The 20th film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set was Frank Capra’s Meet John Doe. Since I had already watched and reviewed Meet John Doe for last year’s Shattered Politics series of reviews, I decided to skip forward to the next film.
That film turned out to be the 1946 psychological thriller, Shock (not to be confused with Mario Bava’s masterpiece of the same name).
Shock opens with a young housewife named Jane Stewart (Anabel Shaw) waking from a dream, getting out of bed, looking out a window, and seeing something rather serious happening in the house next door. A man and a woman are arguing. Though Jane doesn’t recognize the man, horror fans will immediately realize that he’s Vincent Price, without a mustache. As Jane watches, the man beats the woman to death. When Jane’s husband, Lt. Paul Stewart (Frank Latimore), returns home, he discovers that Jane is in a catatonic state.
Paul calls the local cranky physician, Dr. Harvey (Charles Trowbridge), to the house. Dr. Harvey takes one look at Jane and announces, “She’s in shock!” (YAY! WE HAVE A TITLE!) Paul looks confused so Dr. Harvey goes on to explain, “She’s had a great shock.” Unfortunately, Dr. Harvey is not trained to deal with shock but he knows someone who is. That man’s name is Dr. Richard Cross.
Soon Dr. Cross shows up and — OH MY GOD, IT’S VINCENT PRICE! That’s right — Dr. Cross not only caused Jane’s shock but now he’s going to treat it! Or is he? Though Dr. Cross claims to be wracked with guilt over the murder, his nurse, Elaine Jordan (Lynn Bari), is less concerned about it. In fact, since Elaine is also his mistress, she’s rather happy that Dr. Cross has murdered his wife. Now, she just has to convince him to murder Jane before she recovers from her shock.
(Interestingly enough, Dr. Cross’s plan involves treating Jane with insulin shock therapy, which would seem to indicate that Dr. Cross has seen Dr. Kildare’s Strange Case too many times.)
I had high hopes for Shock, largely because of the presence of Vincent Price. From what I’ve read, the box office success of Shock changed the course of Price’s career. Before Shock, Price was a character actor who occasionally got a good supporting role. After Shock, he was transformed into the horror icon who we all know and love today. Shock was the first time that Price was cast in the type of mad scientist role that would later become his trademark. For that reason, Shock has an important place in the history of cinematic terror.
But, unfortunately, Shock itself is kind of forgettable. It’s pretty much your standard thriller, one that makes the mistake of revealing Price’s villainy from the start. (It would have been far more effective if the film tried to shock us with the realization that Price is the bad guy.) It’s always fun to watch Vincent Price in a movie but he actually gives a rather subdued performance here and, as a result, he’s not as much fun as he would be in his later films. In other words, Shock is no House On Haunted Hill.
That said, Shock is definitely a piece of film history and, as such, it’s worth watching. And here it is: