I’ve commented before that when watching Vincent Price movies, at least other than those rare few where he’s playing a non-villainous character, I like to see what the Price-to-Murder time is; that is to say, how long it takes after Vincent Price’s first appearance for him to kill somebody. Alfred L. Welker’s 1946 film Shock may be the record-holder, getting both out of the way very quickly. Vincent Price shows up around six and a half minutes in, and his character kills his wife at about the seven minute mark.
Unfortunately for him, his crime, committed in the heat of the moment, is witnessed. Janet Stewart (Anabel Shaw) is awaiting her long-lost husband Lt. Paul Stewart (Frank Latimer), who has just returned from being a prisoner of war, and her hotel room gives her a perfect view of the argument and killing. However, she is so horrified by what she has seen that, on top of the anticipation of finally seeing her husband again, it puts her in a state of catatonic shock. When Paul finds her, he calls for a doctor, who soon refers him to the best psychologist in the area: Vincent Price’s character, Dr. Richard Cross.
Even under the best of circumstances, psychiatric patients should probably have only limited exposure to Vincent Price.
With the murder shown so directly and so early on, Shock is obviously not a “whodunnit”. Rather, it almost plays out like a perspective flip on the typical film noir. Instead of seeing people try to unravel who committed the crime, we see what Dr. Cross and his mistress Elaine (Lynn Bari) do in order to try and keep it covered up. Janet Stewart may be in shock now, but Dr. Cross knows it won’t last forever. And even though he is able to get Janet committed to his sanitarium, he still has to be careful with what he does to her, as Paul, wanting the best care for his wife, calls in a consultant, Dr. Cross’s old mentor Dr. Harvey (Charles Trowbridge).
Most of the peripheral characters don’t get a lot of development; indeed, as Janet, Anabel Shaw’s role is mostly limited to staring off in space and, occasionally, screaming. The focus is on Vincent Price and Lynn Bari as the conspirators in the cover-up. Interestingly, as our villain protagonist, Dr. Cross has some sympathetic elements to him; he did not intend to murder his wife, and feels some regret over it, and is extremely reluctant to go any further in covering up the death. He’s not even completely convinced he should have covered it up to begin with. He is pushed towards more and more extreme acts to perpetuate the cover-up by his mistress, nurse Elayne Jordan, who comes across as evil incarnate. She appears to have no regrets whatsoever about the way things have unfolded, and no compunctions about eliminating any obstacles to her and Dr. Cross’s “happiness”.
Usually when you have a murder, you have a murder mystery. In the case of Shock we are instead treated to something of a character drama. While it could stand to be a bit deeper in places, a bit more nuanced, it’s an entertaining variation on the film noir genre, and of course has a solid performance from Vincent Price.