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The Apothecary General of BEDLAM finds his asylum a
convenient place to immure his personal enemies.
This was the third of three RKO thrillers which Boris Karloff starred in for producer Val Lewton (the other two being ISLE OF THE DEAD & THE BODY SNATCHER, both 1945). Lewton had the knack of producing films full of atmosphere & menace on a very low budget. BEDLAM is no exception and Karloff gives an especially compelling performance. Gaunt & leering, calmly accepting death and torture as part of his grim business, he shows the monstrous depths to which brutish humanity is able to sink while yet retaining a veneer of civility. His behavior is the stuff of nightmares & his fate is thoroughly deserved.
Anna Lee is spirited in the role of a nobleman's protégée who gradually becomes a champion of fairer treatment for the inmates. Richard Fraser quietly underplays his part as a stern Quaker stonemason who attempts to rescue Miss Lee from Bedlam. Billy House as an obese lord & Ian Wolfe as a barrister confined to Bedlam both offer fine support.
Movie mavens will spot an unbilled Ellen Corby as one of the lunatics.
Built as a priory in 1247 for the order of the Star of Bethlehem, the structure was first used as a hospital in 1330. Mental patients began arriving by 1403 and Henry VIII made it exclusively a lunatic asylum in 1547. At the time portrayed in the film, the Hospital of St. Mary of Bethlehem had been moved from Bishopsgate to Moorfields and the name had generally been corrupted to Bedlam.' Great abuses did take place there during the 18th Century and members of refined society were allowed for a fee to view the inmates. Now located in Shirley, near Beckenham, it is known as the Bethlehem Royal Hospital and is England's leading facility for the treatment of the mentally ill.
The term bedlam' has come to mean a confused uproar.'
The paintings seen throughout the film are by William Hogarth (1697-1764), whose 1735 series A Rake's Progress included a scene set in Bedlam.
"Bedlam" (RKO Radio, 1946), directed by Mark Robson and produced by Val
Lewton, is an underrated gem that expertly combines factual material and
In a story set in 18th century London at St. Mary's of Bethlehem Asylum (BEDLAM) for the insane, Boris Karloff stars as Master George Sims, the head warden of the asylum who specializes with his own techniques of sadistic therapy. Then comes Nell Bowen (Anna Lee), a nurse who comes the asylum only to learn of the cruel treatments of the inmates, and because she plans to expose these inadequate conditions, Sims, feeling she knows too much for her own good, and with the help of the committee board, has her declared insane confined within the walls of a hellish nightmare for which she is surrounded by screaming patients and the watching of waving hands churning in and out between the bars from the cells through dark corridors. At first she sits there motionless, trying to ignore what's happening around her, but Miss Bowen decides not give in to Sims' methods by going completely insane herself. Eventually this strong-willed woman tries to work along with the patients to improve conditions and their self esteem, with the hope that she will eventually see release. But when Sims learns of what she is trying to do, he comes up with some other plans to break her.
As with most previous Val Lewton's psychological horror films, "Bedlam" starts off slowly, and with the help of an intelligent and worthwhile script, the story then moves briskly until its harrowing climax. There are no real scenes of suffering presented on screen but the story suggests sufficient misery, which is what makes the Lewton films so different from other films of its day. Aside from Paramount's rarely seen 1935 production of "Private Worlds" starring Claudette Colbert, "Bedlam" predates the even more popular but then controversial drama about mental institutions, "The Snake Pit" (20th Century-Fox, 1948) which starred Olivia De Havilland, but until then, little has been dealt on screen with such tabu topics.
Although Karloff offers one of his best onscreen menacing characterizations, with Anna Lee coming a close second in one of her finer movie roles up to that time, the supporting cast of not-too-familiar names, which consists of Billy House as Lord Mortimer; Richard Fraser as William Hannay; Jason Robards Sr. as Oliver Todd, an alcoholic sent to the institution to sober up; and Elizabeth Russell (a regular in several Val Lewton productions), should not go unnoticed. Veteran character TV actress Ellen Corby can also be seen briefly as one of the asylum patients known as The Queen of Antichokes!
