Thursday, March 3, 2016

Bedlam - Boris Karloff, Val Lewton 1946

The 1946 movie Bedlam stars Boris Karloff as Master George Sims, the apothecary General, and Anna Lee as Nell Bowen. It was one of three movies that Karloff worked with producer Val Lewton on, and I'll talk about the other two in the near future.

I loved this movie. Karloff is magnificent, and the production values are top-notch. 

The screenplay was written by Carlos Keith (a pseudonym for Val Lewton) and Mark Robson, though as it says on one of the opening cards, the movie was inspired by William Hogarth's The Rake's Progress, plate 8, pictured here:

This is Plate 8 of Hogarth's work "The Rake's Progress"
The scene above takes place in St. Mary's Bethlehem Asylum, also known as Bethlem Royal Hospital, also known as Bedlam, and this is where the movie is centered.

Here's William Hogarth:

Hogarth's painting "Selfie with Dog" (I'm guessing on the title)
Okay, actually, it's called "Painter and his Pug" done in 1745.
The movie is beautifully shot in black and white, and Karloff is at his it.

His voice, his pattern of speech is terrific. He plays the cruel director of the above referenced insane asylum, and unjustly imprisons Anna Lee's Nell Bowen in it. She shows kindness to the patients, and they eventually turn on Karloff.

At one point, Nell Bowen describes Karloff's Sims in this way; "He's a stench in the nostrils, a sewer of ugliness, and a gutter brimming with slop." It reminds me of how Karloff's later portrayal of The Grinch is described.

One of my favorite lines of the movies is when Karloff says to Lee: “So nice to find you here among the upper classes, Mistress Bowen, but that’s exactly where I expected you to be.  It’s a law of physics the lighter elements, like scum, rise to the top.”

Some of the language is cringe-worthy, but historically accurate, such as when the patients are repeatedly called 'loonies.' Also, as in real-life, people were allowed to pay to visit the asylum (for a fee) to see the patients in a cruel form of entertainment.

A bit of fun trivia, according to IMDB: "The dress that Anna Lee is wearing as she mounts her horse is the one Vivien Leigh made from the curtains in Gone with the Wind."

Jason Robards, Sr. (the father of the Jason Robards you are more likely familiar with) also appears in the movie as one of the patients.

Highly recommended movie.

You can buy the DVD of Bedlam (includes Isle of the Dead) here, or you can also rent it via streaming through iTunes.

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