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Bedlam (1946)

Approved | | Drama, Horror, Thriller | 10 May 1946 (USA)
Nell Bowen, the protégé of Lord Mortimer, wants to help change the conditions of notorious St. Mary's of Bethlehem Asylum (Bedlam). Though she tries to reform Bedlam, but the cruel Master ... See full summary »


Mark Robson


William Hogarth (suggested by The William Hogarth painting Bedlam Plate #8 "The Rake's Progress"), Val Lewton (screenplay) (as Carlos Keith) | 1 more credit »
2 nominations. See more awards »




Complete credited cast:
Boris Karloff ... Master George Sims
Anna Lee ... Nell Bowen
Billy House ... Lord Mortimer
Richard Fraser ... The Stonemason
Glen Vernon ... The Gilded Boy (as Glenn Vernon)
Ian Wolfe ... Sidney Long
Jason Robards Sr. ... Oliver Todd (as Jason Robards)
Leyland Hodgson ... That Devil Wilkes (as Leland Hodgson)
Joan Newton Joan Newton ... Dorothea the Dove
Elizabeth Russell ... Mistress Sims


Nell Bowen, the protégé of Lord Mortimer, wants to help change the conditions of notorious St. Mary's of Bethlehem Asylum (Bedlam). Though she tries to reform Bedlam, but the cruel Master Sims who runs it has her committed there, though ultimate, it's the lunatics who've taken over the asylum. Written by Ken Yousten <kyousten@bev.net>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Sensational Secrets of Infamous Mad-house EXPOSED! (1946 one-sheet poster)


Drama | Horror | Thriller


Approved | See all certifications »

Did You Know?


Filmed July 18-late August 17 1945, the third and last collaboration between Boris Karloff and producer Val Lewton. See more »


Nell Bowen's bird is a Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo, native to Australia. They were not imported to Europe until after 1788. See more »


Lord Mortimer: A capital fellow, this Sims, a capital fellow.
Nell Bowen: If you ask me, M'Lord, he's a stench in the nostrils, a sewer of ugliness, and a gutter brimming with slop.
See more »


Referenced in The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs: Pieces (2018) See more »

User Reviews

Political Allegory
23 December 2007 | by dougdoepkeSee all my reviews

True, the film is from horror-meister Val Lewton and stars that icon of fright, Boris Karloff; yet, beneath the credits lurks an insistent glimpse into 18th century social conscience. Apparently the film failed on release. That's not surprising since the script hews closely to what Hollywood would consider elevated speech of that day, which sounds a lot like drawing-room Shakespeare. I expect audiences turned away in droves-- Lewton was always an unsteady mix of the frightful and the literary.

Nonetheless, the story line does much to balance out the conventional conclusion. At first, the gross Billy House comes across like a sadistic nobleman who considers grim death little more than amusing party entertainment. But then we find he's simply typical of his titled class for whom commoners exist mainly to be used. If we condemn him, then we must condemn the class from which he springs. At first, Anna Lee appears to be House's arrogant plaything, elevated from the common herd by House's eye for a quick wit and a pretty face, (implausibly, the script implies her companionship doesn't extend to the bedroom).

But Lee can't suppress her natural sympathies despite the privileged standing. She turns against her benefactor and House's cruel right arm, the chief apothecary of the Bedlam madhouse, the redoubtable Karloff. Her ally and conscience, in a poorly performed part, is Richard Fraser as a free man and pacifist Quaker. Together they challenge the inhumane conditions locked into place by the conniving Karloff and the uncaring House.

Now, much of this can be read as political allegory with House standing in for decadent nobility, Karloff as his Machiavellian enforcer, Lee as the collaborator turned fiery reformer, and Fraser as the principled free man foreshadowing the rise of the productive class and the American revolution. The "loonies" compose the most damaged and victimized of the commoners, while their "trial proceeding" shows a repressed potential among even the most benighted. In short, there's a strong carry-over of Progressive reformism in this 1946 production.

One scene in particular suggests the film's underlying ambition. Karloff is being tried before the inmates he has so callously abused. Ordinarily a horror script would simply assume Karloff' wicked nature. Here, however, he confesses to the fear he feels at losing his standing in the class hierarchy should he not flatter those on the rungs above and demean those on the rungs below. As a scholar, his position is necessarily an ambiguous and perilous one. So he takes the easy way out, in effect selling his soul to the undeserving House in return for a measure of power and prestige. Thus he is exposed not as a monster, but as a weak man simply overcome by an understandable fear-- which is not your usual horror-level motivation behind wicked behavior.

Allegories aside, the performances are excellent, with the exception of Fraser. Lee's and Karloff's verbal sparring in House's bed chamber amounts to a minor masterpiece of upper-crust sarcasm. In fact, the attractive but unglamorous Lee remains persuasive throughout. House too adds considerable color, as does the venerable Ian Wolfe as the loony lawyer, along with the small uncredited boy who manages some characterization as House's well-upholstered attendant.

This may not be cult-favorite Lewton's best or scariest film. But it does show real heart, along with the usual number of intelligent Lewton touches.

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Release Date:

10 May 1946 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Chamber of Horrors See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

RKO Radio Pictures See more »
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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (RCA Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

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