Val Lewton, whose unique style of story telling and horror, is said to have made little impression with critics in the 1940s, but seeing these movies today, they are considered rediscovered masterpieces, in many ways superior to the "B" horror flicks produced over at Universal where monsters are resurrected and killed off again until another sequel comes around. Of the nine psychological thrillers Lewton produced at RKO, "The Body Snatcher" (1945), which also starred Karloff, is regarded the finest of them all. The occasionally underrated "Bedlam" not only became Karloff's third collaboration with Lewton, but the end of the line for them both in the RKO horror unit. Karloff would resume his career in diversified roles on both screen and television until his death in 1969, leaving behind a lasting legacy. As for Lewton, he moved on to produce films for other studios, but none recaptured his psychological mood and style, only to die of a heart attack nearly forgotten in 1951. Thanks to frequent revivals on television and later video cassette distributions, the Lewton thrillers made from 1942 to 1946, can be seen, studied and appreciated by each new generation of horror movie enthusiasts.
On the plus side, from what I can observe, "Bedlam" appears accurate in every detail in sets, costumes and background. "Bedlam," which formerly played on cable's American Movie Classics for many years, can be seen occasionally on Turner Classic Movies, especially during the month of October in honor of Halloween. But it's worth seeing on all counts, especially during the cold, gloomy rainy afternoon or evening to set the mood of fear. What's even more harrowing is that since this movie is based on fact, it makes one wonder how many people have been sent to an unreturnable horror who didn't need to be there?
The film concerns upon a gorgeous heroine(Anna Lee) who 's falsely
accused as nutty and wrongfully jailed in famous Bedlam asylum governed
by an evil ruler (Boris Karloff) in England during 18th century .
Suspense , macabre and horror is exposed lurking , menacing , harassing in rooms, stairs , doors and reflected on the sensationalistic and cruel interpretation by Karloff . Over-the-top terror picture filled with thrills , intrigue , drama , some moments of shock and results to be pretty entertaining . Atmospheric goings-on dominate this typically tasteful horror study from director Mark Robson . Movie scenarios are based on William Hogarth paintings that imaginatively bring to life scenes about madhouse ; besides it has ideas adapted from Edgar Alan Poe writings , especially in its final conclusion . There is a certain social critical referred to horrible and revulsive conditions in which the nuts are forced to live .
The motion picture has a dark atmosphere created by Nicholas Musuruca (Stranger on third floor and Cat people) , he makes an awesome camera work , along with John Alton are the fundamental creators of Noir Film photography . As cinematography is magnificent , lights and dark are originating an eerie and creepy scenario . The movie was produced by RKO and the last of the famed Val Lewton films , the biggest producer of horror classics (Iwalked with a Zombie , Cat people , Leopard man , Ghost ship), plus he produced for director Mark Robson various films (Isle of the dead , Seventh victim) with similar technicians and artists . R.K.O. gave Val Lewton little budget to make the film , resulting in "creative" producing . In fact ; because of the incredibly tight budget, sets from other films were re-used . RKO usual musician ,Roy Webb , creates a fine score with the habitual musical director Bakaleinikoff . Excellent set design at charge of Albert D'Agostino . The picture was rightly directed by Mark Robson . Addicts of Karloff and horror should no account miss this movie . The flick will appeal to classic cinema moviegoers .
'Bedlam' stars Boris Karloff and was produced by Val "Cat People" Lewton so it's generally described as a horror movie, but it's really more of a melodrama with a few thrills. It was directed by Mark Robson who actually worked with Lewton more times than the more celebrated Jacques Tourneur. In my opinion Robson's collaborations with Lewton haven't received as much attention as they deserve. 'Bedlam' features one of Karloff's best performances. An interesting character, he is sadistic yet witty, both a writer and in charge of the infamous asylum Bedlam. Anna Lee, who previously co-starred with Karloff in 'The Man Who Changed His Mind', plays the protege of a Lord whom Karloff tries to ingratiate himself with. When she threatens his position he has her committed to Bedlam which he controls with an iron fist. Inside she eventually befriends many of the inmates which leads to an unforgettable climax. 'Bedlam' is by no means the best of the Val Lewton movies (its lack of success pretty much ended his career) but it's entertaining enough and is a must see for Karloff fans.
