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Great acting by Boris Karloff ruling a mental hospital against hapless inmates
ma-cortes19 October 2005
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 .
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lugonian2 March 2002
"Bedlam" (RKO Radio, 1946), directed by Mark Robson and produced by Val Lewton, is an underrated gem that expertly combines factual material and horror elements.

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 controversial topics.

Although Karloff offers one of his best on screen 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 (Lord Mortimer); Richard Fraser (William Hannay); Jason Robards Sr. (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. 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. As for Lewton, he moved on to produce films for other studios, but none recaptured his psychological mood and style. 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 nonreturnable horror who didn't need to be there? (***)
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Thoughtful Film Provides Atmospheric Chills
Ron Oliver3 August 2002
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.
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Not the best of the Val Lewton movies but worth watching for the terrific performance from Karloff.
Infofreak7 March 2004
'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.
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Not the chiller it was advertised as but still a polished and flowing story
bob the moo11 August 2005
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.
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Another fine film from Val Lewton!
The_Void29 June 2005
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 treated.

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.
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"Are we lovers, that you thee and thou me?"
Warning: Spoilers
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.
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Oh, the insanity!
lost-in-limbo17 February 2005
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.

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Jonno-B30 July 2000
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.
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Not-so-tender mercies...
poe42613 September 2002
Warning: 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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Not Really A Horror Movie
Theo Robertson10 July 2005
As a child in the 1970s I always used to look forward to the Summer months when BBC 2 used to have horror double bills in the late evenings . These would usually feature the Universal Frakenstien and Dracula franchise along with some other movies like THEM , THE MUMMY and occasionally a Hammer horror . I do remember seeing a Boris Karloff movie called BEDLAM and thought that it only qualified as a horror movie because of Karloff and after seeing it again tonight it's obvious that it's not a horror film , more of a dark period drama

Taken on its own BEDLAM isn't a bad movie though it's by no means a great one either . The uneven quality probably is probably due to the star billing taking precedence over the story which is something of a pity . Yeah okay Karloff can exude menace but the story doesn't really pick up until we're introduced to the main plot of Nell being interned in the notorious lunatic asylum and this doesn't happen till half way through the movie . Until then we've got to put up with long talky scenes with characters speaking in rather irritating mid Atlantic accents . The rather dated feel surrounding mental health doesn't help either since the heroine describes the inmates as " Loonies " even though she doesn't mean any malice and I don't know if it's deliberate but someone seems to have confused sanity with intelligence . Does knowing the alphabet and being able to count mark you out as being sane ?

I couldn't help noticing a very interesting subtext when the main plot takes off and that's that the movie sides with pacifist quaker philosophy . In 1946 the Western World had united to help defeat that Hitler chappie and rightly or wrongly this could only have been achieved through the violence of war . Are the producers sticking up for pacifist ideals ? Probably not and it's open to interpretation but I think BEDLAM is analogy for the Soviet Union where people of all faiths were imprisoned in psychiatric hospitals . It should also be remembered that a year previously the Soviet Union and the West were brothers in arms united in their opposition to Hitler which may explain the somewhat confused moral message of the movie
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Worth Seeing for Karloff's and Lee's Performances
James Christian16 November 2008
"Bedlam" isn't the strongest of Val Lewton's RKO pictures, but it's in good company. Karloff has one of his most diabolical roles in this film, and it's his performance, along with Anna Lee's, that makes this film worth watching.

The plot revolves around the Bedlam asylum. George Sims (Karloff) is the cruel asylum master, and Nell Bowen (Lee) finds the conditions deplorable, the latter desiring to bring reform. Unfortunately, Nell faces great opposition (and that's a big understatement!). A friendly Quaker, Hannay, is along for the ride to assist her in her plight.

The lighting and the mood give the film a great atmosphere, and the film is always great to look at. While I would still categorize "Bedlam" as a horror movie, it's a "light" horror movie. Don't expect tons of shocks or scares. It's more of a macabre look at a real-life historical setting.

This film isn't as psychologically deep as most of Lewton's other productions, but it still excels at being more than an average horror film. You can't help but sympathize with Nell Bowen (and she has some great scenes where she confronts her foes). And you can't help but loathe Karloff as he plots his deliciously fiendish plans.

