05 January 2008
Shock (1953) review
Alfred L. Werker
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Janet Stewart (Anabel Shaw) lapses into a state of Shock after witnessing a murder. Her concerned boyfriend finds her unable to speak, unable to cook and unable to clean. The unable to speak part soon loses its novelty and he becomes perturbed because she is unable to cook or clean. Instead of becoming sexually liberated, he decides to seek help in the form of Dr Cross (Vincent Price), a specialist on afflictions of the mind, among them Shock. It turns out Janet witnessed a murder and the gruesome details of the horrendous crime left her in a state of Shock. Dr Cross offers to help Janet in his private asylum, but all is not ponies and rainbows, nay nay. As Janet comes to her senses, slowly regaining her ability to perform minor domestic tasks, she recognises Dr Cross as the perpetrator. More Shock!
Vincent Price is the undisputed king of horror actors. If his eerie hypnotic voice and intimidating tall frame are not enough to give anyone the creeps, his Brylcreem hair most definitely is. Shock is a film noir film. This does not necessarily equate it with the glamour of Hollywood, but it does have vintage black and white charm.
The performances are over the top, with long Pinter pauses during dialogue. Likewise, the exaggerated gestures contribute to the otherworldly feel of the film. The film is dated, but give Shock some credit - it came out in 1953. I think the plot is a brilliant idea and even listed it as one of the films I feel Hollywood should remake. Some peculiar innovation is evident in the dream sequence. It is always fascinating to see how much variation the limits of black and white offer.
The over the top performances are a pleasure. At one point, the doctor who first discovers Janet concludes: "I think she suffers from ... Shock. All it needs is a little DUN dun DUUUUUN! each time the word shock is mentioned, although I admit it might detract from the dramatic irony.
Those interested in how gender roles were instilled by the media during the fifties would note what a sweet housewife Janet portrays. Even in her dreams, she has a man who is ready to sweep her off her feet while she is content to sweep nothing but the porch. Her man is a working man, and one in uniform no less. What an Utopian domestic vision.
The film is dated. Vincent Price is as charismatic as usual. This alone makes Shock worth seeing. The film is not particularly graphic, relying more on the suspenseful feeling of 'what-if' doctors are reckless with their authority.
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