Bedlam (1946)

Bedlam (1946), produced by Val Lewton, directed by Mark Robson.

First review

Costume story from the Georgian Age of powdered wigs, when people paid admission to the insane asylum to have a look at the loonies. Boris Karloff is the doctor in charge, corrupt and sadistic but strangely witty.

Lewton's final horror film; like the others in the RKO series, it is more of a thriller than explicit horror, and has more comedy than the others. Of course, it is not so funny when someone we care about gets locked up in the asylum and threatened with some (unspecified) Infernal Psychiatric Torture Engine.

I don't find zombies, werewolves or vampires scary: they don't exist. But mental institutions and abuses therein: that's real and that's scary!

Trivia: this film is the only IMDB citation for William Hogarth (1697-1764), due to his inspiring paintings for The Rake's Progress.

Detailed commentary track.

Second review

Val Lewton's last thriller for RKO -- and third with Boris Karloff -- is not his most exciting, although it has historical interest and mines that horror film seam of fear of psychiatric wards and the sadistic authorities in charge. It is a plea for compassion and understanding, not just of the victims but -- surprisingly -- of the persecutors.

The Bethlem Royal Hospital ("Bedlam") is a real place, established in 1247 and still going. I presume conditions have improved since then.

Anna Lee, so familiar from many John Ford films, is a pioneer in courageous female heroines of horror/thriller films. She's too witty for her own good and since the judges don't understand her humor they presume she is insane. Oops.

As an "actress" and "protege" of a Lord, her name "Nell" suggests Nell Gwyn, the "Protestant whore" and favorite of King Charles II.

Here is Hogarth's engraving of the Bedlam scene with one from the film:


Score by Roy Webb and photographed by Nicholas Musuraca, names often linked at RKO. I don't know if they even knew each other. Webb seems largely forgotten in film music history.

Available on Warner Archive Blu-ray with Lewton's The Ghost Ship (1943) on the same disc. Tom Weaver's typically rapid-fire commentary track is brought forward from the DVD.