I've been a fan of Boris Karloff movies ever since I was sixteen, when
Channel 4 had a late night season on Friday nights, showing great films
like The Man They Couldn't Hang and The Boogie Man Will Get You. I
really wish we'd have a VCR, as these films don't appear to have seen
the light of day since. I've only seen Bedlam for the first time
recently, but it came with great credentials (Boris Karloff AND Val
Lewton) so I was more than willing to give it a try.
Karloff was born to play Master George Sims, the man who ran Bedlam, London's solution for the mentally ill or those who needed to be put away for fear of embarrassment to their families. In all his performances he manages to combine a natural warmth and sincerity with a just a hint of sadism beneath the surface. Even when playing an all out evil bad guy, like in The Black Cat, he still manages to be charming and polite. In Bedlam he is completely convincing as he ingratiates himself with the upper classes whilst threatening both the inmates and Nell Bowen, the woman who tries to improve conditions and ends up in the Institute herself.
The atmosphere portrayed in the dank, murky chambers and corridors of Bedlam is suitably dark and oppressive, and as such it invokes pity towards those incarcerated there, rather than fear. This is also probably an extension of the pity and care that Nell herself shows towards them, despite Karloff's attempts to show her compassion as limited and hypocritical.
My only real complaint about the film is the drawn out scenes between Nell and her Quaker friend who constantly reminds her of the need for non-violence and love for all around her, even Karloff himself. After a while you just want her to punch him in the face! It becomes more of a romance or even melodrama, which serves to a certain extent to undermine the more sinister elements of the film. There are also several comedic scenes with Nell's benefactor Lord Mortimer which feel slightly forced into the film, as though RKO wanted this to be lighter in tone than was usual for Lewton's horror films. Despite these minor gripes, Bedlam is still worth viewing for anyone who is a fan of Karloff, or the horror films of the 1940s. The final scenes alone, where the inmates get their revenge on the cowardly Sims, make this a film that deserves its status as a classic.
If you're watching a classic horror movie and you see the words
'produced by Val Lewton' sprawled across your screen, you know that
you're in for a great movie! While Bedlam doesn't represent Lewton's
best work, or even his best collaboration with the great Boris Karloff,
it's still a great atmospheric horror film. The story takes place in an
eighteenth century 'Looney bin' called "Bedlam", and stars Karloff as
the apothecary general. Lunatic asylums make for great settings for
horror movies, especially when they're set in the time period that this
one is set in. Nowadays, hospitals are more geared towards helping the
patients; but back then, they weren't; making the setting more
horrifying and therefore riper for a horror movie. The plot sees a
young woman who becomes concerned at the way the patients are being
treated at Bedlam. After trying to get the asylum to reform their
practices, the powers that be decide to have her committed in order to
save themselves money and stop her revealing how badly the patients are
As usual with Lewton, the film breathes a thick and foreboding atmosphere and this is the main star of the show. The atmosphere is complimented by a nice story which, although there's maybe slightly too much talking, plays out well and features a great ending that is seething with irony. Mark Robson isn't as great as the other directors that Lewton has worked with; Jacques Tourneur and Robert Wise, but he knows his stuff and the three films that he made with Lewton, while falling somewhat short to the others', are still nice horror movies. The Body Snatcher will remain the finest collaboration between Karloff and Lewton - but that film was exceptional and the fact that this one doesn't live up to it isn't a commentary on it's quality. Karloff himself puts in another awesome performance and his screen presence combines with his mannerisms to create an eerie performance from the great horror legend. This film comes with high recommendations from yours truly. I'm a big fan of Lewton, and after seeing a number of his films; I don't see how anyone couldn't be.
This film is yet another outstanding example of Karloff during his time at RKO. I find this film to be eerie and genuinely disturbing, when one sees inside the mental institution. Although Karloff gives a fine performance, my own particular favourite here has to be Anna Lee as Nell, who appeared later as the nosy neighbour in "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" It is such a tragedy that so many similar films of the period have been lost due to decay of the archives. Luckily, this one has survived, and my advice is to see it if you get the chance.
