Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Shock Corridor (1963)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Shock Corridor (1963)

In writer/director Samuel Fuller's raw B-movie, a psycho-drama with shocking, exploitative subject matter (xenophobia, racism, hate and violence), and using the setting of a madhouse as a harsh commentary upon Cold War America:

  • the pre-title credits quote from Euripides, 425 BC: "WHOM GOD WISHES TO DESTROY HE FIRST MAKES MAD"
  • the opening voice-over narration, seen as an iris opened onto the corridor ("The Street") of a mental hospital (extended at the end of the corridor by a matte painting): "My name is Johnny Barrett. I'm a reporter on the Daily Globe. This is my story as far as it went"
  • the ambitious and slightly crazy scheme of newspaper-tabloid reporter Johnny Barrett (Peter Breck) to pretend to be a madman, in order to solve a murder in an insane asylum, and win the Pulitzer Prize: ("Every man wants to get to the top of his profession. Mine is winning the Pulitzer Prize"); Barrett received approval from his publisher "Swanee" Swanson (Bill Zuckert) and psychiatrist Dr. Fong (Philip Ahn), and then had to convince his very reluctant stripper girlfriend Cathy (Constance Towers) to pose as his 'sister' and claim that he had an incestuous interest in her in order to be committed; she thought his idea was insane: ("Johnny, you've got to be crazy to want to be committed to an insane asylum to solve a murder") and prophetically warned: "Their sickness is bound to rub off on you," but he assured her: "Those lunatics are not gonna get to me"
  • Cathy's spouted harsh statements about her profession as an exotic dancer, all to save money for their life together: "Johnny, I'm in love with a normal reporter holding down a normal job...Do you think I like singing in that sewer with a hot light on my navel? I'm doing it because it pays more than shorthand or clerking or typing...I'm saving money so we can have that normal life. That's all I want, but I'm scared...I'm scared this whole Jekyll-Hyde idea's going to make a psycho out of me"; when he became derogatory about her fears, and called her stripper joint a 'dive', she struck back defensively: "That dive is holy compared to your ideas of work. Hamlet was made for Freud, not you!"
  • the expressionistic scene of Cathy performing a provocative onstage striptease (before a backdrop of cheap tinsel hearts and an unseen audience that applauded off-screen when she concluded), with her face first completely covered by a feather boa, as she sang the ballad: "Someone to Love" (referring to Johnny); afterwards, she sat in front of her dressing room mirror (with a picture of Johnny in the corner), haunted by her earlier fears of Johnny's scheme
  • the scene of Barrett's initial emergency admission interview with the county hospital psychiatrist Dr. J. L. Menkin (Paul Dubov), when Johnny admitted his incestuous desire and an alleged attack on his 'sister' Cathy (and to play along, she had signed a formal complaint); he had to be physically restrained when he assaulted Menkin
  • after being admitted as possibly having "borderline psychosis," the hallucinatory scene of miniature naughty stripper Cathy performing a feather-boa dance on Johnny's shoulder and tickling his ear while he was sleeping; she acted enticingly: ("The drama critic on your paper said my Chablis-tinted hair is like a soft halo over wide-set inviting eyes. And my mouth, my mouth was a lush tunnel through which golden notes came....And my movements evoke the most inflammatory passions in all...I don't like being alone, Johnny, but you made me be alone, Johnny. And I have a right to find another Johnny"); he murmured back: ("My yen for you goes up and down like a fever chart"); in Cathy's second hallucinatory appearance, she assured him: "All of the men want me, Johnny, but I want you. And you - you want the Pulitzer Prize" (she again began singing "Somebody to Love")
  • the expressionistic, claustrophobic sets portraying the inside corridor of an insane asylum (symbolic of America), where Barrett was finally committed; he beamed: "I made it, I'm in!...And this long corridor is the magic highway to the Pulitzer Prize"
  • the scene of the attack of lurking females on Barrett when he became locked inside the nymphomaniac ward (one was singing "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean"); he was surrounded and then wrestled to the ground and injured - (earlier, one of the attendants had warned him: "I used to work in the female wing, but the nympho ward got too dangerous for me")
