Starring Cornel Wilde, Patricia Knight, John Baragrey, Esther Minciotti, Howard St. John, Russell Collins, Charles Bates
Directed by Douglas Sirk
Sam Fuller’s stories are known for their interesting story hooks that immediately take hold of you and demand your rapt attention, usually defying what you generally expect a movie to be about. Shockproof is no different, and while I’m sure the finished film was diluted from his original draft, it still bears much of Fuller’s known style. The dialogue sparkles with his wit, and the premise is as “Sam Fuller” as any premise ever was; there’s even a character named Griff! The dilution does come with a price, though, as the ending is far too contrived and happy for the story that came before it. It’s not quite as bad as “…And it was all a dream,” but it’s definitely cut from a similar cloth.
Shockproof opens on Hollywood Blvd. A beautiful woman in black walks into a shop and purchases a new set of clothes. She also bleaches her hair blonde and soon emerges ravishing and ready to take on the world. We follow her into an office building, where she’s told by a secretary that the man she’s here to see is just behind the next door. Surely this is the beginning of a nice little film where the girl gets a quiet bookkeeping job for an executive and falls madly in love, right?
Wrong. (Of course.) As soon as she steps into his office, we know that this won’t be a simple romance film (but it does end up as something of a romance). The man, Griff Marant (Cornel Wilde), is a parole officer, and the woman, Jenny Marsh (Patricia Knight), is just returning to civilian life after a five-year stay in the big house. Her crime? Murder! Griff immediately takes a special interest in keeping Jenny out of trouble. First he pawns it off as “doing his job,” but he’s clearly a little too concerned. He’s falling for her, and Harry (John Baragrey), the man who waited five years for Jenny, doesn’t take too kindly to it.
This is admittedly a pretty interesting setup for what is ultimately a simple love-triangle film, but where it falters is that the characters are much too shallow. Jenny’s clearly torn by her feelings about the two men in her life, but her decisions often seem as a result of the story’s necessity instead of anything believable. Concurrently with that, Griff’s action are often just as ridiculous, asking us to believe that the power of love (or perhaps obsession) is so strong that it changes someone down to the core of their being. The things that people will do for love are definitely many and varied, but Griff and Jenny are merely vague representations of this instead of fully realized depictions. Shockproof is a B-picture, so I shouldn’t be too harsh, but it was rather hard to roll with some of the character choices.
Douglas Sirk’s direction is of note, pushing the boundaries a bit beyond what is otherwise a fairly straightforward film. In one scene, a parolee is faced with a sentence of 20 years in prison, but instead he jumps out the window. In many classic-era films the shot of him going over the railing would suffice to convey his actions, but after this Sirk cuts to a single shot of the man’s body tumbling down a few stories before crash-landing into a big pile of boxes in the building’s courtyard. The revelation of Jenny as a murderer is also quite nice, starting on a tight insert shot of a paper giving us the info, and then rack-focusing onto her waiting, beautiful face as she sits in Griff’s office. It’s the kind of shot that gets one to thinking about how literally anyone could be a murderer.
As I mentioned before, the ending is complete malarkey, but it is known that it was not the original ending intended by both Fuller and Sirk. Apparently, it was to be a heartbreaking ending of one man trying to fight the system, losing the one he loves in the process. Just like these days (or perhaps more so), that kind of ending just doesn’t fly in a studio picture, so we’re left with the sappy, all-tied-up ending we got. Oh well.
Shockproof isn’t a great film, but it feels like an important early film for both Fuller and Sirk. The script was the first that Fuller sold after returning from his duty in World War II, and it exhibits more of his recognizable traits than any of his previously filmed scripts. Sirk was over 10 years into his career as a director at this time, but his truly notable work in the 1950s was still ahead of him. Which reminds me once again that I need to dive into those films one of these days. As it stands, this is my first Sirk film, and it feels like one of a restrained artist. I’m sure Sirk fans would have more to say about this, but I’ll have to leave it where it is for now.
If you don’t think too hard about it and just have a good time, Shockproof is fun film to fill a weekend afternoon with. Even more so if you enjoy the work of Sam Fuller and Douglas Sirk.