Shock (1946) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
17Sep/100

Shock (1946)

Danny no longer writes for Can't Stop the Movies, and can be reached at his fantastic site Pre-Code.com

Danny LIKEThere's always a way to accuse someone of being insane. Society has embraced the notion of a madman in the body of the everyman, and with that quiet acceptance comes the ability to accuse anyone you want of being a lurking lunatic.

There's also some trouble in trying to disprove you're insane-- most of us have our eccentric characteristics that anyone can point to as a warning sign, though I've often found that the ones who lack the spark of eccentricity are undoubtedly more worrisome.

Of course, when the man who locks you in the asylum has you there because you saw him murder his wife... well, that's a whole new level of worrisome.

Janet Stewart wasn't doing so swell beforehand, though. She's spent the last two years thinking her beloved husband is dead only to receive a phone call one afternoon informing her that he is not only alive but that he'll be waiting for her at a hotel in the heart of San Francisco shortly. She rushes over and nervously paces through the luxurious suite most of the night. Worried that she's gotten her hopes up for nothing, she begins to have dreams, wild and sad ones about the life that she seems to have lost all over again.

She wakes up and stumbles out onto the suite's patio. For another spate of bad luck, she watches in horror through the window across the way as a man and woman engage in a fierce debate. As the woman threatens to retaliate, he begins to savagely beat her to death with a candlestick. Overcome, Janet faints.

Her husband arrives early the next morning and he enters the hotel room to find Janet in a state of frozen shock. The hotel doctor decides to call in a consultant who happens to live the building over and-- wouldn't you know it-- it's Dr. Richard Cross, the same man that Janet saw commit murder the night before.

Cross is played by classic noir/horror icon Vincent Price in a rare pre-hambone appearance. Before he was adopted by the Hammer schlockmeisters over in England, Price was a B-level matinee icon in the states, which is why this might be the straightest you will ever see him play an asylum proprietor and murderer.

Cross realizes fairly quickly what Janet has seen, and has her held in a small asylum outside of town. Even when she breaks out of the shock, him and his lover, a rather deliciously manipulative nurse named Elaine, plot to keep her quiet and the murder under wraps.

What's surprising about the movie is how quickly it shifts from the setup of a lonely woman trying to prove her sanity to the tortured doctor. He regrets the heat-of-the-moment murder of his wife, and dislikes the extent of the dirty deeds he's doing to which the circumstances and Elaine's cooing have driven him.

The movie plays with just the right amount of moral gray area. There's no way you can feel true sympathy for Price's actions, since he obviously murdered his wife, but the camera obscures the action enough to let your imagination be as lenient as you want. That he also philandered seems to be of little consequence until the movie let's the viewer get underneath Elaine's skin in the third act, which is about as strange and ugly as you can figure.

On the same token, Janet soon becomes drugged up and unhinged, and, sans Price's obvious plotting, it could be easy to see her as having gone mad earlier. If the plot had made Price's motivations a bit more oblique, the plot would have been more of a guessing game.

As it is, though, Price endears us to Cross. While poor Janet is saved by a coincidence upon a coincidence, it's easy to see how close she came to losing her life, and just how easy it would have been for Cross to do it. There's a certain trust that we associate to someone prominent who's built themselves into an expert, and watching this unravel in untangled messy passion is fascinating.

Shock (1946)

This film is currently available on Netflix Instant and over at Archive.org.

Directed by Alfred L. Werker
Starring Vincent Price

Posted by Danny

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