  • in order to investigate the unsolved butcher knife stabbing of Sloan that had occurred in the asylum's kitchen, the three interview scenes with crazed inmates (who witnessed the crime), in order for Barrett to decipher the murderer's identity - each represented a major problem in the post-war US - xenophobia, racism, and nuclear war: (1) deranged and bigoted Communist-hating, ex-GI Korean War veteran Stuart (James Best) who believed he was "Dixie"-loving, Civil War Confederate General Jeb Stuart (he had been captured as a POW and brainwashed by Korean communists, then returned, was dishonorably discharged from the US military, and ostracized), (2) another insane patient named Trent (Hari Rhodes) - a black civil rights pioneer (he had been the first Negro student to integrate into a Southern university: "a guinea pig in a classroom") who now crazily carried a sign: ("Integration And Democracy Don't Mix"), and believed he was the white supremacist, Grand Wizard founder of the Ku Klux Klan, and (3) guilt-ridden, brilliant American nuclear scientist-physicist Dr. Boden (Gene Evans), a Nobel Prize winner who helped build the atomic bomb (who regressed and believed he was an innocent six-year old boy, playing hide-and-seek and drawing with crayons); each of the interviews followed a pattern - a delusion, a dreamy hallucination in color (amateurish 16mm footage) - in two cases, and a very brief moment of sanity
  • the scene of black inmate Trent - believing that he was a white supremacist Klan leader with a white pillowcase hood - standing on a bench, and delivering an incendiary hate-filled, racist rant about returning America to Americans: "If Christ walked the streets of my hometown, he'd be horrified. You've never seen so many black people cluttering up our schools and buses and cafes and washrooms! I'm for pure Americanism! White supremacy! Listen to me, Americans. America for Americans. We got to throw rocks and hurl bombs. Black bombs for black foreigners. So they like hot music, do they? Well, we'll give them a crescendo they'll never forget. Burn that freedom bus. Burn those freedom riders! Burn any man who serves them at a lunch counter. Burn every dirty, nigger-lovin' pocketbook integrationist! Collect a lot of blackjacks and good long lengths of pipe. We'll show those rabble-rousers they can't breathe our white air, and go to school with our white children. We'll get some infallible liquid and pour it on 'em. We'll pour it on their homes and burn 'em. Pour it on their pickaninnies and set them on fire. Call out the members of the White Citizens Council. Call out the KKK! Yes, we'll sponsor the Africans north! Get rid of every black mother, son and daughter! America for Americans...Keep our schools white!...I'm against Catholics!...Against Jews!...Against niggers!...Against niggers!...Against niggers!...
  • at the end of his speech, Trent (with the pillow case with eye-slits on his head) fomented a chase after another black patient-inmate by pointing him out ("There's one! Let's get that black boy before he marries my daughter!"), and initiated a full-scale riot when the group joined in and attacked
  • the scene of Johnny's electro-shock therapy treatment - causing a jarring super-imposition of some of his memories (Cathy's dance, other inmates, Trent's speech, the nympho ward, etc.)
  • Dr. Boden revealed Sloan's knife-murderer to be the seemingly-friendly orderly-attendant Wilkes (Chuck Roberson) - identified by his white pants, who was "taking sexual advantage of feeble-minded women in the ladies' ward" - Wilkes murdered Sloan to silence him and prevent him from exposing his crime to the asylum's clinical psychiatrist Dr. L.G. Cristo (John Matthews); however, Barrett's head was so scrambled by the time of this prized knowledge (due to the electroshock therapy) that his recollection of who killed Sloan was fleeting; confined by a straitjacket, he screamed out: "Somebody do something about my head! Help my head! It hurts!"
  • the scene of Barrett actually becoming completely mad when he imagined an indoor electrical thunderstorm; trapped in the torrential rain flooding the corridor, he ran from closed door to closed door as the hard rain pelted him (he imagined a waterfall with torrents pouring down - in color) and lightning struck his body
  • in the film's final few moments, Barrett attacked Wilkes in the hydrotherapy room; their brutal fist-fight moved from the kitchen to the corridor, where Barrett extracted a confession: ("I killed Sloan") from the attendant by beating his head into the floor and threatening to pull off his ears
  • in the ending, the ultimate personal strain and madness suffered by Barrett made him truly insane and mute; Dr. Cristo reported his mental status to Cathy: "John is a catatonic schizophrenic. What a tragedy. An insane mute will win the Pulitzer Prize"; a desperately-devoted Cathy (who still asserted: "He is not insane!") attempted to pull Johnny's arms around her back to embrace her and respond, but he couldn't comply because he was brain-damaged; in a concluding tracking shot, he was seen as a full-time patient in the corridor, with a reminder of Euripides' quote from the opening


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