Shock (1946)


USA. 1946.


Director – Alfred Werker, Screenplay – Eugene Ling, Story – Albert deMond, Additional Dialogue – Martin Berkeley, Producer – Aubrey Schenck, Photography (b&w) – Joe MacDonald & Glen MacWilliams, Music – David Buttolph, Music Director – Emil Newman, Photographic Effects – Fred Sersen, Makeup – Ben Nye, Art Direction – Boris Leven & Lyle Wheeler. Production Company – Twentieth Century Fox


Vincent Price (Dr Richard Cross), Anabel Shaw (Janet Stewart), Lynn Bari (Elaine Jordan), Frank Latimore (Lieutenant Paul Stewart), Michael Dunne (Dr Stevens), Reed Hadley (O’Neill), Charles Trowbridge (Dr Franklin Harvey)


Janet Stewart signs into San Francisco’s Belmont Arms to await the return of her husband Frank, a Navy lieutenant who has just been released after being held as a Wartime POW. While resting in the room, Janet looks across to the neighbouring balcony where a man is arguing with his wife. As she watches, the man hits his wife with a candlestick, killing her. When Janet’s husband Paul arrives, he finds her in a state of catatonic shock. The doctor calls in Richard Cross, a psychiatrist that lives in the building – but Cross is none other than the man that Janet witnessed murdering his wife. Cross and his lover, nurse Elaine Jordan, contrive to have Janet locked up in Cross’s sanatorium and drugged, claiming that her stories of Cross murdering his wife are part of her delusions. Cross then pushes his wife Margaret’s body over a cliff in a car where her death is thought to be accidental. However, when evidence comes out that her death may not be an accident, Cross decides that Janet must be killed as the only witness.

Shock is a minor B programmer from the great age of film noir. Largely forgotten today, it is best remembered as an early credit in the career of Vincent Price. The film looks cheap and the DVD print available from Siren Visual is poor in quality.

The probable inspiration for Shock came from Alfred Hitchcock’s psychotherapy thriller Spellbound (1945) made the previous year. Vincent Price clearly comes to the film riding on the success of his role as the waspish fiancee in the thriller Laura (1944), rather than the career he built in horror movies following the success of House of Wax (1953) and Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe films in the 1960s. Price brings the customary villainy he would perfect through the next decade. He is smooth and hypnotic as the evil psychiatrist and has a presence that stands out above the routine performances through the rest of the film.

Eventually, Shock overcomes its B programmer status and attains an undeniable atmosphere. There is an intensity in particular to the scenes where Vincent Price sits before the bedridden Anabel Shaw, rhythmically banging the bedside table to hypnotise her and then suddenly telling her that her attacker is now attacking her. Director Alfred Werker develops a modest grab bag of film noir lighting effects that lift the film out of its pedestrianness. There is also an adept cleverness to the plot’s twists – like where Vincent Price suddenly turns Anabel Shaw’s outburst around to make his point about the husband’s presence upsetting her; or where he uses the newspaper report of his own wife’s death to convince Anabel Shaw that she is delusional. Eventually, Werker’s directorial effects and the plot add up to achieve reasonably modest effect amid the film’s otherwise cheap production values.

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