Fans of Boris Karloff will definitely enjoy this movie, and Anna Lee's character is certainly enjoyable to watch. It's not the greatest horror film ever made, but it's still better than most.

(One major annoyance: The Quaker character, Hannay, speaks in somewhat Old English with "thee" and "thy" liberally sprinkled throughout his dialogue, but he apparently doesn't understand the rules of grammar. When using "thee" and "thou", "thou" is used when it's the subject of a sentence, and "thee" is used when it's the object. Unfortunately, he always uses the word "thee", even when it's the subject. This is extremely irritating to hear, and it's surprising, considering the high quality of literary elements in most of Lewton's pictures. I would have expected him to catch an error like this.)
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See why Community Mental Health was started.
lastliberal1 November 2008
There aren't many films that feature the mentally ill in institutions. One of the most famous is One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. But that was mild compared to seeing how they existed in the 16th Century.

It wasn't too much better in the United States, and this created the push to Community Mental health instead of institutions. It was too easy in these facilities to abuse and neglect patients, and it was also too easy, as illustrated in the film, for families to quietly get rid of unwanted wives or barriers to wealth.

Boris Karloff is excellent in his role as the warden and the film does manage to keep from being too morose with attempts at humor, and what is probably a prettier picture of the institution that really existed.

Anna Lee, probably better known as Lila Quartermaine on "Port Charles" and "General Hospital," did a very good job as someone who was taken aback by the conditions at Bedlam and fought for reform to the point that she, herself, was committed. She then worked from within to defeat Karloff, and manged to endear herself to the residents to the point that the film had a really great ending.
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Political Allegory
dougdoepke23 December 2007
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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The least interesting of all Val Lewton's productions
Coventry15 July 2005
I had fairly high hopes that "Bedlam" would be the coolest and most fiendish of all the films Val Lewton produced during the 1940's… Just look at the potential! Set in a 19th century asylum and starring the great Boris Karloff as the sadistic head warden who exploits and abuses his patients in order to entertain the higher social class of England. Eventually, it turned out that "Bedlam" actually is the least interesting Lewton film (in my humble opinion, of course) but I must still acknowledge that it is an intelligently written and truly ambitious shock-drama. Indeed, as multiple reviewers already stated, it's not really a horror film but more a compelling drama about the abuse of power. The story continues with a young girl standing up for the asylum patients' rights and, since she's becoming a large threat to Sims' (Karloff) position, he has her committed. Especially the first half disappoints, with overly pretentious dialogues and some very dull moments. Also conspicuous during this first half is the complete lack of tension! Films like "Cat People" or "The Body Snatcher" entirely bath in creepiness while "Bedlam" only becomes suspenseful and involving near the end. The second half is remarkably better, thanks to the atmospherically filmed scenes inside the nut-house and the malicious portrayal of Karloff's character. One sequence really is pure cinema-gold, namely the one where Nell Bowen is declared insane by a board of relentless judges. Although this already was Mark Robson's fourth film under Val Lewton, his directing is still weak compared to Jacques Tourneur and Robert Wise. Robson can't emphasize the poetry of the scripts and doesn't make fully use of the sophisticated set pieces. And, oh yes, the exaggerated use "thee" and "thou" was really getting on my nerves…
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Not exactly scary--but a fascinating movie nevertheless
MartinHafer25 December 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Considering that this is a Val Lewton production AND it stars Boris Karloff, you might be inclined to think this is a horror movie. Well, if that's the case--you're wrong! Instead, it is a fictionalized account of the horrors of Bedlam Hospital in Britain circa 1770. Now this isn't to say there aren't any horrific aspects to the film--Karloff is a nasty and sadistic head of this "hospital" and he tries his best to make this facility a Hell-on-Earth instead of a treatment center.

The first portion of the film is about a lady who is kept by an influential lord. This man also happens to be a trustee at Bedlam and later uses this position for evil--at the eager prompting of Karloff. When this lady sees for herself the horrors of this place, she begs the lord to do something to improve the lot for the mentally ill there. For all her trouble, the lady's life is turned upside-down and she herself becomes a resident of this chamber of horrors! While the story itself is a fictional dramatization, the fact that St. Bethlehem (a.k.a. "Bedlam") existed and was horrific is true. Many patients were chained to the walls, lived in their own filth or were simply left to wander about and languish. And, oddly, the hospital became a place for fashionable people to go for a fun tour of the hospital--where they would laugh at the patients' antics!!!

