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A Shock to the System is a 1990 American dark comedy crime thriller film directed by Jan Egleson and starring Michael Caine, Swoosie Kurtz, Elizabeth McGovern, and Peter Riegert. It is based on the 1984 novel A Shock to the System by British author Simon Brett.

A Shock to the System
A Shock to the System poster.jpg
Directed byJan Egleson
Produced byPatrick McCormick
Written byAndrew Klavan
Music byGary Chang
CinematographyPaul Goldsmith
Edited byWilliam M. Anderson
Peter C. Frank
Distributed byCorsair Pictures
Release date
  • March 23, 1990 (1990-03-23)
Running time
91 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$3,417,056


Plot summaryEdit

Family man Graham Marshall, a long-time executive in a large advertising company, is unexpectedly passed over for promotion. Marshall is angry and disappointed. His wife, Leslie, is devastated and continually reproaches her husband for his apparent lack of ambition and willpower.

An unfortunate accident occurs in the subway, caused by Marshall, in which a panhandler is killed. Marshall is able to leave unobserved, which gives him a whole new set of ideas as far as his future life is concerned.

Deciding to take revenge on the people who have caused him problems in his life, Marshall starts meticulously planning their deaths. This includes his wife, whom he electrocutes, and his young rival at the office, Bob Benham, who received the promotion that Marshall believed was his.

Marshall becomes much better acquainted with an office colleague, Stella Henderson and narrowly averts being caught even after it is clear that Stella has figured out his guilt and has the evidence to denounce him. However, by keeping his cool, he is able through a newfound ability to cajole and intimidate to recover the evidence before the police do. When none of the murders is linked to him, Graham feels vindicated in his belief that murder is an effective way to get what he wants in life and embraces his method to climb higher up the corporate ladder.[1]

Difference from the novelEdit

The movie plot differs from the novel in its ending. While both have Graham getting away with multiple murders, the novel ends with the ironic twist of Graham getting arrested for a murder he did not commit. This is because his mother in law has figured out that he killed her daughter but did it in such a way that it cannot be proven, so she instead poisons herself and successfully makes it look like Graham murdered her.


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b A Shock to the System, dir. Jan Egleson, 1990.

External linksEdit