Saturday, September 21, 2013

SHOCK (1946)

Twentieth Century-Fox, 70m 6s

One of the best one-word film noir titles, SHOCK opens in San Francisco, where Janet Stewart (Anabel Shaw, HIGH TIDE, GUN CRAZY) plans to reunite with her husband Paul (Frank Latimore, THE RAZOR'S EDGE, 13 RUE MADELEINE), who was a POW for two years. Before Paul returns, Janet's attention is called to the neighboring apartment in which a man and his wife are having a heated discussion. The man grabs a candlestick and silences his wife. Horrified to have witnessed murder, Janet is unresponsive when her husband arrives on the scene. A well-meaning physician (Selmer Jackson) recommends local psychiatrist Dr. Richard Cross (Vincent Price, LAURA, LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN), who unsurprisingly happens to be the wife killer. Cross quickly deduces the probable cause of Janet's condition, and recommends that she be carted out to his isolated sanitarium.

Janet (Anabel Shaw) under the very questionable care of Dr. Cross (Vincent Price)

As John Stanley asserts in the Fox Film Noir DVD's audio commentary track, that Janet and Dr. Cross should become acquainted is best explained as fate, not coincidence. Cross is the classic noir protagonist, haunted by an inescapable past. He has done something terribly wrong that cannot be undone, and sooner or later, he's got to pay. Where did he go wrong? Devotion to the wrong woman leads to deceit, murder, more deceit, and more murder. Nurse Elaine Jordan (Lynn Bari, THE AMAZING MR. X) is the spider woman who compels Cross to consistently do the exact opposite of the right thing.

Janet (Anabel Shaw) is kept in a vegetative state

Director Alfred L. Werker (HE WALKED BY NIGHT) gets a lot out of the 20th Century Fox backlot where SHOCK was filmed. The noir atmosphere is evident in the early going, with a surreal dream sequence that confirms Janet was unstable before witnessing murder. The Cross lodge appears as much a prison as his sanitarium, with low ceilings nicely accentuated by camera placement. Co-cinematographer Joe MacDonald's formidable noir credentials would expand with THE DARK CORNER, CALL NORTHSIDE 777, THE STREET WITH NO NAME, PANIC IN THE STREETS and PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET. Screenwriter Eugene Ling went on to co-write other noir films of interest, including BEHIND LOCKED DOORS, PORT OF NEW YORK and SCANDAL SHEET.

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