The studio did a good job of building an interesting story with interesting characters to bring all this madness to life. Particularly outstanding were the performances of Karloff and Anna Lee, though everyone involved did an excellent job--especially the set designers and camera crew to create a moody and dank rendition of Bedlam. I also liked the use of the famous Hogarth prints of Bedlam scattered through the film that were used as scene transitions--this was very artistic and lent a sense of realism to the film. Finally, the ending with its Poe-inspired scene was great--a wonderful way to wrap up a fascinating and compelling film.
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BEDLAM (Mark Robson, 1946) ***
MARIO GAUCI29 October 2006
I had always been somewhat underwhelmed by this one - Lewton's artiest production yet and which turned out to be the last of his classic horror cycle at RKO - so I was a little surprised to see it bandied about, on the accompanying Audio Commentary as much as on the "Shadows In The Dark: The Val Lewton Legacy" documentary (paired with THE SEVENTH VICTIM [1943] in Warners' Box Set), as his best!

Mind you, I liked it better this time around than ever before but its inherent stateliness and over-literary script (doubtless brought about by Lewton's painstaking striving for authenticity in every department) still got in the way of my enjoying it for what it ostensibly was, a horror film (indeed, both Lewton and Boris Karloff referred to it as a historical picture)! I had quite forgotten just how witty Karloff is in the film: his character here is possibly the most despicable I've seen from him, and his performance is beautifully judged in every way (it's regrettable, therefore, that contemporary reviews tended to overlook his contribution while lavishing praise on his co-star Anna Lee - which has come to be considered one of the best-ever female roles in the horror genre {sic}). Elizabeth Russell appears in her fourth role for Lewton, and one which almost parodies her own image!; Ian Wolfe is wonderful as Lee's fellow inmate (one of the "People of the Pillar"), who lives in the illusion of having been a great lawyer.

The plot itself is very interesting: the inhuman treatment of the insane in 18th century London was certainly unusual for the time (and, like the grave-robbing theme of THE BODY SNATCHER [1945], critics anticipated that it would shock and repulse audiences; the film was banned in the U.K. for decades!) but it's quite tame when seen today - or even when compared with, say, Samuel Fuller's uncompromising SHOCK CORRIDOR (1963). Typical of Lewton, the intelligent script provides detailed (and, in this particular case, well-researched) characterizations to all the major characters: it just happens that I wasn't drawn to the stilted qualities of Richard Fraser's Quaker stonemason hero or burly Billy House's buffoonish incarnation of an English aristocrat - while the change in Lee's character itself from the latter's haughty protégé to a crusader of social reform (after just one brief visit to "Bedlam") is a little too abrupt to be truly convincing! Still, her battle-of-wills with Karloff is fascinating - culminating in two very different trial sequences: the first of which sees her sentenced to be shut inside the institution that Karloff himself rules by fear, and the second in which the latter is finally turned upon by the inmates and taken to be 'judged' and eventually 'executed' (surely the film's highlight, displaying shades of FREAKS [1932] and ISLAND OF LOST SOULS [1933] but also looks forward to the climax of FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL {1974; itself largely set in an asylum}).

Lewton and director Robson were aided immeasurably by the chiaroscuro cinematography of the legendary Nicholas Musuraca (one of the finest exponents of noir lighting): at its best in the shadowy interiors of "Bedlam" and particularly Richard Fraser's walk along a corridor of cells with the inmates' disembodied hands emerging from the bars - pleading, contemptuous or ready to assault - marking one of the defining (and indelible) images in the entire Lewton canon; much imitated, as duly noted in my review of THE BLACK PIT OF DR. M (1959). However, Robson's direction is generally stodgy and only comes alive in three sequences: the aforementioned 'walk' and Karloff's climactic 'trial' as well as the fete in honor of the Billy House character, where Karloff presents a play starring the asylum inmates - though this is short-lived as the first 'attraction' is a gilded boy who dies asphyxiated almost instantly!

