Journalism is a truly wonderful experience. Not just to consume the great, Pulitzer winning works of our time and before it, but to get knee-deep in a rewarding strand of writing. Investigative journalism, clearly, isn’t something I get round to doing often. I’m in the business of selling opinions, portraying them as insightful conversations, and spinning the occasional feature. Never escaping my comfort zone of knocking the arts and everyone hard at work within, Shock Corridor gives me a taste of real journalism, as director Samuel Fuller presents a passionate effort to showcase the lengths some will go to for that acclaimed high point of credibility and respect from peers and colleagues alike.
Johnny Barrett (Peter Breck) fancies his chances at breaking a story big enough to gain him some recognition. I can appreciate the drive behind his character, the feverish desire to claim a prize he believes to be his for the taking, especially if he can crack a murder case inside a mental institution. A strong leading performance, one that impresses me due to its blending of an erratic mind and a forthright passion. There’s still much to be desired, but Breck collaborates well with Samuel Fuller’s consistent direction.
Fuller impressed me with The Steel Helmet, and his directing style makes no real change from that Korean War piece to this hospital-set drama. The setting and characters clearly change, but he’s confident, a little clumsy, and ultimately a strong draw to have behind the camera. He lines the halls of this unhinged hospital with a colourful cast of different characters. Some do try and shoulder their way in, attempting to become far more interesting than anything the plot itself can manage, but there’s no such luck for anyone. Another collaboration between fuller and Gene Evans, we’re shown another example of how great their work together could be. The highs are reached when Breck appears in his most horrifying state of feverish insanity, the lows come in the rather dated moments of fantasy, which strike me as a little odd, even if their intended effect is to showcase our leading man’s gradual instability.
Shock Corridor manages to capture some manic thrills and chilling horror from time to time. Certainly not consistent enough to make this a full-fledged horror, or even that big of a thriller, but in usual Fuller fashion, it falls just short of being a truly great, momentous piece that captures a time of confusion and mind-bending possibilities. He never takes his fantasy moments far enough, never brings us closer to the heart of the storm. Instead, we’re found in a slow drift into insanity, and it does weaken the unique nature of his film. The gradual loss of Barrett’s mind for the sake of pursuing potential glory is a superb fable to tell, but there’s a half-baked feeling running under it all, one that I could never quite shake off.