Janet Stewart (Anabel Shaw) arrives at a San Francisco hotel in a state of high anxiety, as she's about to be reunited with Paul, the husband (Frank Latimore) she had believed was killed in the war; Paul was a prisoner of war, and now he's finally coming home.
When Paul's arrival is delayed Janet has a nightmare, only to awaken to a very real trauma: through her window she sees a man (Vincent Price) in another hotel room hit his wife in the head with a candlestick, obviously killing her. When Janet's husband finally arrives the next morning, he finds Janet staring into space, unable to speak.
Janet is treated by Dr. Richard Cross (Price), who happens to be in the same hotel, but there's just one problem: early on, Cross realizes Janet's collapse was precipitated by seeing him kill his wife. The doctor's mistress Elaine (Lynn Bari) urges him to do away with Janet so they can be together without fear he'll be turned in, but the doctor feels pangs of guilt. After all, as a doctor he's supposed to cure Janet, not kill her. And then a District Attorney (Reed Hadley) starts asking questions about Mrs. Cross's "accidental" death...
The film has a fairly unusual storyline and moments which are well done, but it suffers from spending too much time on extraneous characters and not quite enough time on development of others during its 70-minute running time. For instance, the audience really doesn't need to spend so much time experiencing the thunderstorm with crazy Mr. Edwards; the reason for his attacking Elaine, a scene which is vital to the story, could have been set up more more concisely.
Bari is a juicy femme fatale, and Price plays his role with a nice tough of guilt-ridden ambiguity -- he can't quite get over violating the Hippocratic oath -- but Latimore and Shaw's characters are underdeveloped. Poor Shaw spends most of the movie staring into space or writhing in her hospital bed, and we don't know any more about the Stewarts' background than the little we are told. If the filmmakers had shown more of the relationship, perhaps in flashbacks, the Stewarts' reunion(s) would have had much more dramatic impact, and the audience also would have felt greater concern when her life was in jeopardy. After the opening sequence, Janet is pretty much just a blank slate.
SHOCK is a curiosity insofar as it blends the "gothic noir" woman in jeopardy tradition with Hollywood's mid-'40s fascination with psychology. Rather than the woman's life being threatened by her husband in a spooky mansion, this time around the woman in jeopardy is in danger of being bumped off by her doctor in his own private hospital! The hospital, in fact, looks like an oversized mansion, and features the same dark and stormy nights one finds in other gothic noir movies.
Additional examples of Hollywood's mid-'40s psychology craze include LADY IN THE DARK (1944), SPELLBOUND (1945), THE LOCKET (1946), THE DARK MIRROR (1946), and IT HAD TO BE YOU (1947). I'LL BE SEEING YOU (1944), in which Joseph Cotten plays a shellshocked veteran, might also be added to this list; its subject matter isn't all that far from SHOCK. In fact, the doctors discuss what they've learned from treating veterans as they plan Mrs. Stewart's treatment.
Anabel Shaw, also known as Marjorie Henshaw, died in April 2010. There's an excellent website, Marjorie Henshaw Update, with information on the actress's life. There was a wonderful look back at Shaw's life in the April 2011 edition of Classic Images (No. 430), and I recommend an older Classic Images article by Colin Briggs to learn more about this relatively little-known actress.
For that matter, Briggs also wrote a Classic Images article on Lynn Bari. Bari's authorized biography, FOXY LADY, was published last year.
SHOCK was directed by Alfred L. Werker. It was filmed in black and white by Joe MacDonald and Glen MacWilliams. The supporting cast includes Michael Dunne, Charles Trowbridge, and Renee Carson.
SHOCK has been released on VHS. It's available on DVD in the Fox Film Noir series. Extras include a commentary track. Glenn Erickson has reviewed the DVD at DVD Savant.
SHOCK is available to watch via Netflix Watch Instantly streaming, and of course the DVD is also available from Netflix.
SHOCK can also be seen on Fox Movie Channel, where it's next scheduled to air on June 9 and June 16, 2011.