Tom Weaver's Audio Commentary is exhaustive - and exhausting, given his typical rapid-fire delivery; apart from detailing behind-the-scenes anecdotes (my favorite, however, is one where, immediately upon arriving in Hollywood in 1939, Lee and her then-husband - director Robert Stevenson - were invited over by mogul David O. Selznick, who obliged by showing them a rough cut of his current production, GONE WITH THE WIND [1939]!!), he offers ample information on the background of the real "Bedlam" as well as the William Hogarth paintings which inspired the film to begin with.
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"He's an ugly thing in a pretty world." OK historical drama.
Paul Andrews12 July 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Bedlam starts with an on screen caption that informs us, the viewer that is, it's set in 'London - 1761'. Bedlam opens on St. Mary's of Bethlehem Asylum where an inmate 'accidently' falls from the roof to his death during an escape attempt. Lord Mortimer (Billy House) happens to be passing & recognises the man as a friend. The next morning the head of the asylum Master George Sims (Boris Karloff) visits Lord Mortimer & his young protégé Nell Bowen (Anna Lee), Mortimer ask's Sims to provide some loony inmates as perverse entertainment for his rich friends which Sims happily agrees too. Nell becomes interested in the people locked away in the asylum & decides to visit, once there she witnesses Sims cruel treatment of the inmates & the awful conditions in which they are kept. With the help of famed lawyer John Wilkes (Leyland Hodgeson) Nell intends to expose Sims & get proper help for the inmates. Sims becomes aware of this & together with Lord Mortimer plot to have Nell pronounced insane & committed to the asylum from which there is no escape...

Co-written & directed by Mark Robson I thought Bedlam was a reasonably entertaining enough drama with subtle horror overtones. Val Lewton produced for RKO Pictures & when Bedlam lost money his career with them was over as he was not popular with RKO management apparently... The script by Lewton under the pseudonym Carlos Keith & Robson is based on one of the engraving's in a series called 'A Rake's Progress' by William Hogarth, it ditches any supernatural horror in favour of social horror, the rich are depicted as corrupt & greedy evil-doers while the poor are painted as honest caring people who want to turn wrongs into rights. Sims is bad through & through, Karloff gives a great performance which brings him to life. Nell is some sort of Florence Nightingale as she tries to single handedly make the world a better place, Lee does a good job with the material & manages to create a certain degree of sympathy for the forgotten & abused inmates. Some of the supporting cast are a little wooden though. Don't expect much horror as Bedlam plays much more like an historical drama complete with dialogue that sounds odd at times, but then I suppose that's how people spoke in the 18th century. The pace of Bedlam is a little slow at times but the story was strong enough to maintain my interest. There is no violence or traditional horror elements in Bedlam although the ending is great & felt like it belonged in a straight horror. Technically the film is fine for the period with some nice black & white photography, the production design is solid even if it's a little obvious that certain 'street' shots were filmed on a sound-stage. Overall I quite liked Bedlam, it's not the scariest film ever made, it's not the best film ever made & it's definitely not the most memorable film from RKO & producer Val Lewton but it does what it sets out to do reasonably enough & is worth a watch if your a fan of this sort of thing.
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whpratt111 March 2003
Bedlam was truly a great film depicting London in 1761, and under the cruel domination of its chief warden, Master Sims, (Boris Karloff )who was true to form in this picture in 1946. One of the lunatics(Glenn Vernon) smothers to death because he is gilded, probably and idea that was used later on in the James Bond film: "Goldfinger". The church set from Bells of St. Mary's was used for the asylum. This is a great artful and scary movie with horror. There is a great scene when Boris Karloff has the last brick put in his face to end his horrible rule over the poor mental patients. This picture showed how mental patients where treated years ago along with sane people who also were placed in these asylums.
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Way too much talking going on...Karloff however is in good form!
Boba_Fett113811 July 2005
The talking in this movie just seemed endless! Especially in the beginning of the movie, way too little is going on on screen. The movie just drags on and on and doesn't seem to be heading anywhere. Granted that the movie becomes good and interesting at the ending but its not enough to completely save this movie from being a small failure.

