This entertainingly old-fashioned descent into dystopia would be most accurately categorized as noir, but there are a number of ways this feels like a 50's sci-fi or horror film. This feeling is heightened, and borders on (or smacks headlong into) camp during those scenes boasting the presence of one Tor Johnson. (Hey, it may just be the best film Tor ever appeared in.)
The somewhat Woolrich-esque plot has to do with a carefree detective teaming up with a pretty Bette Davis looking newspaper reporter to scope out the whereabouts of a wanted criminal called The Judge. She thinks he is hiding in a nearby private sanitarium because she has seen his moll sneak in the back way late at night. But she needs a man on the inside. Hoping to score a date and half of the reward money, the detective agrees to play someone in need of therapy. He goes in, but will he be able to get out alive?
Don't expect a realistic examination of mental illness like in The Snake Pit. This was meant only to shock audiences of an era when even minor disorders were still a dark unknown. The fact that its alternate title was The Human Gorilla should tell you where it's coming from. Still, dont expect tawdry thrills like in Shock Corridor, either. A couple of screams in the night, a polite pyro and a punchdrunk boxer are all you'll see. The lead actor's affected manic-depressive bent seems like little more than slight case of the grumps. And aside from a severely fat lip and two shiners, he is unchanged by his experience behind these locked doors.
In tone I liken this movie to High School Confidential; that was not its intent, mind you. But more than 50 years of hindsight into the subject matter make its treatment of it not very disturbing, even vaguely comic.
Yet the movie has its own unique charms. It's faster than Detour, weirder than DOA, not as mechanical as T-Men. The cast is one well-known to genre fans. Besides Tor there's Richard Carlson of Creature From the Black Lagoon and It Came From Outer Space, as well as Tom Browne Henry, who acted in The Brain From Planet Arous, Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers, The Beginning of the End, and many other treats.
Director Budd Boetticher, known mostly in connection with a series of intelligent and low-key Randolph Scott westerns, directs this work solidly. He demonstrates an understanding of the chiaroscuro but seemed reluctant to go far very with it. In addition, there is some forced but peppy dialogue in the beginning, and a few instances later on which aim for Hitchcock-style suspense. That they do not attain that rarified level is, to my way of thinking, not as important as that the attempt was made. The climax is decently thrilling yet seems somehow pat, perhaps because it is predictable.
Yet the movie never dull, and come on, it has Tor...
See also: The Unearthly; Fear in the Night