Shock (1946) Psychological-Noir – The mind is a delicate fragile thing, it’s almost as intangible as faith.

SHOCK (1946)

Directed by Alfred Werker (The House of Rothschild 1934, He Walked By Night 1948, The Young Don’t Cry 1957),  screenplay by Eugene Ling, based on a story by Albert DeMond. Cinematography by Glen MacWilliams (The Clairvoyant 1935, King Solomon’s Mines 1937, Lifeboat 1944, The Spider 1945) and Joseph MacDonald  (The Street With No Name 1948, The Young Lions 1958, The Sand Pebbles 1966) Art Directed by Boris Leven and Lyle R. Wheeler. Set direction by Thomas Little.

Shock stars Vincent Price as Dr. Dick Cross,Lynn Bari (Nocturne 1946, The Amazing Mr. X 1948) as Elaine Jordan, Frank Latimore as Lt. Paul Stewart, Anabel Shaw as Janet Stewart, Michael Dunn as Stevens, Reed Hadley as O’Neil, Renee Carson as Mrs. Hatfield, Charles Trowbridge as Dr. Harvey and Mary Young as Miss Penny.

Shock was Vincent Price’s first starring role for 20th Century Fox. It was originally slated as a “B” movie, but it’s unexpected success created openings in better movie houses. Vincent Price possesses an enigmatic sensuality that in my view makes him the complete leading man, tall and romantically brooding with his velvet intonations and his striking features and dramatic flare.

Shock falls into the category of the psychological film noir, where the lead antagonist is a psychiatrist who has committed a crime, and is able to use the resources of his craft to manipulate the chaos created by his act, in a way that sustains his secret. The subject of this tightly woven narrative is a young woman who is portrayed as hysterical and possibly losing her mind, evincing the idea that she is not to be believed. The mise-en-scène is also primarily set in the sanitorium.

 

“The films identifiable as psychological noirs offer much more extreme interpretations of this anti-traditional style. The mise-en-scène of psychological noirs can be classified as operating within two distinct modes, the surreal and the inexplicable. Surreal mise-en-scène refers to overtly artificial visual elements within psychological noirs that are often achieved through the use of special effects, while inexplicable mise-en-scène designates elements that can be either real or not, within the context of the narrative, and only make sense to the viewer once the film’s narrative has been fully revealed”– Matthew Ducca –Film Noir in Context-Psychological Noir

“Here’s one of the best of the season–and I’m referring to Shock, a terrific little picture that , without any particular ballyhoo, steps into the same category as Lost Weekend and Spellbound for intelligent, engrossing entertainment… {Price} is terrific as the psychiatrist-murderer –smooth, menacing and as dangerous as a tiger’s paw.” –-Los Angeles Herald Examiner, March 7, 1946

“…{Price} makes a sufficiently deadly menace…” –Variety

In Shock, Vincent Price plays a prominent psychiatrist Dr. Dick Cross who is having an affair with his nurse Elaine Jordan (Lynn Bari). During an argument with his wife who is willing to give him a divorce but goes to pick up the phone threatening to ruin his reputation, infuriating Cross who loses control and winds up beating her brains out with a silver candlestick. Price is marvelous as he straddles the moral fence between going to police and reporting what he has done and being completely led by the conniving Elaine who is more the pure villainess of the story. Cross states that he didn’t mean to kill her, there was no-premeditation but now that he’s put the body in a trunk and shipped it off to his lodge, he shouldn’t have listened to Elaine and called the police instead. Elaine is ruthless and Janet will talk, only if Dick Cross lets her.

In film noir fashion Elaine drives Cross to his ruination as the film’s malevolent femme fatale. Cross manifests a sort of sympathetic anti-hero, ambivalence with his tormented conscience and his attraction to the alluring temptress who doesn’t have an ounce of humanity in her beautiful bones is finely portrayed with Price’s iconic eloquence and his stylish restraint. Cross is torn between his feelings of guilt for what he’s done and fearing that the police will find out that he is responsible for his wife’s death.