Don't be fooled people, this movie ain't no horror. Nothing scary is ever happening on screen and this movie is merely just a drama movie. I think however, because Karloff is in it, this movie has always been advertised as an horror movie.

Karloff himself is in absolute top form as British gentleman. His acting is superb! The rest of the characters however are quite underdeveloped and not really interesting enough to help to carry this movie.

The fans of Boris Karloff his acting will be delighted by this movie, everyone else, you better just skip this one!

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Sewers of "sanity"
minamurray4 November 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Unlike most horror films of 1940's, this movie, written by producer Val Lewton and director Mark Robson, does not show escapist monster rally - like atmospheric and well-made films from Universal - but something truly disturbing: human's cruelty to other humans. It is 18th century England and Bedlam, real-life institution for mentally ill, is hell on Earth (a bit like concentration camp in North Korea, minus human experiments). Quick-tempered actress (Anna Lee) opposes mercilessly sadistic warden (Boris Karloff) and depraved treatment of mentally ill, and she is soon endangered herself. Nice costumes, sets and props and (unfortunately) timeless and powerful message for need of human treatment for people with mental health problems, even if they are violent.
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Dark suspense period piece
Charles Herold (cherold)26 October 2017
Bedlam is an odd and interesting film. Anna Lee is Nell, a witty young woman who functions as a sort of court jester for a noble. She is goaded into visiting Bedlam, an insane asylum that holds tours so the rich can laugh at the insane.

Nell affects the air of a cynical, frivolous wit, but she is disturbed by the treatment of the inmates at the hands of Boris Karloff's psychopathic George Sims.

Karloff and Lee are both terrific, and the atmosphere is beautifully created, both in the lush homes of the elite and in the chaotic Bedlam. While producer Val Lewton was known as a horror movie producer, his movies were always more complex than that, and this is a movie of psychological horror.

The story is compelling and the movie does a good job of showing the power of both hate and love to affect people.
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Splendid Melodrama with a Spectacular Karloff Performances
zardoz-1320 April 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Director Mark Robson's fifth film, "Bedlam," drew its title from the infamous St. Mary's of Bethlehem Asylum in London in the 18th century. This polished, period piece ranks as one of "Cat People" producer Val Lewton's finest productions with nothing to detract from it. Although it isn't strictly horror, this atmospheric character-driven melodrama derives its impact from by its asylum setting. Reportedly, William Hogarth's painting Bedlam Plate #8 "The Rake's Progress" inspired this witty suspense yarn. What is truly creepy about "Bedlam" is Master George Sims' callous treatment of his unfortunate patients and the way he exploits them for the amusement of the upper classes. He charges a tuppence for visitor to turn the asylum as if it were a zoo. When Sims isn't ruling his patients like a tyrant, he flatters an obese nobleman Lord Mortimer (Billy House of "The Stranger") so he can maintain his support. Each character is skillfully written, and drama galore unfolds in this enthralling RKO Picture.

"Bedlam" takes places in 1761. Lord Mortimer (Billy House of "The Stranger") and his protégé, actress Nell Bowen (Anna Lee of "Seven Sinners"), stop at St. Mary's of Bethlehem Asylum, an infamous mental institute nicknamed "Bedlam," where a crowd has gathered. One of the inmates died trying to escape, his driver tells him, and then adds that Mortimer knew the gentleman. Sure enough, Mortimer recognizes the corpse as his friend the poet Colby. Earlier, director Robson showed the feeble poet struggling to hoist himself onto the roof, hanging onto the gutter for dear life. Another man arrived and promptly ground Colby's fingers with his boot. Inevitably, Colby loses his grip and plunges to his death.

Lord Mortimer blames Apothecary General Master George Sims (Boris Karloff of "Frankenstein") for Colby's ill-timed demise. Apparently, Mortimer had paid Colby the sum of 20 guineas to pen him a masque for his fete. Not only does Mortimer lose the money but now also the evening's entertainment that Colby was hired to furnish. Sims argues that Colby's death was accidental. "This was a misadventure contrived by the victim and executed by Nature's law that all who lose their grip on gutters must fall." Furthermore, he adds Colby came to visit him at St. Mary's to discuss poetry while he—Sims--was absent. The guards thought Colby was a lunatic and locked him up. Colby escaped, but he didn't get away. Sims announces that he will make Lord Mortimer's fete "a frolic you will remember." He convinces Mortimer to all him to stage the entertainment at St. Mary's, and everybody will be overjoyed.

