Shock opens with ominous music playing while a torrential thunderstorm smashes down on an isolated building. It’s the classic “stormy weather” opening that became standard in horror films for decades. (Never mind that the building isn’t introduced or important until halfway through the film, and that weather plays no part other than a red herring in the second act.)
After the opening credits, the scene switches to the Belmont Arms hotel in San Francisco. Enter Mrs. Janet Stewart, complete with sob story about her missing husband. Janet (Shaw) has a vivid, troubling dream about her inability to connect with her betrothed. Waking in confusion, she meanders around her room and witnesses a murder on the neighboring balcony. The man in the next room fights with his wife, then picks up a candlestick and kills her.
The next morning, Janet’s husband, Lt. Paul Stewart (Latimore) surprises his wife in her hotel room. Janet, however, is in shock from witnessing the murder in the next room. She’s pretty much a vegetable at this point (and for the next hour), unable to even process the arrival of her husband.
Janet is put under the treatment of Dr. Cross (Price) who, much to Janet’s shock (pun intended), is the murderer from the next hotel room. Cross is joined by his faithful assistant, Nurse Jordan (Bari), who plots with Cross to keep the murder witness silent. Of course, the fact that Cross and Jordan are sleeping together provides a motive, and they can’t allow that, or the good doctor will face life in prison.
As the troubled Lt. Stewart asks for a consultant, Cross and Jordan begin to poison Janet’s memories while she’s still semi-conscious. Cross has that little side project of disposing of his wife’s corpse, so he asks Jordan to handle things while he does what’s necessary. He also has to work on Lt. Stewart to help sabotage Janet’s credibility.
When Cross seems in the clear, a new player enters the game. DA O’Neill (Reed Hadley) has some ideas about how Dr. Cross’ wife really died. Cross has more loose ends than he originally thought. O’Neill arrives late to twist the screws on Cross, and provide the first real competition to his impulsive murder. Cross isn’t done, though. He confers with Stewart and begins a set of experimental treatments on the still comatose Janet. An accidental overdose would be just the thing to tie up all the loose ends, but do Cross…or Jordan…have the guts to pull off murdering an innocent young woman in her sleep?
Shock is a serviceable crime mystery, but there are plenty of errors in the script and the cast. Screenplay writer Eugene Ling writes himself into a corner by making one of the big players comatose most of the film. (Casino Royale was similar, in that the entire second act took place in a poker game).
This early work of Vincent Price is a case study in over-the-top drama. Price was no stranger to dramatic flair in his storied career, but this one was shot before he even grew his trademark moustache. He broke into film in 1938, and already had more than a dozen films under his belt before filming Shock. Price owns the scenes he’s in, and the chemistry between him and Bari is very believable.
Bari was a World War II Pin-up model, nicknamed “The Girl with the Million Dollar Figure”, and a veteran of nearly 50 films when Shock was released. Latimore is good as the troubled husband, but he wouldn’t really establish his acting chops until later in his career.
Fantastic Trivia Fact (Courtesy of IMDB.com):
While on the set one day, Lynn Bari was talking with co-star Anabel Shaw and mentioned that she was a direct descendant, on her mother's side, of Revolutionary War hero Alexander Hamilton. Shaw revealed that she was a direct descendant of Aaron Burr, the man who killed Hamilton in the famous duel.
Shock runs 70 minutes. This DVD presentation is in 1.37:1 aspect ratio with relatively awful audio.