Shock Corridor

Shock Corridor is a 1963 American drama film directed and written by Samuel Fuller.[2] The film tells the story of a journalist who gets himself intentionally committed to a mental hospital in order to solve a murder committed within the institution.[3] Fuller originally wrote the film under the title Straitjacket for Fritz Lang in the late 1940s, but Lang wanted to change the lead character to a woman so Joan Bennett could play the role.[4]

Shock Corridor
Film poster
Directed bySamuel Fuller
Produced bySamuel Fuller
Written bySamuel Fuller
StarringPeter Breck
Constance Towers
Gene Evans
James Best
Music byPaul Dunlap
CinematographyStanley Cortez
Edited byJerome Thoms
Distributed byAllied Artists Pictures
Release date
  • September 11, 1963 (1963-09-11) (USA)
Running time
101 minutes [1]
CountryUnited States


Journalist Johnny Barrett (Peter Breck) thinks that the quickest way to a Pulitzer Prize is to uncover the facts behind an unsolved murder at a mental hospital and convinces an expert psychiatrist to coach him to appear insane when it involves relating imaginary accounts of incest with his "sister", who is impersonated by his exotic-dancer girlfriend (Constance Towers); though against her wishes, she is talked into assisting him by filing a police complaint, and his performance during the investigation convinces the authorities to lock him up in the institution where the murder took place. While pursuing his investigation, he is disturbed by the behavior of his fellow inmates.[5]

The three witnesses to the murder were driven insane by the stresses of war, bigotry, or fear of nuclear annihilation.[6]

  • Stuart, the son of a Southern sharecropper who was taught bigotry and hatred as a child, became cynical and angry with the country of his birth. He was captured in the Korean War and was brainwashed into becoming a Communist. Stuart was ordered to indoctrinate a fellow prisoner, but instead the prisoner's unwavering patriotism reformed him. Stuart's captors pronounced him insane and he was returned to the US in a prisoner exchange, after which he received a dishonorable discharge and was publicly reviled as a traitor. Stuart now imagines himself to be Confederate States of America General J.E.B. Stuart.
  • Trent was one of the first black students to integrate a segregated Southern university. He now imagines himself a member of the Ku Klux Klan, and stirs up the patients with white nationalist dogma.
  • Boden was an atomic scientist scarred by the knowledge of the devastating power of intercontinental ballistic missiles. He has regressed to the mentality of a six-year-old child.

After a hospital riot, Barrett is straitjacketed and subjected to shock treatment, and he now believes his girlfriend really is his sister, rejecting her when she comes to visit. He experiences many other symptoms of mental breakdown while he learns the identity of the killer, violently extracting a confession from him in front of witnesses, and writes his story. But his mind is critically damaged, however, and he has to stay in the hospital for an undefined period of time, and Cathy breaks down crying as a doctor tells her that Barrett is now a "catatonic schizophrenic."



Reception and legacy

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 94% based on 17 reviews, with a weighted average rating of 7.86/10.[8] Author and film critic Leonard Maltin awarded the film three out of a possible four stars, calling it "[a] Powerful melodrama with raw, emotional impact."[9] Andrew Sarris praised the film as “…an allegory of America today, not so much surreal as subreal in its hallucinatory view of history which can only be perceived beneath a littered surface of plot intrigue… a distinguished addition to that art form in which Hollywood has always excelled: the Baroque B-picture.” [10]

In 1996, Shock Corridor was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[11]

Martin Scorsese's 2010 film Shutter Island is said to be influenced by this film.[12][13]


Concurrent with the release of the film in 1963, Belmont Books released a novelization of the screenplay, written by one of the era's most ubiquitous and distinctive paperback pulpsmiths, Michael Avallone.[14] This tie-in title itself Fuller wanted to stop Avallone's book for plagiarism (despite having both writers credited).[15]

References in film

  • In The Naked Kiss (1964), the subsequent film directed by Fuller, and also starring Towers, the movie theater near the bus station is playing Shock Corridor.[6]
  • In The Dreamers (2003), the main character is watching Shock Corridor at the beginning of the film.

See also


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