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Fox Film Noir 20
1946 / B&W / 1:37 flat full frame / 70 min. / Street Date August 29, 2006 / 14.98
Starring Vincent Price, Lynn Bari, Anabel Shaw, Frank Latimore
Cinematography Joe MacDonald, Glen MacWilliams
Art Direction Boris Leven, Lyle Wheeler
Film Editor Harmon Jones
Original Music David Buttolph
Written by Martin Berkeley, Albert DeMond, Eugene Ling
Produced by Aubrey Schenck
Directed by Alfred Werker

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Shock is an under-budgeted and thinly scripted psychological thriller that appears to have been inspired by the previous year's sleeper hit My Name is Julia Ross, a clever Joseph H. Lewis film about a woman manipulated and drugged into thinking she has a different identity. Rather literal with its subject matter and artlessly thrown together, Shock follows the story of the culprits rather than the imprisoned woman, and manages few surprises.


Janet Stewart (Anabel Shaw) happily arrives at a San Francisco hotel, eager to be reunited with her husband, Lt. Paul Stewart (Frank Latimore) who has just been liberated from a POW camp. She becomes more anxious when Paul doesn't show up. Then from her balcony window she sees a man (Vincent Price) murder his wife over a love affair. When Paul shows up the next day, Janet is in a state of shock and cannot say what she witnessed. She's turned over to the care of Dr. Richard Cross, a famous psychiatrist --- who happens to be the murderer. Cross spirits Janet to his clinic, where his mistress Elaine Jordan (Lynn Bari) is overjoyed at the way things have turned out. If Janet is diagnosed as insane, nobody will ever take her crazy accusations seriously.

Poor Janet checks into a hotel, dons a beautiful nightgown to receive her lost husband and promptly has an anxious nightmare about losing him, represented by expressive visuals of her trying to reach a door that suddenly grows too large to be opened. She then just happens to witness a completely irrelevant murder in the next hotel room; and becomes the unfortunate victim of psychiatrist Vincent Price's attempts to avoid exposure as the killer. We know every step of the way what is happening, and there are no surprises either. It's just a matter of waiting an hour while Price and his scheming girlfriend gets themselves deeper into trouble, until the truth is discovered just in time.

The title Shock comes into play because Price's Dr. Cross plans to use insulin shock treatments to 'accidentally' silence Janet. The basic threat of the movie is that a friendly doctor in a private clinic could easily betray his patient's trust and do terrible things, a notion that wasn't discussed much in 1946 but was in reality probably as frequent then as it is now, with the occasional nurse or other keeper molesting or even murdering patients. The movie was obviously meant as an acting showcase for Price. His once-ethical doctor character tries to cover up a crime with compromises and further crimes, and in the process realizes that he's losing his own mind.

Of course, it's all the fault of females. Dr. Cross's wife threatens a scandal that will ruin him, and he goes berserk with a silver candlestick. The scheming Elaine Jordan manipulates Cross with promises of wedded bliss, but has a hard time convincing him that happiness can be bought over the dead body of an innocent young woman.

Unfortunately, since the good folks in the story never think to question Janet's situation, they all look like fools. We hope that the cagey DA investigator (Reed Hadley) is really trying to trick Cross into a confession, but the script refuses to back up its wild contrivances with clever plotting of that kind. Dr. Cross eventually behaves completely inconsistently, saving the life of one woman and trying to kill another. The show is in truth an impoverished version of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari: The kindly asylum warden has gone nuts.

Shock also seems to be more of a proto - Horror of Personality film than a film noir. Vincent Price has things in common with other mad doctors in Horror films, and the basic plot set-up seems more appropriate for a loopy Euro-horror giallo. Such a murder mystery would add a scary background story for how the doctor became a madman, various gruesome killings in the asylum, etc. Throw in a slasher killer who turns out to be a cross-dressing psycho and it would become a Dario Argento or Mario Bava movie.

Price is his professional self and Lynn Bari is suitably wicked; I'm only familiar with her role as a scheming band singer in Orchestra Wives so I'll take it for granted that other films allowed her to play more likeable characters. The supposed objects of our concern -- the young couple played by Anabel Shaw (Gun Crazy) and Frank Latimore (13 Rue Madeleine) -- are neglected by the screenplay and direction. Alfred Werker's directing contribution is almost invisible, lending credence to the claim that it was really Anthony Mann behind the riveting visuals and pacing of He Walked By Night.

Fox's DVD of Shock is a perfect transfer of excellent elements, which is a pleasant surprise after having been considered a Public Domain title for many years, and visible only in terrible 16mm copies. The cinematography is professional but reflects the short shooting schedule. The subjective nightmare scene in the hotel has no corresponding scenes later when Janet Stewart suffers in her clinic bed. If it did, the film would probably play more like House of Usher than a film noir.

There are no galleries or trailers, but film writer and San Francisco "Creature Features" TV horror host John Stanley provides a lively commentary that may connect with the more enthusiastic fan types. He heralds the first appearance of Vincent Price as would a big-league sports announcer, and even does a Peter Lorre imitation. Who says commentaries need to be dry and academic? Actually, Stanley does dispense a great deal of biographical information and has a lot to say about Price, whom he interviewed twice.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Shock rates:
Movie: Good -
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Commentary by John Stanley
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: August 12, 2006

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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