Sunday, November 1, 2015


I watched BEDLAM (1946) as my Halloween horror movie for this year. BEDLAM was one of several low-budget horror films produced by Val Lewton at RKO during the '40s. They are all good and worth seeking out.

BEDLAM is not so much a horror film as it is a historical costume drama about social justice and reformation. There's no supernatural element whatsoever but there is a monster, a very human one. Boris Karloff stars as Master George Sims, the man in charge of St.Mary's of Bethlehem Asylum in 1761 London. Bow legged and black bewigged, Sims oozes malevolence. Not only does he mistreat the poor souls in his care but he actually charges the moneyed class for tours of the asylum. His exploitation of the mentally ill carries a whiff of Tod Browning's macabre masterpiece FREAKS (1932).

Nell Bowen (Anna Lee) is the heroine of the piece. She begins as a paid companion to the corpulent and corrupt Lord Mortimer (Billy House) but she slowly has her eyes opened to the horrors of the asylum by steadfast, Quaker stone-mason Hannay (Richard Fraser). Nell lobbies for reform, enlisting Whig politician John Wilkes (Leyland Hodgson) for help. But she's brought up on false charges and imprisoned in Bedlam where she learns the truth about some of the inmates and faces Master Sims' ultimate cure for insanity.

Producer Lewton and director Mark Robson used William Hogarth's artwork A Rake's Progress as source material for the screenplay which they co-wrote. The cinematography by Nicholas Musuraca is approprately atmospheric. With a running time of 79 minutes, BEDLAM tells a tightly constructed tale that is highlighted by a superb performance by Karloff. Note: one of the inmates is played by Robert Clarke, who went on to star in the low-budget genre classic THE HIDEOUS SUN DEMON (1959). I almost met Robert Clarke once years ago but that's a story for another time.

BEDLAM isn't your typical horror film but it's well worth seeing if you're a fan of Karloff or the films of Val Lewton. It would work well on a triple bill alongside Sam Fuller's SHOCK CORRIDOR (1963) and Milos Forman's ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST (1975). Recommended.

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