“Shock Corridor”: physical and mental confinement of an alienated America | LeMagduCine

The Cinema Mag decided to devote a cycle of cinematographic analyzes to the theme of confinement and/or internment. The presence of Shock Corridor among the films selected by our editors is justified threefold: by its intrinsic portrait of the asylum institution, by the mental confinement of its characters and by the will, never denied, of Samuel Fuller to make each internee a receptacle of American demons.

The viewer is still unaware of it, but the foreground of Shock Corridor presents the “Street”, a long corridor where “wise patients” can circulate freely and interact with their peers. Samuel Fuller’s camera is positioned in its axis, under impersonal neon lights which converge, like the adjacent walls, towards a distant vanishing point. The light is sparse, the image is accompanied by anxiety-provoking music, the places are still populated only by benches, doors and radiators. Sufficient to characterize a hospitable (understand: sanitary) and inhospitable (cold and disembodied) universe. What is revealed is both a place of order (the places allocated to the canteen, the various asylum sections), of order (psychisms, medicines) and of order (nurses often replacing guards) .

The journalistic investigation
Johnny Barrett is a reporter for Daily Globe. We discover him, in an edifying exposition sequence, rehearsing an actor number that is surprising to say the least: seated, he simulates a form of incestuous perversion facing a therapist filmed from a slight low angle. In a representation of journalism that is more Network that of spotlight, Samuel Fuller stages an ambitious hack, ready to do anything, including being interned, to win the sacrosanct Pulitzer. His plan is simple, at least in appearance: take advantage of a brief stay in the asylum to make the rare witnesses of an unsolved murder speak. And then win all the honors that would result.

Perversion of the medium
Shock Corridor proves particularly critical when it comes to portraying America and its institutions. Journalism has no scruples and shoots sensationalism. The courts, blind to the most grotesque maneuvers, are quick to send sane individuals to psychiatric hospitals. Falsely accused of assault by his fiancée Cathy, who introduces herself as his sister, Johnny Barrett is thus arrested by the police, tried by a court and interned in a specialized establishment where he will have to carry out a “constant struggle against madness”. There, through his eyes, the viewer will discover hydrotherapy, electroshock therapy, dance therapy, restraint tables, straight jackets, medicinal cocktails… The journalist must live together, in a collective room with six beds, with a failed opera singer, obese, and clearly obsessed with failure. Increasingly vulnerable by the lack of sleep, the confinement and the violence (contained or explicit) of this adoptive environment, he gradually comes to lose his head, although he retains hope, without continually pushed back, to uncover the blind spots of the Sloan affair.

“Mark Twain did not psychoanalyze Huck Finn or Tom Sawyer! »
Stripper, appearing more often naked than in her Sunday best, Cathy nevertheless takes the place of the only positive and reasonable character of Shock Corridor. She opposes early on what she describes as “insane project” and only seems to relent out of love for Johnny. His lucid reference to Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde will eventually come into its own. She also guesses before all the others the danger incurred by Samuel Fuller’s antihero: “He’s starting to believe that I’m really his sister!” » It is she, the corrupt ingenue, in permanent but resigned struggle, who will suffer all the repercussions of a company doomed to failure.

Asylum is America
We could talk for hours about the sophisticated lighting of Stanley Cortez (the cinematographer of The hunter’s night), on Peter Breck’s deliciously outrageous acting, on Samuel Fuller’s science of the frame and his ability to sculpt expressive faces, on the nervousness of his editing or on the contrasting use of colors to illustrate the dreams of the sick who populate his asylum. But the essential lies elsewhere. It is stated, moreover, quite programmatically, by this introductory quotation from the great Greek tragedy Euripides: “What he wants to destroy, God begins by driving him mad. » What does God, understood as an incarnation of Good, seek to annihilate? And what is the nature of this madness which would announce its hypothetical destruction? As a clerk, Samuel Fuller makes an asylum space a miniaturized version of America. Each patient, each of the situations staged seems to contain in hollow, in unconscious bearer, the ignominies of a superpower in perdition.