Nell Bowen is a woman of opportunity. Starving as a theatrical actress, she won over Lord Mortimer, and he has her around to amuse him. Dressed in the height of fashion, she accompanies him everywhere. Nevertheless, she ridicules Mortimer with qualm at every opportunity. She has trained her parrot to describe Lord Mortimer as a sloth. The moment that she encounters Sims, she hates the head warden with a virulent passion. She criticizes every word he utters, and she snaps at Mortimer, too! The loathsome Sims knows how to bring people around to his way of thinking. He butters up the bumptious Mortimer and slyly outfoxes Nell. At one point, Nell allows her contempt for Lord Mortimer to run rampant and he reprimands her. Later, she tries to sell her parrot in the open market. Actually, she wants the bird to sing the farcical jingle about Lord Mortimer. When Mortimer dispatches a representative to buy the parrot for the princely sum of 100 guineas, she refuses to sell him.

Everything that Nell does is steeped in humor. She relies on the power of the jest, but her jesting comes back to haunt her when she has to face a lunacy hearing. Nell appears before a panel of obtuse men who don't appreciate her sense of humor, and they vote to confine her in St. Mary's. Our heroine has talked her way into the asylum and now she must fend for herself! Meantime, the stone mason looks for a way to visit it.

Robson doesn't squander a second in this intelligent period piece set during the Age of Reason. He stages every scene so that it appears natural, and nothing seems out of place in this carefully crafted film. At seventy-nine minutes, it never wears out its welcome. The Quakes get fair treatment, and stone mason William Hannay (Richard Fraser) believes in himself and his God. The court room at the end is ironic, but it is also fitting. Our dastardly villain Sims looks as if he is going to save his skin when the unexpected happens from the least thought of source. "Bedlam" qualifies as an excellent, black & white, melodrama, with Karloff giving a tour de force interpretation of shear evil and avarice. Billy House is splendid as the vacuous nobleman who is oblivious to all the barbs that both Sims and Nell heap upon him.
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Hogarth meets horror
MissSimonetta18 April 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Val Lewton's final horror production may not be his best effort, but it is nevertheless a fantastic movie, much better than its reputation. I think the reason why many horror movie fans dismiss this one is that it really isn't much of a horror movie per-say: it's more of a melodrama with Gothic elements taken right out of a Poe story.

Allegedly based off the paintings of 18th century painter William Hogarth, Bedlam follows Nell Bowen (Anna Lee), the witty young "protege" of a jolly if heartless nobleman (really, she's more of a kept woman, but a Production Code era movie can hardly imply the heroine is a woman of easy virtue), who seeks to reform the ghastly asylum, Bedlam, run by the much ghastlier George Sims (Boris Karloff in one of his best performances). Displeased with the idea of losing what little social power he has as the head of the asylum, Sims pulls some strings to have Nell committed and hopes to both drive her mad and prove her theories that the mentally ill do possess the right to human dignity wrong. Meanwhile, Nell reaches out to the other inmates with compassion, all while plotting her escape with the aid of a young Quaker.

The scenes in the asylum are hardly frightening or shocking by today's standards (mistreatment of the inmates with sexual abuse and physical torture are merely implied, and lightly at that), but the lighting and the sounds of shrieks and moaning do conjure a creepy atmosphere. The Quaker love interest is quite bland. The real highlights of the film are Karloff's gleefully wicked performance as the sadistic yet human physician and the philosophical battle between Bowen and Sims over the brotherhood of mankind. Their exchanges are entertaining and dramatically powerful. I've often heard Anna Lee's Nell described as the first feminist heroine of horror cinema, and while I think Zita Johann's character in The Mummy beats her to the punch, she is a strong female character without doubt, active and courageous. She is no angel either; she begins the movie as a greedy person who's reluctant to let the plight of the asylum inmates move her. She has to battle her own hypocrisies in order to change for the better.