At the center of the story is Anabel Shaw as Janet Stewart, waiting for her husband Lt. Paul Stewart (Frank Latimore) who was believed killed in the war, when actually he was in a Japanese prison-camp. While sitting up in the hotel room, Janet overhears the argument between Cross and his wife, about his mistress and him asking for a divorce. Janet, walking out onto the balcony, witnesses Cross striking his wife with a large silver candlestick and immediately goes into shock.

Janet becomes the film noir figure as the ‘un-believed’ who is in a semi-hysterical state an unable to articulate calmly what she she saw. Ironically is overseen by the one person she has to fear the most, her doctor who is the murderer! Everyone buys into the belief that Janet has in fact gone mad. The paralyzing sense of persecution that envelops poor Janet creates a world of paranoia and confinement.

In one chilling scene later on in the film, shot with a restricted light source stemming from the lightening storm and narrowing warning shadows by cinematographers MacWilliams and MacDonald, one of the patients, the deranged Edwards, at the sanitorium whom the doctors have come to believe is too dangerous to be kept at their facility has hidden a key, sneaks out of his room and enters Janet’s room, where he tries to strangle Elaine. Once Cross arrives in time to save her, Janet comes out of her hypnotized stupor and begins screaming that Cross is the man she saw murdered his wife. Of course the staff just assumes it’s the ramblings of a mad woman who needs to be committed.

Back to the beginning of the film. When Dr. Cross is first called in to consult on the Janet’s condition, he realizes that her room is directly across from the window in his hotel room. He asks her “Did you walk out on the balcony?” when she responds yes, he understands that she witnessed him killing his wife which mostly likely is the cause of her trauma.

Finally, Paul has had enough and walks into Janet’s room, while Cross finds him there, Janet becomes agitated, “It’s him, he picked something up and he killed her, he killed his wife!”

Cross explains to Janet’s husband Paul, “The mind is a delicate fragile thing. It’s almost as intangible as faith.”

Dr Cross convinces her well-meaning husband Paul to commit her to his sanitorium for treatment, where he can watch over her progress and keep her in a catatonic state, sedating, hypnotizing and trying to control her memories of the murder. While under the influence of drugs, Cross tries to convince Janet that she imagined the quarrel and the brutal murder.

Finally, Paul has had enough of not seeing his wife and walks into Janet’s room, while Cross finds him there, Janet becomes agitated, “It’s him, he picked something up and he killed her, he killed his wife!”

“She Knows Elaine, she remembers!”

“Don’t leave me here, he’ll kill me!” Elaine sedates Janet

Cross in a move to illustrate how many of his patients feel paranoia about their surroundings. He explains to Paul that she’s “filled with delusions” even going as far as introducing Paul Stewart to the old oddball Miss Penny who decries that everyone at the institution are murderers and out to kill her! She suffers from Dementia Praecox or Precocious Madness, delusions of grandeur and feelings of great persecution.

To Elaine, it’s the perfect crime, allowing everyone to believe Janet is crazy when she’s really telling the truth. She gleefully tells him, “Well, smile darling, it’s fallen right into our lap.” As Cross becomes more desperate, he does takes on a more sinister role, telling Janet, “You’re losing your mind Mrs. Stewart, you’re losing your mind!” 

Paul isn’t as gullible to just go along, he asks to call in a consultation with Dr. Harvey (Charles Trowbridge) who happens to be Cross’ mentor. Of course Cross consents as to not call attention to his motivation for keeping Janet as the hospital so long. Cross also denies access to Paul, informing him that the shock of seeing him might cause her more harm than good. Even the staff thinks that Janet is having hallucinations.

Paul brings Dr Harvey (Charles Trowbridge) in on the case

While Cross wavers between keeping the young woman quiet and under his control, Elaine’s cold blooded nature urges him to actually give Janet an overdose of insulin. “If a man wanted to, he could get rid of her and no one would ever know… I could give her insulin shock treatment, give her an overdose.” Then they’d be safe. Elaine prods him, “why not… is her life more important than ours.”

But while Cross wavers between menacing moments and weakness which Elaine detests, he does feel sorry for Janet, feeling that he just can’t trick the poor child anymore, that there’s a limit to which even he can’t go. As Elaine takes Cross down memory lane of the first time they made love, he pleads with her, “I can’t do it Elaine, I won’t!”