Johnny Barrett, “the journalist with an IQ of 140”imagine that “this corridor goes (the) lead straight to the Pulitzer”. To achieve this, he agrees to allow himself to be diagnosed with a “chaotic sexual constitution”, even a schizophrenic state. He quickly symbolizes in the story the sexual desire (towards his wife, or with regard to the predation of the nymphomaniacs of which he is the victim) and the jealousy which results from it (the visions of his fiancée Cathy in superimposition). Stuart, a former Southern farmer whose hobby was to “playing the Civil War”, suffers from post-traumatic stress related to the Korean War (by analogy: Vietnam). He was demobilized with a reprimand following acquaintances with the Communists. Trent, the only black student at a Southern University, is infected with hatred of white supremacists to the point of vilifying his own “brothers.” He wears a sign announcing that“integration and democracy are enemies” and chanting “The Negroes at Home”. After calling for the hunt for the Freedom Travelers and wearing a Ku Klux Klan mask, he regains some lucidity and verbalizes what forms “the basis of delinquency, the origin of lynchings, the genetically transmitted disease”namely the fact that “These poor children adrift are more watered with aggression than with love”. Finally, the last of Johnny’s three witnesses, Doctor Boden, is a former Nobel Prize winner and atomic bomb specialist who has fallen back to the mental age of a six-year-old child after becoming aware of the devastating uses of nuclear power. All suffer from a mental confinement doubling the physical confinement. And it is the black pages of America, decidedly perceived with vehemence, which seem to be its incubator. In this regard, Shock Corridor appears as a squeaky, particularly disturbing film, forcefully extricating the viewer from the fluffy comfort of entertainment, and thereby following in the footsteps of a The Intruder (Roger Corman), released a few months earlier.

The Platonic cave
To understand the allegory of Plato’s cave, it is necessary to imagine individuals attached facing a wall and only perceiving the outside world through the echoes of a cave and the shadows projected on its walls by a few streaks of light. Perceptions inevitably come out truncated, altered, distorted. Everything in Shock Corridor, suggests that Johnny Barrett is in a state close to that of the prisoners of the Platonic cave. The treatments to which he is subjected, his environment made up of noisy shadows, cries, tears and disorderly gestures, the deprivations (social, physiological) contribute to blurring his senses, diluting his identity, undermining his cognitive abilities. . Plato explains that knowledge imposes on the former prisoners of this cave a form of suffering. It is that of someone who has lived in the dark and suddenly finds himself blinded by a radiant sun while escaping from it. For Johnny Barrett, this confinement in the cave leads to an impossible discovery: when Doctor Boden exposes him to the portrait he inspired, he goes into an uncontrollable anger synonymous with dementia. The latter will be seen a little later objectified by a final sequence during which the asylum is swept away by torrential rain and a rumbling storm.

The confinement in Shock Corridor

Johnny wants to be committed to identify the murderer of Sloan. Cathy suffers deeply from this decision, in which she will nevertheless become an accomplice. This shot presents her distressed, locked in the frame of a mirror, on which sits a snapshot of her fiancé. Already, the two protagonists are nothing more than representations: we perceive Cathy’s affliction through her reflection, we freeze Johnny in a photographic ideal that Samuel Fuller will never show on screen.


No sooner has his project started than Johnny is already beset by visions. Cathy appears to him in dreams (superimposed on the screen), exacerbating his desire for her and his jealousy towards other men. Mental confinement sets in motion.

shock-corridor-iiiJohnny finds himself – literally – at the center of lusts. The nymphomaniacs form a circle around him. There is no more escape. They act like a pack ready to swoop down on their prey.

See as well



Johnny refuses to come out of a Platonic cave in which he keeps himself prisoner. Doctor Boden hands him a mirror (a portrait) against which he will violently rebel.


The false internee, suffering from a mental illness invented from scratch, is now in a straightjacket. He lost his mind in an institution precisely designed to help his patients recover it.


We wish to give thanks to the writer of this short article for this incredible material

“Shock Corridor”: physical and mental confinement of an alienated America | LeMagduCine