Truly underrated. Just don't come in expecting a chiller like Cat People or The Body Snatcher.
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Perhaps the best of the Val Lewton quickies, or at least tied with Bodysnatchers
Terrell-43 March 2008
Warning: Spoilers
With sad irony, Bedlam, one of the Val Lewton-produced B-movie quickies, was not successful at the box office yet was probably the best constructed of his films. Along with The Body Snatchers, I think it stands up as a compelling story with solid dialogue and better acting than we've come to expect from Lewton's films.

Boris Karloff, in a performance of skill and complexity, plays Master George Sims, the ruler of St. Mary's of Bethlehem Asylum in London...a forbidding hulk of a stone building. Bedlam, for short. The time is 1761. Bedlam is the place where the insane are sent, as well as inconvenient or embarrassing relatives. The violent ones are kept in chains and in cages. The quieter ones are housed in a huge ward, male and female all together, the floor covered with filthy straw, where the inmates mutter or cry or ceaselessly walk or stare at the walls. But they all cower when Master Sims comes in.

Nell Bowen (Anna Lee), is the smart, privileged and arrogant protégé of a fat English lord. When she meets Sims her dislike is instant. But Sims counts her patron as one of his sponsors. While many of the upper-class willingly pay a shilling to visit Bedlam and laugh at "the antics of the loonies," Nell finds herself repulsed and outraged. When she sets out to improve conditions, she finds herself blocked by the clever Sims. In a major miscalculation, she aims her furious temper at her protector, Lord Mortimer, leaves him and sets out to make him a laughing stock. Before long, she finds herself an inmate in Bedlam, too. Can she survive in Bedlam by showing kindness? Can she win over the inmates before a confrontation with Sims becomes inevitable? Will she ever be released? Will she find love in the arms of a Quaker she met...and if she does, can she curb her tongue with him? Will Sims ever be brought to justice? All rather mundane questions, but director Mark Robson and the Lewton production team, plus a larger than usual budget, set most of these questions in a fine and repellent reconstruction of an 18th Century insane asylum.

As unsettling and threatening as the movie looks, Bedlam is in no way a horror film. Bedlam is a well-balanced character study pitting the obsequious, envious and dangerous George Sims against the resourceful and unintimidated Nell Bowen. Karloff and Lee are more than up to the task. Anna Lee gives us a Nell Bowen who is remarkably quick with her temper and with her tongue. Her description of Sims is pungent. "If you ask me, my lord, he's a stench in the nostrils, a sewer of ugliness and a gutter brimming with slough." Boris Karloff gives us a fascinating portrait of a man who fawns over his superiors and abuses his inmates. It's a masterful job. Watch the difference in how he walks into Lord Mortimer's bedroom after being kept waiting for hours and how he strides into his own empire, Bedlam. Watch how he compulsively touches his pig-tailed wig to make sure it's on straight whenever he meets Lord Mortimer. Watch the difference in his stare when Nell Bowen is seen as just Lord Mortimer's plaything and when she's seen as a threat to him. There are several times when Karloff's face registers anger, resentment and satisfaction in just moments and with just a slight movement of his lips. And unlike many of Lewton's films, in Bedlam there are a number of capable actors in smaller parts.

With two strong actors, it's good to see that they were given a well-written script to work with. When Sims is accused of abetting the death of an embarrassing "guest" at Bedlam, a sane young man who could cause problems for Sims' sponsor, he simply smiles and says that the man's fall from the roof was "a misadventure, contrived by the victim and executed by nature's law that all who lose their grip on gutters must fall."

Was the treatment of the insane in Bedlam just an historical fact which we have corrected in our modern age? If you are naive enough to believe that you might want to read up on Titticut Follies, a Frederick Wiseman documentary he filmed in 1967. It shows the routine mistreatment and humiliation of the mentally ill by the guards and doctors at the State Hospital for the Criminally Insane at Bridgewater, Mass. Or you might sign up for a sociology class in college that could take you to visit a state hospital for the insane. I can recall my own visit years ago to a ward for men which was filled with patients wearing only untied hospital gowns. The men shuffled about or came up to stare and try to touch or simply rocked back and forth. The ward smelled strongly of human waste.
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