I picked this movie up in passing while I was purchasing other DVDs. I remembered seeing it on the list of “1001 movies you must see before you die” and also, it was a “criterion collection” movie, so I thought, “This has got to be good”. FYI - the copy I picked up is an older version of the criterion DVD release with the image above.
It’s entertaining and might well be shocking to some given some of the over the top performances but mostly, the movie is dangerous and likely to perpetuate completely inaccurate depictions of the psychiatry ward and therapies therein.
Here’s how it’s dangerous: It begins with the regard of this movie. It got a 93% at rottentomatoes.com, as mentioned, it got listed in the “1001 movies you must see before you die” book, and it is part of the “criterion collection” catalogue.
While the 1001 movies article offers up early that the flick’s director: Samuel Fuller worked in the world of exploitation films and B movies, the DVD insert piece by Tim Hunter opens up with, “Here is an honest, visionary, pulp film, stripped of all romanticism , with characterisation and themes more real and relevant today than ever. To watch shock corridor now is to experience the complex, wacky, full-blown masterpiece of one of Hollywood’s great originals, Samuel fuller”.
I think what many critics including the ones above are referring to is the commentary on society (racism, anti-communism, the bomb, the media) that this work supposedly has. Trouble is, is that that commentary mostly isn’t obvious and to some point may be people making connections that really aren’t there. Both articles throw around terms like “madmen”, and “nuts” which are inappropriate terms.
Shock Corridor as a psychiatric setting isn’t at all relevant today, with the move from deinstitutionalisation and the advancements in fields of medications and therapy (By the way ECT or Electro Convulsive Therapy is nothing like you see in the movies). The setting today is also different in that there is increased effort to decrease the stigma associated with mental illness (perpetuated in this film) and raise public awareness of what mental health is exactly.
Psychiatric wards aren’t these scary places where you can expect to be attacked by a group of woman whom deal with “Nymphomania”, or get attacked by other clients for that matter. You don’t just willy nilly receive ECT or have a co-client breathe down your neck each night. Psychiatry is for acute phase mental illness, but it’s a place to get better. Being in or around psychiatry doesn’t mean you stand to be afflicted with a mental illness as though it were contagious. It’s not.
(Spoiler)At the end of the movie, after the main character discovers the identity of the killer and writes his potential Pulitzer Prize winning article, he becomes catatonic. In the scene, his love interest is pleading with the doctor, “...Don’t you stand there and tell me that there is nothing you can do for him. Why? Why is he like that?”
The doc answers, “Well a man can’t tamper with a mind and live in a mental hospital and subject himself to all kinds of tests and expect to come out sane. John is a catatonic schizophrenic. What a tragedy. An insane mute will win the Pulitzer prise”
Please. If this movie was more serious about mental illness it would portray those with mental illness as people, not some collection of symptoms. It was suggested that John experienced some kind of psychotic break because of his experience at the hospital. If this movie was more serious about mental illness we might have been given more on his character and behaviour prior to his hospitalisation. We might have been given clues to some predisposition to mental illness. But of course the movie doesn’t because it wants to get to the main event: the shock corridor, where an easily excitable John gets dragged out left and right (quite convincingly) and where he inexplicably develops delusions, auditory and visual hallucinations (Everybody doesn’t just develop those in extremely stressful or traumatic situations), leaving the viewer to connect the dots ( a very powerful associating mechanism and is the dangerous element in this movie).
That being said, Fuller does offer up what I might more readily be able to agree is an interesting creative commentary on racism (probably a controversial one). I might also add that this movie was made in 1963 when psychiatry was different. I don’t by any means believe all what I see about the psychiatry scene and of the therapies depicted as that time however and you shouldn’t either.
Those large amounts of inaccuracies aside, it can make for an entertaining watch. It’s just not responsible enough. I'm hoping something was added for the blu ray release to speak to the representation of psychiatry. Hec, at the closer it says this:
“Whom god wishes to destroy he first makes mad”
Euripides, 425 B.C.
Symptoms of mental illness can be controlled by various means while some symptoms may present an ongoing challenge, in some ways as diabetes management presents an ongoing challenge for those with diabetes. If anything “destroys” it is how society is misinformed or don’t know enough about mental illness. It is the effects of those two things in someone’s social circles, employment, relationships, community interactions, support systems, and related self image that “destroy”.