Biting at Cross’ heals is D.A O’Neil invoking a prototype of Lt. Columbo for me, as he keeps coming back to Cross asking questions and slowly but surely leading him to his capture, by getting a court order to exhume his wife’s body, and telling him they’ve arrested a tramp in the same vicinity of where they found his wife’s body. The drunken intruder who clubbed  another women to death for her jewels, and they found traces under the microscope of silver and wax on her body, the coroner coming to the conclusion that the murder weapon is a silver candlestick! O’Neil asks Cross, “Do you have candlesticks at the lodge?”

Reed Hadley as D.A. O’Neil is as persistent and suspicious as Columbo asking all the small questions that would worry a murderer!

 

Cross is torn between the law closing in on him, his own inner conflict and the seduction by Elaine who wants Janet dead so they can finally be together. After Cross disposes of his wife’s body, put inside a trunk and shipped to their lodge, he dumps the body off the cliff and drives back home, meeting up with Elaine. “Driving back, there was a time to think. I got to thinking about you. I asked myself, is she worth what I’ve done.” Elaine whispers suggestively, “Well?” Cross embraces her passionately, as she utters, “That was a very satisfactory answer.”

in Lucy Chase Williams’ wonderful The Complete Films of Vincent Price- she points out that there are plot elements that are “reminiscent of Price’s great stage success Angel Street-as the smooth, charismatic therapist, Price sits on the girl’s bedside, quietly convincing her that she’s losing her mind.”

Fox’s creative publicity department sent out this statement, “Price’s days at the studio were spent under the supervision of a psychiatric technical advisor. Most of his evenings were spent rehearsing for the Theatre of Romance radio show on which he reenacted the same role in Angel Street that he made famous on the New York stage. ‘So you see,’ laughed Price, ‘I was a mental case both day and night’…

“Although Vincent is rapidly becoming known as ‘Hollywood’s most wicked man’ what with murdering practically every feminine contract player at 20th Century Fox–for films only, of course-he wants to play comedy.” ‘Ah yes,’ punned Price, ‘I’m getting to be quite a lady killer. But you wait and see, one of these days I’ll be killing them with love and murdering women with laughter.’

From Vincent Price (Classic Images, June 1992)

“Shock was an experiment, actually. The studio was spending too much money on films and taking too long to make them. Something had to be done to boost output and cut down on costs. So they asked me and Lynn Bari if we could make a film in twenty days and still have it look like a first-class production. I read the script and thought it was pretty good. I said, ‘Certainly we can do it, if you don’t change the script and louse it up for us’. And so they agreed… The Film did very well at the box office, so Twentieth was very pleased.”

Your EverLovin’ Joey saying Happy Noir-vember and don’t be ‘shocked’ if I scare up a few more good film noir gems to celebrate the month!… and all my love to the charismatic Vincent Price.

 

5 thoughts on “Shock (1946) Psychological-Noir – The mind is a delicate fragile thing, it’s almost as intangible as faith.

  1. “Vincent Price possesses an enigmatic sensuality…” is spot on description of Price.A quality he had even near the end of his career in THE WHALES OF AUGUST. Seems unusual that there were two cinematographers.Do you know why? And much of the captivating look of SHOCK is Lyle Wheeler’s doing.He worked on GONE WITH THE WIND and brought the noir feel to television on PERRY MASON.

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  2. I don’t think I’ve seen this recently, but I may have ages ago. Off to stand on my head like an hourglass in a corner and see what memories drift down, as this sure sounds really familiar (as in it may have played on one of the non-network channels here in NY back in the 70’s)

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  3. I saw this years ago probably on Turner Class Movies! Forgot all about it and now I want to see it again. I stopped following your blog for a year or so when you weren’t writing and I’m so happy to see you’re back at it again! I’ll be checking out the Drive In regular again! Cheerio!

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    1. Dear Franz! Thanks so much for your kinds words. Glad you’ll be checking back in… I had been dealing with health issues for quite some time, but I’m hoping to make up for lost time! Cheers Joey

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