I don’t like to use the words patriot or patriotic because usually those words make people think of pseudo-Christians, flag wavers, and Sarah Palin. A true patriot doesn’t stick their head in the ground and pretend that their country is all peaches and cream. A true patriot doesn’t need the comfort of the illusion of perfection to love their country. They confront the hard truths head on. Director Samuel Fuller was a patriot. A decorated WWII combat veteran who came back home and starting making movies. With The Steel Helmet (1951) he showed soldiers as humans rather than caricatures. In Pickup On South Street (1953) he showed that the way to fight communism wasn’t through the nuclear family. In Shock Corridor (1963) he showed an America that was filled with those raised to hate.
The film is about a reporter who plans to go undercover in a mental institution. There was a murder and he thinks that if he can get on the inside he can uncover the perpetrator. Once there, he encounters all sorts, but the heart of the experience comes in the interviews with the three witnesses to the murder.
The first witness is the most moving of the three. He was, as he puts it, raised with “bigotry for breakfast and ignorance for dinner.” He had “no knowledge of my country. No pride. Just a hymn of hate.” He then went to fight in Korea where the communists were able to make quick work of him by simply giving him something more than hatred to believe in. He works for them until one day he is given the task to brainwash a WWII veteran. That veteran talks to him and the soldier described an America he didn’t know existed. As a result, he comes back home and is greeted with nothing except the hatred he had when he left for Korea. He snapped and ended up in the hospital.
The second witness is introduced as he walks down the hall carrying a sign blocking his face that says “Integration And Democracy Don’t Mix. Go Home, Nigger”. The sign comes down a bit to reveal a black man. He singles out other blacks in the hospital and even plays with a KKK hat. We find out that he was one of the first students to go to a formerly segregated school. Ultimately, he became subsumed with their hatred and it became his own driving him insane.
The third witness is given little screen time but we don’t need to know more than that he was a Nobel prize winner for his work on nuclear weapons to understand how hate effected him.
There are other noteworthy things about this film like the color dreams to the regular black and white and the striptease that reminds one of the theater in Mulholland Dr. I can’t say I completely understood everything in this movie and at times it can be a little unintentionally humorous, but there is enough here for me to highly recommend it.