Fifty Years of Shock

On Film / Short Takes — Sep 11, 2013

When Samuel Fuller’s elegantly pulpy Shock Corridor premiered on September 11, 1963, surely few would have predicted we’d look back on it as a benchmark of American cinema. But this intense film—about a Pulitzer Prize–seeking journalist who goes undercover in a mental institution to investigate a murder that took place there and gets more than he bargained for—is now regarded as a supreme example of truthtelling cinema of its decade, no matter how disreputable the independently produced B-picture may have seemed on its release. Few movies of the era dared to say as much about America’s ingrained racism, for instance. It was also the rare drama unafraid of plunging into Freudian psychosexuality. Check out the clever opening scene, in which protagonist Johnny (Peter Breck) lays out the details of his plan with his psychiatrist and his girlfriend (Constance Towers), who’s posing as his sister.