Clare's Criterion Collection

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Shock Corridor – Review # 4

on August 3, 2013

 90e1d-sc

Spine #19

Available on DVD & Blu-ray

Special features:

  • New, restored high-definition digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • New video interview with star Constance Towers by film historian and filmmaker
    Charles Dennis
  • The Typewriter, the Rifle and the Movie Camera, Adam Simon’s 1996 documentary on director Samuel Fuller
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • PLUS: Illustrations by cartoonist Daniel Clowes and a booklet featuring a new essay by critic and poet Robert Polito and excerpts from Fuller’s autobiography, A Third Face: My Tale of Writing, Fighting, and Filmmaking    
  • New cover by Daniel Clowes

Please note that whilst I try to not give away vital plot details/scenes/developments of the film, some reviews may contain mild spoilers.

Review

The Pulitzer Prize, a prestigious award given in the world of journalism by Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York City.  The award has many categories but I do believe Shock Corridor focuses on the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting.  Whilst this award is seen by some as the pinnacle of journalistic status, how far would you go to win?  The character Johnny Barrett thought it was worth risking his sanity.

A murder has been committed at an unnamed mental Institute.  The police have not been able to identify the killer so Barrett and his Editor see this as a chance to solve the crime in the hope of claiming a Pulitzer Prize.  The plan is for Johnny to be declared insane and committed to the Institute in question.  The opening frame of the film is the famous quote “Whom God Wishes to Destroy He First Makes Mad” The first words we hear are “My name is Johnny Barrett.  I’m a reporter on the Daily Globe.  This is my story… as far as it went”

Quite a start!

The first scene, as the credits roll, is of a long, forever reaching corridor, this is the corridor where much of the film is set.  This is the corridor the inmates pace, play and live out their lives.  The scene switched to an office and we see Johnny, sat in a chair, answering question by a Doctor.  After making an error with an answer we realise, whilst the Doctor is real, the setting is fake.  This is a dress rehearsal before Johnny is sent to the Institute for assessment and committal.  The “fake” session introduces us to the characters behind the idea, Johnny, his Editor “Swanee” and Dr Fong.  Also there is Johnny’s girlfriend Cathy.

The character of Cathy, with a twist, is used as the reasoning behind Johnny’s “madness”  He has unnatural desires for Cathy but not as his girlfriend, but as his Sister.  The trick works and soon Johnny is in his Institute uniform and walking the corridor.  There are 3 potential witnesses to the murder of Sloan:

Stuart:  Originally from Bible Belt, now convinced he is a Confederate General named Jeb Stuart.  He spends all his time re-enacting Civil War battles.

Trent: The only Negro student at a southern University.  He collects pillowcases and believes he is the founder of the KKK.

Dr Boden:  Brilliant scientist and Nobel Prize winner after his work on the atom bomb.  Now has the mental age of 6 and likes to draw whilst sat on the floor.

As you can see, each witness comes with his own problems, ones in which Johnny has to navigate in order to try and determine what, if anything, they actually saw, what is real and what is fantasy.  We see Johnny interact with these, and other inmates, as he tries to piece together the events that led up to the death of Sloan.  All the while keeping up the pretence of being mad, answering the endless questions of the doctors, partaking in group therapy (and being rugby tackled to the ground by a group of sex starved women, LOL ) and undergoing shock treatment (not so LOL).  We see Johnny start to hallucinate as reality blends into madness.

I must mention Cathy, whilst her character is the focus of the lie that enables committal, she is not a central figure.  She visits Johnny in the Institute, is questioned by the Doctors etc but she has to be living her own life on the outside whilst the investigation continues.  She is a striptease artist, a job which, by her own admission is only done for the monetary value.  We see her in the workplace, usual on the telephone decrying the whole sorry situation, from the start you see her objection but she is put on the spot by the three and goes along with the story.

The film plays out at a reasonable pace, not too long and enough time given for you to develop an understanding of the people involved.  This all leads to the final scene of the film, which I will not reveal.  It is both fascinating and heartbreaking, to see what becomes of Johnny, to see the reward for all his effort, having given everything he had, for a Pulitzer Prize. As I asked at the start, what is chasing the ultimate prize worth?  It is up to each person to decide.

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