For about a decade, from films like Pickup on South Street (1953) through to the incendiary Underworld U.S.A. (1961), Sam Fuller was a very disciplined artist, able to turn out highly expressive and personal work on low budgets within taut Hollywood B-movie constraints. All constraints were cast aside, however, in the two Z-budget movies Fuller made with the high-cheekboned Constance Towers: the bizarre The Naked Kiss (1964), with Towers as a bald prostitute, and this 1963 film, with the bony blonde a stripper in love with a Pulitzer-mad journalist. Freed from his B-movie straitjacket, Z-budget Fuller went completely insane! Or at least made films on the topic. Shock Corridor presents America as an insane asylum, infiltrated by surly Peter Breck as a reporter in search of a murderer. Breck finds three witnesses whose madness mirrors the times: a traitor, a racist, and an atomic physicist who now prefers sketching in crayon. With the exception of a couple of sensitive secondary performances (notably Larry Tucker as a mountainous opera buff, and Hari Rhodes as the black man who thinks he's in the KKK), the acting is as harsh as the lighting, with comic-book dialogue worthy of Ed Wood on speed. For all that, Fuller's openly allegorical and, in its way, well-thought-out film works on its own terms. Color cutaways to the director's home movies serve quite nicely as inmate hallucinations, and Breck's spiral down into madness is a valuable lesson to investigative journalists everywhere. You too may feel like an "insane mute" after witnessing this amazing film. (Fuller fans will enjoy seeing The Naked Kiss on a week's run at the Roxie next January, as well as a double bill of Fuller rarities on Oct. 25.)
Shock Corridor screens Friday through Thursday, Oct. 10-16, at 7 and 9:15 p.m. at the Roxie, 3117 16th St. (at Valencia). There are also 2 and 4:30 p.m. matinees on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday. Tickets are $6.50; call 863-1087.