Friday, August 22, 2014

SHOCK


Despite the title and the fact that the film stars Vincent Price, SHOCK (1946) is not a horror film. It's a nifty little film noir that I watched a while back with my buddy Kelly Greene.

Vincent Price was under contract at 20th Century Fox in the late 1940s. He appeared in bit parts and supporting roles in a number of films including the noir masterpiece LAURA (1944). The studio heads at Fox apparently decided to see how Price could do in a leading role and thus, he was cast in SHOCK, in which he received top billing.

Price plays Dr. Cross, a psychiatrist who murders his wife in order to be with his nurse, Elaine (Lynn Bari, as a lovely femme fatale). Trouble is, the murder is witnessed by Janet (Anabel Shaw), a young woman in the adjacent hotel room. Young Janet is awaiting the arrival home of her war veteran husband, Paul (Frank Latimore). But the sight of the murder sends Janet into a state of catatonic shock. This is a neat bit of role reversal. In many post war noirs, it's the men who come home shell shocked and psychologically damaged. Here, veteran Paul seems pretty well adjusted, while his poor wife is the one suffering.

Janet is put into the care of Dr. Cross, which works to his advantage. He figures if he can keep her doped up at his sanitarium, the only witness to his crime can never testify against him. But during the course of one stormy night, Janet comes out of her trance like state and remembers everything. Still, Cross can discredit her story as the ravings of a disturbed young woman who has undergone tremendous psychological stress.

But things start to unravel when O'Neill (Reed Hadley), an investigator from the D.A.'s office starts poking around the circumstances surrounding the death of Mrs. Cross while another psychiatrist, Dr. Harvey (Charles Trowbridge), begins to question Cross's prescribed treatment of shock therapy for Janet.

Although a murderer, Price comes across as a fairly sympathetic character who is urged against his will to act against Janet by Elaine, who is the real villain of the piece. It would be several more years before Price became typecast as a horror star (and he was one of the all-time best in my book). With competent direction by Alfred L. Werker from a screenplay by Eugene Ling and Martin Berkeley (and a story by Albert DeMond), SHOCK is a neat little thriller that has a great premise, a solid cast and a couple of surprises along the way. Recommended.

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