance Towers is all raw nerve ends, razor sharp false eyelashes and looooong legs. (Hard to imagine her as "Mrs Anna" in the 1977 Broadway revival of The King and I with Yul Brynner.) James Best gives more here than in the rest of his career put together. The other two witnesses, Hari Rhodes and Gene Evans, are also extremely powerful, as is Larry Tucker as the operatic "Pagliacci". Back to opera again. There is so much to think about in this film.

    Samuel Fuller's script is beautifully structured, with the dialogue sashaying from brilliance to puerile trash. This is a compelling, disturbing movie that forces you to think. It ends where it began : "Whom God wishes to destroy he first makes mad."

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Transfer Quality


    This is a very satisfactory transfer of the film, basically in black and white with three short colour sequences.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1. According to IMDB the original aspect ratio was 1.85:1. From viewing this disc, it appears that the film was shot full frame, and then matted in its original theatrical presentation. I viewed the film twice, first "square" and  then "blown up" to widescreen. Viewed widescreen there was no loss of important information at the top or bottom of the image, and the composition of the picture looked more dramatic. When enlarged the image remained satisfactorily sharp.

    The transfer is extremely sharp, with no variation from reel to reel.
    There is very little grain.
    Shadow detail is good, although this is a film of high contrasts and there is little subtlety in the harsh screen image.
    There was very little low level noise.
    There was quite a lot of aliasing, the first instance being at 02:24. Desk edges were a problem (33:30).
    Film artefacts were present, with the occasional slight visible damage (49:00). There were some vertical negative scratches at 28:30. These were the exceptions in a print that was in quite good condition.
    Reel cue marks were still in place, the first change occurring at 18:15.

    There are no subtitles.

    This is a single layer disc.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There is only one audio track on the movie,  English in Dolby Digital 2.0 at 448 Kbps.
    The soundtrack is rather sharp and harsh, with fairly constant low background noise.
    There is some crackle, and the occasional "pop" (36:18).
    There were no drop-outs.

    There is a rather "tinny" echo effect on the voice-over narration which sounds rather shoddy.
    Dialogue was perfectly clear and every syllable crystal clear. There were no sync problems.  

    Music is harsh and sharp, with very little depth. The audio in the strip club scene, with Miss Towers singing to a bizarrely huge orchestra and chorus, is extremely edgy and hollow.
    This is a clear, unattractive soundtrack - rather like the film itself.


Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    The only extra is the trailer.


    The Main Menu is 1.33:1 displayed over artwork. "Figaro" sequence from movie provides the audio.
    The Main Menu options are : Play Feature
                                                 Select Scene : Four screens, each with same collage of three stills and no audio. A total of twenty-five scenes.
                                                 Theatrical Trailer                      

Theatrical Trailer : (02:52) 
    Quite good quality presented 1.33:1.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 Criterion Collection edition is different from the Region 4 release in that :
        *  it has a 1.85:1 non-anamorphic transfer. (I'm sure this image would be matted from the Umbrella image, so no real advantage.)        
        *  it contains an insert with a brief overview of Fuller's career.

    The Region 2 French release is a three disc set :
        * Disc One : Shock Corridor
        * Disc Two : The Naked Kiss
        * Disc Three: Very comprehensive extras.

    The preference here would be a very individual one. The local box set release is good value with a good transfer which seems to be on a par with the Region 1 release, the lack of enhancement negating Criterion's 1.85:1 transfer. Fuller devotees should explore the Region 2 release.


    This is a brash, flashy, harsh, crude and occasionally ridiculous film. Samuel Fuller was a remarkably individual, vital and critical voice in American movie making, and Shock Corridor is probably his most strident utterance. It may look and sound like a sensationalist sexy "B" movie , but there is enough fuel here for hours of heated discussion. This is a film way out of the ordinary. Not a great transfer, but a good one and somehow becoming part of the total experience.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Garry Armstrong (BioGarry)
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
Review Equipment
DVDOnkyo-SP500, using Component output
DisplayPhilips Plasma 42FD9954/69c. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080i.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-DS777
SpeakersVAF DC-X fronts; VAF DC-6 center; VAF DC-2 rears; LFE-07subwoofer (80W X 2)

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