ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Melanie Novak writes about the Golden Age of Hollywood, infusing her weekly movie reviews with history, gossip, and the glamour of the studio era. You can read her reviews at www.melanienovak.com and follow her on Instagram @novak_melanie.
Loyal B&S About Movies fans will likely know Vincent Price for his horror films from the fifties and sixties. But long before he made The House of Wax (1953), Price cut his teeth on the London stage in 1935 playing Prince Albert in Victoria Regina.
Hollywood came calling, of course, and after a few early films with Universal (and a screen test for Ashely Wilkes in Gone With the Wind), he signed a contract with Twentieth Century-Fox that would allow him to split his time between New York and Hollywood.
In 1941 he starred in Angel Street on Broadway, playing a husband who convinces his wife she is going mad in order to steal her family’s jewels. The play was a smashing success and remains the longest-running melodrama in Broadway’s history with over a thousand performances. In 1944, it was retitled Gaslight and filmed with Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman, a role for which Bergman won her first Academy Award.
Vincent Price returned to Hollywood and had supporting roles in a pair of Gene Tierney film noirs—the classic Laura (1944), in which Price plays Shelby Carpenter, a playboy suspected of murdering his fiancé, and Leave Her to Heaven (1945), in which Price’s character is jilted by Tierney’s Ellen Berent, one of film’s most deliciously bonkers femme fatales.
After fifteen films and eight years in Hollywood, Price got his first starring role in the film noir Shock (1946), the only Price film in the Mill Creek Drive-In Classics 50 Pack.
Shock was a B-picture filmed in eighteen days. Price plays Dr. Richard Cross, a psychiatrist who is dismayed to learn that a woman witnessed him killing his wife after she refuses him a divorce.
Lucky for Dr. Cross that the sight of the violence shocks Janet Stewart into a catatonic state, and that Dr. Cross is called in to treat her. With the help of Elaine Jordan, his mistress and nurse, Cross uses sedatives to keep Janet Stewart confused. Channeling his gaslighting role in Angel Street, he convinces her and everyone else that she is insane so that she won’t be able to implicate him in his wife’s murder.
In true film noir fashion, it is Elaine, the low-rent Phyllis Dietrichson who pushes Cross deeper and deeper into the cover-up, using her icy sex appeal to convince him to give Janet Stewart a lethal overdose and make it look like an accident.
But can the successful psychiatrist, who killed his wife without premeditation, follow through with the cold-blooded murder of a patient to save his own skin?
Shock is not in the same league as Laura and Leave Her to Heaven (to say nothing of Double Indemnity), but it’s a satisfying B-film that foreshadows the great villains in Price’s future, who will not need a femme fatale to convince them to wreak havoc on the world.
With a scant 70 minute run time, you can’t go wrong gobbling this one up on a crisp fall evening.
- Price, Victoria. Vincent Price: A Daughter’s Biography, 1999.