Master George Sims runs the famous mental asylum Bedlam for his own
personal amusement using the inmates for his own ends (such as
entertaining powerful guests) even if it means his patients die as a
result; although even when they do, it matters naught to Sims or his
political peers. However the arrival of Nell Bowen with Lord Mortimer
exposes Sims to his first critical voice as she tries to reform the
asylum to actual treat the patients rather than abuse them. Although
Sims can initially control her by pushing the right political buttons
on Mortimer, she continues to strive for change and Sims is forced to
take further steps to protect his cruel way of life.
A strange mix of well-written dialogue with some comic touches, a solid story, an interesting debate and chiller; however I think those that are disappointed in the film tend to put to much onus on the latter rather than the former qualities. I agree that the film really does fall flat when it comes to drawing the horror and tension out Nell's imprisonment but there was enough going on to cover for it. The early stages are quite light, with flowing dialogue and some moments of wit that are enjoyable and offer a bit of menace just below the surface where I'd hoped it would gradually be revealed as more. Sadly in the second half this menace didn't come out enough and it wasn't as chilling as I would have liked. Despite this it is still interesting and is a polished film that is very engaging.
The basic story is simple enough and the debate over Sim's methods versus the "Quaker lies" is a nice addition despite it always falling on the side of Nell. The dialogue contains too many "thee's" and "thou's" for its own good but it is still nicely poetic and flows well, adding to the classy feel of the film. With these words the cast mostly stand up well to it. Karloff has fun with the words and enjoys mixing intelligent wit with his usual brand of menace. Lee is good despite being a bit too liberal for her won good, although she gets off better than Fraser, who stumbles across nearly every word he has to say and comes across about as natural as PVC. Hodgson, House and others all give good support but mostly the film is best when Karloff and Lee are on screen together.
Overall not a chiller or horror by any means, although you can see why people expect it to be. However it is still a professional period piece that flows well with the dialogue and most of the actors to produce an enjoyable story that is worth seeing.
In 18th century London, Nell Bowen the protégé of Lord Mortimer is
confined by the malicious asylum master, for voicing her concerns about
the condition of the Bedlam asylum.
This is a pretty interesting horror film by RKO studios and producer Val Lewton. Director Mark Robson gives a reasonable job in the use of setting and characters, though it does have its flat spots and may lack suspense at times- but not enough to damage the film.
The performances are perfect with the ever-reliable Boris Karloff as the evil Master George Sims, which he brings such an evoking presence of macabre. Billy House as the pompous Lord Mortimer who is easily influence, fit's the role perfectly. Richard Fraser as the ever-helpful Hanny, who befriends Nell Bowen and tries to help her out on her quest. The best performance would have to be Anna Lee as Nell Bowen who brings a spirited and caring vibe to her character, she is disgusted in the way the upper class treat the mentally insane and tries to change that, especially when she learns a great deal about them when she is confined.
The story of the mental institution is quite interesting though at times the pace seems to be to padded- but when it focus on the manipulative Master Sims and the institution, especially when Nell is detained it has a disturbing aurora that draws you in, though nothing that shocking. The grim atmosphere, especially the asylum is really top-grade, the cinematography is alright- with great use of lighting and shadows and the music score is nothing spectacular- but just right.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
***SPOILERS*** In a role literally tailor-made for him, Boris Karloff offers
up a smiling, bowing sadist who would bend his betters to his will- if only
there were a way... He moves confidently through the lightless confines of
the asylum he oversees, making merry with the "tortured souls" he
encounters. He is very much at home, here in the dark. Would that one of the
nobles with whom he rubs shoulders could spend some time here... An
opportunity presents itself, and the trap is laid. No longer will he walk
these "hollowed" halls alone...
The Lewton unit delivers another creepy classic, this one- in terms of the storyline itself as well as the patented approach to filmmaking- relying first and foremost on SUGGESTION. Each of these so-called "B" ("budget") pictures admirably stands the test of time; would that today's bloated-budget bombs could say as much. With limited resources and unlimited imagination, Val Lewton and company crafted gem after unforgettable gem. Finer filmmakers are almost impossible to find.
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