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Shock (1946)

Here at Ticklish Business, our Noirvember celebration continues today with another YouTube, first-time-watch for yours truly. There is a plethora of resources on there, I tell you! While Vincent Price has always been the gift which keeps on giving, Shock often flies under the radar as a very early staring effort for the young actor. In a career as prolific and as colorful as Price’s, movies are allowed to fall through the cracks. So, here’s everything you need to know about this psychological drama.

There’s the potential for some light spoilers below. You’ve been warned!

Shock begins as Janet (Anabelle Shaw) arrives at a hotel to meet her returning serviceman husband (Frank Latimore). The young couple found themselves separated for the duration, and she’s over the moon at finally reuniting with her one true love. However, they’re hit with one problem after another and the youngsters are separated for yet another night. As darkness falls over the room and Janet stares out the window, she catches sight of a couple fighting in a neighboring building. The argument soon turns to murder right in front of her eyes, and Janet’s overcome with shock. However, as her husband finally arrives and tries to figure out what’s wrong with his wife, there’s yet another issue. Her attending physician, Dr. Cross (Vincent Price), is the same man Janet watched murder his wife. Lynn Bari, Stephen Dunne and Reed Hadley co-star in Shock. Alfred L. Werker directs from a script by Eugene Ling.

First of all, I would be failing as a critic if I neglect to mention Vincent Price’s performance in this somewhat lesser known noir. By this point, Price was already firmly on the road to stardom, especially after appearing in films like Laura and Leave Her to Heaven in 1944 and 1945 respectively. However, 1946 proved a banner year for Price, who starred not only in Shock, but also Dragonwyck during the early part of the year. The combination of the sizable parts brought two results. Primarily, Price enjoyed a substantial public relations bump in newspapers during the summer of 1946, likely boosting his star persona. However, these roles also demonstrate that Price — who appeared largely in ensemble pictures prior to this point– could not only topline a picture, but he also could play the villainous figures which would become his bread and butter over the decades to follow.

Price finds his footing fast in Shock as renowned physician Dr. Richard Cross. While Janet is the main figure of identification for the audience, she spends much of the film unconscious. As a result, the audience spends lot of time with Cross and he does feel very much like the main character. Viewers see him not only as a talented doctor and a cunning murder, but they also also see his vulnerability opposite his lover (and resident femme fatale) Elaine (Lynn Bari). The always charismatic Price projects so many layers into Cross, and given the amount of time the audience spends with him, it’s unnerving how easily this villainous man grows on you as a protagonist.

That being said, Werker’s direction grows a sense of uneasy tension in the narrative which permeates through the mood of this picture. This is also a testament to the strength of Shaw’s performance. While Janet isn’t an active participant in the narrative — she spends much of the movie under duress– she is the figure with whom the viewers are meant to identify. The audience is introduced to Janet in the opening scene and this young woman, who just wants to rekindle her relationship with her war hero husband, is the very image of idealized post-WWII femininity. There’s an inherent sympathy and likability in her character; after all, millions of women around the world were just like her. If this could happen to Janet, it could happen to anyone.

Shock is very smartly crafted. As mentioned above, Price’s character is the main figure visible to the audience throughout the story, and as a result, this means Janet is always present as well. As such, it is difficult to look passed her complete helplessness in the face of what’s going on around her. The comatose woman is completely unable to defend herself against Cross, who we find out –with Janet–early in the first act, is the killer. To make matters worse, Janet’s only ally is her husband Paul who, per Cross’ direction, largely stays away from the hospital. However, Paul is also the closest thing the movie has to a “hero”. Though, it’s a role he does very little to earn through most of the film.

That being said, Shock leans heavily on gaslighting as a way to further build the tension in the narrative. This story only works if no one believes Janet. As the film plays out, Janet is so thoroughly beat down–and made to feel like she’s crazy– by not only Cross and his staff, but even her own husband, that the eventual solution feels frustrating. So, while there is a happy ending, (I’m desperately trying to avoid spoilers here, folks!) Janet receives no real redemption or payoff for everything she goes through. Her character needs something extra to bring her arc to a close and this unfortunately never happens.

As Noirvember continues, Shock proves itself to be a fascinating, but slightly frustrating, under-the-radar watch. Price absolutely shines in this early starring role, showing just why his stock continued to rise throughout the 1940s. However, when viewed through contemporary eyes, the movie stumbles a bit in the overall crafting of the action — particularly the finale. However, this 1946 psychological drama is most certainly an entertaining one for fans of all things Vincent Price, and a worthy viewing for anyone participating in Noirvember this year.

Shock is available to stream on YouTube.

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