This post is in participation with The Lauren Bacall Blogathon hosted by In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood.
The winsome & sultry Lauren Bacall steps out of character as screen legend, noir goddess & trend setting icon…
To Have and Have Not (1944), The Big Sleep (1946), Key Largo (1948) Dark Passage (1947) Young Man with A Horn (1950) Designing Women (1957) and so much more!
… And embarks on a role as the icy cold psychologist/Animal Behavioral Researcher, and a Praying Mantis that is Dr. Edwina Beighley (pronounced Bailey) She’s a female Caligari who has experimented with her dangerous drug on animals as her subjects in Africa, conducting unorthodox experiments now on human subjects, in Shock Treatment (1964)
She’s always griping in her condescending highfalutin way- at the hospital board members that she cant continue her (exploitative and nefarious) research the way she’d like, driven by her mission she craves money. Using mental patients now, not tigers, to continue her scientific analysis of how certain drugs effect the criminal mind and the resulting catatonia that follows.
A seedy psychological thriller with oddballs and opportunists and one hell of a great cast, wasted?… Maybe, but deliciously fun to watch anyways! The film has it’s moments and if you’re like me and love a great jaunt into the exploitative- then indulge yourself!
Films like The Snake Pit, Lilith , David and Lisa, ( Bacall was also in a film about an exclusive psychiatric clinic- The Cobweb 1955, and earlier in 1950 she embodied the conflicted Amy North who struggled and studied to become a psychiatrist in Young Man with a Horn)…
… show a reversibility of a plot narrative that usually exists in other film genres. The role that is interchangeable with the sane and the mad. the outside or insider, which suggests that there is no good outcome or moreover, no clear solution to the film’s ‘problem’ and that the film’s world is veritably unstable with Dr. Edwina Beighley at the center of the disorder!
Cinematographer Sam Leavitt (Anatomy of a Murder 1959, The Defiant Ones 1958) weaves in noirish shadowscapes & creates odd frames where one of the main characters will be relegated to the extreme edge while it allows the camera to focus all it’s power on the other of the central or peripheral actors/characters, creating the appearance of an off balanced conversation, that perpetuates the ‘offness’ of the story and it’s atmosphere…
In the similar vein but far superior social commentary as Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor 1963, it’s a story of an actor Dale Nelson (Stuart Whitman) willing to fake insanity and take money to infiltrate a mental hospital in order to get close to a homicidal maniac Martin Ashley (Roddy McDowall) who claims to have burned to cinders, the millions, he has hidden of his victim’s fortune, now buried somewhere on her estate.
“The most dramatic expression of psychiatry as a mechanism of enforcing conformity is seen in the film depictions of ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) or commonly known as electroshock Treatment
in the 1960s and 70s ECT was recast in movie theaters as a torturous, barbaric, medieval practice in which individualistic mental patients were literally shocked into conformity. Vivid depictions of electroshock were depicted in films such as Samuel Fuller’s Shock Corridor 1963 and Shock Treatment 1964.”
— Psycho Thrillers: Cinematic explorations of the mysteries of the mind by William Indick
In fact, anti-conformity is Dale’s method of breaking into the hospital system by railing against conformity in the guise of intellectually and physically disturbing the social order. He smashes the window fronts of a department store.
During Martin Ashley’s (Roddy McDowall) trial for killing and beheading his employer, Dr. Edwina Beighley is the defense’s go to specialist on mental illness and key witness, their sympathetic psychiatrist who manipulates the court into allowing her to observe him at her State Psychopathic hospital for observation.
On the stand Edwina- “I’m a fellow of the American Psychiatric Society..and the author of two text books now in use.-Psychiatry in Relation to Crime and Modern Usages of Hypno-Analysis” At present I’m assistant medical director at State Psychopathic Hospital.”
When asked if she’s familiar with the philanthropic organization known as The Townsend Foundation, Townsend being the old woman that Martin decapitated. Edwin answers with a swift and self-important confidence…
“More than acquainted as Mr Manning knows for the past several years I’ve been trying to get a grant from them to expand my research… ( deep sarcastic Bacallesque pause) I’m still trying.”
Then the public defender asks if she was present when Mr. Manning suggested that the defendant burnt up more than a million dollars. And does she agree with that accounting of the story…
“No I don’t, the amount of money certainly is unusual but the act of destruction isn’t. Martin Ashely is a lonely secretive young man. Desperately in need of understanding friendship. This type of schizophrenic often is… He became convinced that (Amelia Townsend) was an enemy who was using her wealth to destroy his garden and return him to our hospital where he had been a patient merely three years ago. To his disordered mind the decision was a simple one. Destroy the persecutor and her weapon… her money…”
Dr. Edwina Beighley is a cool, manipulative operator who is working on getting Martin a plea of insanity so he’ll be sent to her hospital under her care, that way she can make certain she’s up close and personal with him in order to access his secret… where he hid the fortune.
During Martin’s trial Mr. Manning who has been an executor of the estate asserts that the old woman was eccentric and hid huge sums of cash in her home, he tells the prosecuting attorney, “I couldn’t believe that anyone even a madman could bring himself to burn up more than a million dollars.”
Manning who testifies that the old lady had millions, also despises Dr. Beighley.
After Martin gets sentenced for a mere 90 days for observation. Manning confronts Beighley in the courtroom. “Dr. Beighley I hope you’ll feel proud of yourself Dr!” Dr. Edwina Beighley not seeming rattled in the least- “And what is that supposed to mean?”
Manning- “ Why did you have to go out of your way to help that faker get away with murder and a million dollars?”
She threatens to sue for liable so that she’ll collect enough from him, never having to apply for a grant again… He tells her that he’s “sick and tired of psychiatrists who try to play god, who tell us our mothers and fathers made us neurotic, and psychotic!”
“Mr Manning I’ve gone through analysis, all psychiatrists do, Now I suggest you try it!”
Dr. Edwina Beighley has the warmth of a cobra about to strike the jugular.
This psycho-thriller also stars Stuart Whitman as struggling actor Dale Nelson who is going to be paid $10,000 by Harley Manning (Judson Laire) to impersonate a mentally disturbed man, an incorrigible anti social bad boy who then purposefully gets arrested for destruction of personal property and disturbing the peace.
IMDb notes that Anthony Perkins wanted the Stuart Whitman role
At the police station- Dale (Stuart Whitman) puts on quite a show as a crazy guy with a wad of cash in his pocket that he refuses to explain how it got there- he won’t co operate and goes off on a tirade that is deliciously absurd…“ The disciples of conformity are bleeding from the narrowness of your mind”
Manning figures that once Dale gets committed to the state asylum, he can befriend the psychopathic handyman/gardener Martin Ashley (Roddy McDowall with his usual flare for the overly-dramatic, deliciously deliriously overindulgence. ) who is just mad about roses and decapitates his employer Amelia Townsend (Beatrice Grenough) with a pair of garden shears when she interferes with his beloved garden.
Naturally Dale Nelson succeeds in getting sent to Dr. Beighley’s State Psychopathic Hospital. He even learns about roses and horticulture in order to get close to Martin, hoping he’ll tell him where the money is hidden. Once Dale arrives and is interviewed. Edwina looks him over a bit, and she catches something about his performance, so she has her assistant do a background check on him.
Dale gets Dr. Edwina Beighley to assign him to the garden as his work detail. There Dale finally meets Martin the gardener. At first he antagonizes him, but soon after they become good friends with love of flowers in common.
Martin argues about his ability to raise beautiful roses and that he didn’t get to see flowers until he was 16. ‘You don’t get flowers at the orphanage Mister!… I’m the guy who crossbred the Pinocchio with the Fuselier… and it won the first show at the Pasadena in 1962.”
With no intention of trying to cure Martin Ashley of his homicidal criminal nature, Dr. Beighley finally gets him to confess his crime in detail, by subjecting him to hypnosis and pentathol for days where he finally winds up telling her where Mrs Townsend’s money is…
Edwina, is rancorous, scornful and arrogant and by the end of the film, her mania to find the money might either be a sign that she herself is insane or is the catalyst for pushing her off the deep end… Another version of the inmates have taken over the asylum! And Dr. Edwina Beighley might just belong there BUT as the patient and not the doctor….
Edwina eventually finds out that Dale Nelson was paid and is planted in her hospital by her nemesis Haley Manning, who is determined to get her license revoked for her unethical practices.
When she discovers Nelson’s con-game, the sadistic Edwina Beighley prescribes electroshock therapy, then injects a concoction of psychotropic drugs into his jugular vein to induce catatonia, causing him ‘horrible twisted images’ in order to render him useless and get him out of her hair so she can be the sole keeper of the fortune…
Believe it or not this over the top psycho-melodrama was scripted by Sydney Boehm who penned such great noir films as -High Wall 1947, Mystery Street 1950 Side Street 1949, The Big Heat 1953.
The film also co-stars marvelous character actors who play various archetypal characters, the troubled nymph with a mother complex Carol Lynley as Cynthia Lee Albright “Don’t touch me, I don’t like to be touched!”
Olive Deering as Mrs Mellon-“You’re stupid stupid do you hear me stupid”
Ossie Davis plays Capshaw, who used to be an intern in the hospital and is now one of it’s residents. Paulene Meyers as Dr. Walden, and Timothy Carey as high-strung and marvelously hulking & nutty as usual.
Shock Corridor & Shock Treatment deal with the outside/inside structure which ends with pessimism as the main characters descend into madness…
From Part-Time Perverts: Sex, Pop Culture, and Kink Management by Lauren Rosewame she cites Peter Cranford a psychologist during the 1940s who said that for many patients in asylums “The words ‘punish’ and ‘shock treatment’ were often synonymous”
This is where the narrative and Dr. Edwina Beighley converge on a social truth behind the institutional edifice of mental health…
She shows her fellow colleagues the results of her research on a projector. Footage from when she had her own facility where she could use zoo animals in her experiments. On film she shows a tiger being injected with her drug and how it effects their aggression. She seeks to find out more about the chemistry of the mind.. to solve it’s mysteries. So that one day… her drug “will control mental illness as well a drug does Diabetes.”
This brings out a great point of the story though it may be accidental since the film seems to be more about sensationalist entertainment than thoughtful reflecting on mental illness the way it was let’s say in Tennessee William’s Suddenly, Last Summer 1959.
In the scene where Edwina shows her footage, and the few scenes where both Capshaw (Ossie Davis) and Dale (Stuart Whitman) are subjected to shock treatment- it makes the strong connection between punishing the patient and the arousal of the sadistically inclined practitioners.
In her autobiography, Bacall refers to Shock Treatment as “truly tacky.” and when asked about the film she, commented, “You have no idea what Roddy and I went through making that movie.”
Here’s what Time Magazine had to say about the film Cinema: Boredom in Bedlam-March 13, 1964 “Shock Treatment is more than a slip, it’s a Freudian pratfall. It makes a shambles of psychiatry and brings the art of film close to idiocy.”
It is definitely not one of Lauren Bacall’s memorable roles, it boarders more in the realm of the Grande Dame Guignol films that actresses were becoming famous for in the 60s… Yet, anything Bacall inhabited is like Midus’ golden touch, because she brings an inimitable flavor of sophistication and savvy even if it’s surrounded by trashy lunacy!
Let’s not end on an insane note! Let’s celebrate Lauren Bacall as she really was… an icon