Thursday, July 22, 2010
Netflix'd :: Clearing Out the Instant Que : Alfred L. Werker's "Shock" (1946)
Janet Stewart (Shaw, who really gets her Cathy O'Donnell on in this thing) is an anxious women who is anxiously trying to get checked into a San Francisco hotel before her husband arrives. You see, for three years, Janet thought her spouse, Lt. Paul Stewart (Latimore), had been killed in action fighting overseas, but, it turns out, he had only been captured, was recently liberated, and is now on his way home for a very happy reunion. However, as the hours tic by with no signs of her beloved, an overly distraught Janet drifts off to sleep and has a phantasmagorical nightmare, where she is unable to get to Paul no matter how hard she tries to barrel through all the obstacles her subconscious throws in front of her. And to make matters worse, upon waking up, after stepping onto the balcony for some much needed fresh air, our heroine inadvertently spies a man in the next room beating his wife to death after a dust-up over his infidelity.
This turns out to be too much for the stressed-out Janet, who succumbs to shock and slips into a catatonic state. And when her husband finally arrives, it's in this dire condition that he finds her. But, luckily for him, one of the country's best psychiatrists, a Dr. Richard Cross (Price), happens to be staying at the same hotel and agrees to take a look. Well, maybe not so lucky ... You see, Cross was the man who murdered his wife, and his new patient is the only thing standing between him getting away with it and the gas chamber. If, he typed ominously, she recovers, that is...
According to the fine folks over at Film Noir of the Week, 20th Century Fox had originally planned for Shock to be nothing more than a second feature, but, when it showed strong legs at the box-office, it was quickly bumped to the top of the bill. Most of the credit for that, I believe, goes to Price and his partner in crime, Lynn Bari, who plays his diabolical mistress, Elaine Jordan, who also just happens to be the head nurse at Cross's private sanitarium. And make no mistake about it, though the Stewarts may be the protagonists for this moderately effective pot-boiler, the film belongs to these co-conspirators, who work real damned hard to make the witness even more unstable and unhinged, so no one will believe her wild accusations about her doctor murdering his wife.
Sounds fairly conventional, and it would have been, too, if they had kept going down that well paved road; but where Shock tends to veer off course, and stretch its legs a bit, is with Cross, who, ironically, is Janet's only hope of getting out of this nightmare of a situation / nuthouse with all her marbles intact thanks to his constant crises of conscience. Unfortunately, every time he gets weak in the knees Elaine is there to stiffen things up and get him back on track by *ahem* stroking his ego a bit -- to put in 1940's colloquiality. And as fortunate circumstances for them keeping piling up, it appears poor Janet is completely hootered and will spend the rest of her life eating banana pudding and bouncing off some rubber walls, while her duped husband can only watch on helplessly, bamboozled by Cross's bullshit. Will evil triumph? Or will there finally be a fatale line that femme Elaine can't push Cross across.
Running a brief 70 minutes, Shock is an easily digestible suspenser that won't repeat on you or give you heartburn. And if nothing else, the film proved that Price had the chops for leading man material, and his days as a second banana were soon destined to be behind him.
Shock (1946) Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation / P: Aubrey Schenck / D: Alfred Werker / W: Eugene Ling, Albert DeMond, Martin Berkeley / C: Joseph MacDonald, Glen MacWilliams / E: Harmon Jones / M: Harmon Jones / S: Vincent Price, Lynn Bari, Frank Latimore, Anabel Shaw, Stephen Dunne