Sunday, February 17, 2013

Classic Films in Focus: SHOCK (1946)

Released on DVD under the "Fox Film Noir" banner, Alfred L. Werker's 1946 picture, Shock, properly belongs to the thriller category but can make few claims to true noir status. As a psychological suspense movie starring Vincent Price as an unethical doctor, Shock lacks precisely that quality described by its title, which is too bad, since Price is more than capable of making a memorable picture when given the right material. Those who are interested in the long-running tradition of mental asylum movies might find Shock an amusing contribution, and Price fans will probably want to see it just to check it off the list, but noir purists and general viewers might be better off giving it a pass.

Vincent Price plays Dr. Richard Cross, who has the misfortune to murder his wife while another resident of his hotel is able to see him commit the crime. Luckily for Dr. Cross, the young witness is emotionally stressed military wife Janet Stewart (Anabel Shaw), who promptly goes into a state of shock after seeing the murder. Called in to consult on the case, Dr. Cross convinces Janet's husband, Paul (Frank Latimore), to commit her to the care of his own mental hospital, where the not-so good doctor and his scheming mistress (Lynn Bari) attempt to make sure that Janet never recovers enough to tell what she knows.

Price does his best with the role of the morally conflicted Cross, who strangles his wife in a moment of passion but possesses enough humanity to flinch at murdering the defenseless witness. Lynn Bari plays an icy Lady Macbeth to Price's reluctant killer, always urging him on to more outrageous crimes, but she needs to bring more heat to the part for us to understand why Cross would fall under her sway. The supposedly sympathetic young couple fare even worse than the villains. Anabel Shaw's lifeless heroine is one of the weakest points of the film; she doesn't have much personality even before she falls into a catatonic state, and it's hard to root for such a fragile, flat character. As the recently liberated prisoner of war, Frank Latimore's Paul is entirely too clean cut and together, and his concern for his wife never feels particularly pressing. A more insightful story might have done something with the psychological possibilities of a character like Paul, but Shock seems unaware that his mental state ought to be just as fractured as that of Janet or Dr. Cross.

If you're watching Shock, it's probably due to the presence of Vincent Price, who appears to better advantage in films like Laura (1944), Dragonwyck (1946), House of Wax (1953), and The Fly (1958). You'll also find him in Roger Corman's gloriously overdone horror classics, including The Raven (1963). Alfred L. Werker also directed The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939) and He Walked by Night (1948); his career included work on some 50 films from 1928 to 1957. Lynn Bari also appears in Blood and Sand (1941), Sun Valley Serenade (1941), and The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1944). Look for Anabel Shaw in Gun Crazy (1950), a true noir knockout in every respect. If you like stories about mental asylums and their inmates, try Spellbound (1945), Bedlam (1946), and The Snake Pit (1948).

An earlier version of this review originally appeared on Examiner.com. The author retains all rights to this content.