Reporter Johnny Barrett (Peter Breck) gets himself committed to a mental institution in Sam Fuller’s 1963 film “Shock Corridor” to solve a murder and win a Pulitzer Prize. With the backing of Swanson, his newspaper editor and convincing his stripper girlfriend Cathy (Constance Towers) to pose as his sister and make a complaint to the police of sexual abuse (he likes to caress her braids) Johnny finds himself a patient at a mental institution. Inside the hospital, Johnny meets a collection of patients including a Korean War veteran who deserted to the communist side and now thinks his Jeb Stuart fighting at Gettysburg; a black man who is a white supremacist; a Doctor who act as if he is six years old and a host of others.
Barrett knows there were three witnesses to the murder and as he investigates, each one gives him a piece to the puzzle until the third witness finally supplies him with the name of the murderer. Problem is the longer Johnny stays in the hospital his own sanity is slowly deteriorating.
Fuller as usual is lurid and blunt about his statement, in this case, about man’s obsession to succeed and rising to the top. There is nothing subtle with Sam. He is so over the top yet you go along for the ride… Today the movie’s views on mental health are dated but there is nothing boring about this film.
Peter Breck, probably best know as Nick Bartley in the 1960’s TV western, “The Big Valley,” does a creditable job as Barrett, a man so possessed with getting a Pulitzer Prize or best selling book out of this story that he’s willing to sacrifice his girlfriend who perjures herself, and even risk his own sanity to succeed. Constance Towers is Cathy, Johnny’s stripper girlfriend is only okay and this may be more due to Fuller’s script than Ms. Towers acting ability. The real acting standout is Hari Rhoades as Trent the black white supremacist. Rhoades is funny, off beat, and powerful as he rants on about blacks, Catholics and Jews.
I like Sam Fuller, his film are always interesting never dull even if not always successful like here where he goes over the top too much. I am especially fond of “The Steel Helmet” which is one the best war films I ever seen and Pickup on South Street. Of the two films Fuller made for Allied Artists in the early 1960’s I always preferred The Naked Kiss, which was his next film, after Shock Corridor.