One area of film I admittedly know nothing about is what is referred to as film noir. I can't recall any "classics" of that genre which I have even seen. I do however know that Samuel Fuller is associated with that scene, so when Shock Corridor in his half of the Netflix queue I had to make a point to see it.
The film is written, produced, and directed by Sam Fuller. It stars Robert Breck as Johnny Barrett. He aspires to win a Pulitzer Prize by solving a murder committed in an insane asylum that cops have been unable to solve. In order to solve it he will fake insanity and be admitted to the asylum after his lover (a wonderful Constance Towers) files a fake complaint under the guise of his sister about unwanted sexual advances. Of course this does not come easily, she first balks at the idea fearing that the insanity will rub off on him and he will be made insane himself. It doesn't take long though for her to go through with her part of the plan, apparently out of love.
Once in the asylum everything takes off. We are introduced to a black man who is a white supremacist and dons a KKK mask. A War Vet who believes he is a Civil War general, an large opera singing man who makes murderous gestures with his hands in the middle of aria's, and a nuclear physicist who has regressed to the mind of a 6 year old. All of these characters seem written very over the top, but thats perhaps part of the point. As Barrett tries to solve the murder he is forced to take part in their delusions to get the information he wants.
Sometimes during the stories that the inmates tell Fuller cuts away from the black and white that the story is told in and gives us stick color footage that loosely pertains to the issues the inmates are talking about. Racism, war, etc. These moments are really jarring but somehow do not take you out of the story. They seem to compliment the over the top story telling of the mental patients. Yet, one has to think that surely, they are there for Fuller to get across a political agenda, at least in part.
In my opinion Breck carries the film. A lot of the film is focused on his facial expressions as it seeemed at least half of it was voiceovers as his character Johnny Barrett walked the line between sanity and insanity. As I mentioned before it;s shot entirely in black and white, yet even in a well let mental hospital Fuller found good use of shadows and lighting at times for appropriate darker moments.
The film begins and ends with the quotation from a philosopher, "Whom God wishes to destroy, he first turns mad." And while at first we don't think much of it, when it shows up again at the end, it seemed to me Fuller was attempting to teach us something about the risk such foolhardy selfish ambitions as Barrett's.