Tuesday, February 26, 2013

#25: Shock

Drive In Movie Classics
Disc 7: Side A

The movie begins with Janet (Anabel Shaw), waiting at a San Francisco hotel for her husband, Lt. Paul Stewart (Frank Latimore), a prisoner of war returning home after two years. She soon falls asleep and dreams Paul is pounding on the door of the hotel room, trying desperately to get in. Frantic, Janet runs towards the door, which, in typical nightmarish fashion, seems to grow further and further away. By the time Janet finally reaches it, she has shrunk. She is hardly bigger than the doorknob and cannot open the door. Paul is stuck on the other side, unable to get in. The dream ends, but a strong sense of absence and anxiety lingers.

Janet wanders out onto the balcony for some fresh air. Through the window of the room opposite hers she sees Dr. Richard Cross--an impossibly young Vincent Price--arguing with his wife Margaret. “I’ve decided to ask you for a divorce,” he tells her. Margaret refuses, threatening to expose his adulterous ways to the papers. Enraged, Cross goes full-on Clue and clubs Margaret to death with a candlestick. Janet faints in fright. When Paul finally arrives, he finds Janet on the couch, silent and petrified. In a very noir-ish twist of fate, Dr. Cross himself is called upon to examine her. 

“What do you think caused it, doc?” asks Paul.

“It’s hard to say,” muses Price in that faintly menacing, slightly ironic, vaguely lisping way of his. He looks out on the balcony, suspecting Janet may have witnessed the murder. He convinces Paul to let him take Janet to his remote, countryside sanitarium for further study. What follows is a seemingly endless succession of scenes in which Dr. Cross skulks into Janet’s room, hammers his fist on her bedside table and prods her with questions, forcing her to relive the night of the murder and in this way determine how much she knows. When Janet suddenly recognizes her doctor as the murderer, Cross sets about trying to convince the woman that she’s insane.

“Your mind is sick and getting worse,” he tells her. “You wouldn’t want your husband to see you in that condition. He doesn’t even want to see you like this. You’re losing your mind,” he says. “Losing your mind.”

While these scenes have a certain queasiness to them in the way Dr. Cross abuses his role as an authority figure and care provider, they also grow a bit repetitive. In fact, the film loses momentum almost as soon as the action shifts to the sanitarium, a setting which should be steeped in anxiety and paranoia but which--excepting a tense scene involving a thunderstorm and a bug-eyed escapee from the mental ward--becomes rather dull and stagnant. If only the rest of the film had been able to capture the tension of that early dream sequence, which plunges our heroine into a world of post-war uncertainty where her very sanity, less than five minutes into the picture, seems to be in question. Sure, it's a bit derivative of the famous dream sequence in Hitchcock's Spellbound, released a year earlier; but it's still effective, lending a certain ambiguity and psychological depth to Janet that the character loses the longer Shock confines her to bed, an inert and passive victim.

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