Bedlam (1946)

APRIL 11, 2008


And so it ends... my Turner Classic Val Lewton marathon has yielded its final entry, Bedlam. As previously rambled, I missed Cat People and I Walked With A Zombie, so those will come down the line on pristine DVD (or, another TCM marathon). All in all, I liked what I saw. None particularly blew me away, but all entertained, and were certainly light years better than most of the 40s horror movie I watch, which come from my rather disappointing Horror Classics box (in comparison to the wonderful Chilling Classics set).

Now that I’ve wasted a good chunk of your time discussing where I get the movies I watch, let’s move on.

Bedlam is probably the least “horror”y of all the Lewton movies I’ve watched, but also one of the best. Karloff is a delightful prick early on in the film, and gets more and more sinister until the asylum inmates trovel and amontillado his ass. (<-- Hey look – two nouns used as verbs in a single sentence!). The rest of the cast is good too, particularly the Marcia Cross-y Anna Lee as the heroine. She’s sent to the nuthouse to be kept quiet, more or less, as she would like the asylum to actually cure its patients, regardless of cost. This one is due for a remake, and this very theme would be INCREDIBLY interesting nowadays, what with all the health care brouhaha. Let’s hope they get a good filmmaker behind it. And if not, well, cast Marcia Cross anyway.

My favorite character, however, was a gent named Barney. He’s not listed on the IMDb, so maybe I got his name wrong, but he’s a very fey sort of assistant to Lee’s character. He just seems so laid back and yet sort of optimistically sad in all of his scenes. He also looked like this dude I went to high school with, whose name I have forgotten but I want to say it was Tom. Anyway, he more or less disappears from the film’s final act for some reason, which is a bummer. Good guy.

The scene where Karloff takes her through the asylum and points out all of the different patients’ problems is also pretty good. I think Dr. Tarr ripped it off, because while my memories have faded for that film (uh-oh), I got a strong sense of Déjà vu at this point, particularly with the peacock guy. Still, his treatment is pretty great. “W let them think their delusions are real, and go from there.” And as almost always, none of the patients are merely bipolar or whatever, no, they’re all completely batshit, thinking they are animals or whatever. Ah, mental illness!

I must take issue with one thing though. At one point the movie fades to a woodcut for half a second and then to the next scene. Look, I love subliminal woodcuttery as much as the next guy, but here I felt it was just superfluous.

And is anyone well-versed in 18th century children’s games? At one point the bad guy’s little servant boy is sitting outside the man’s office, playing a game that looks incredibly dull. In each hand he has a string with a little cylindrical object at the end of it. He swings them at each other. What is the object of this game? How does one win? What is it called? Are there tournaments?

All that’s left, besides the titles mentioned above, is a Scorsese narrated documentary about Lewton, titled Man in The Shadows. I am interested mainly in seeing if Marty can shut up long enough for anyone else to talk, though if not that’s perfectly fine. Sadly, its nature as a documentary that IS real keeps it out of HMAD contention, but I hope to check it out in due time. However, I must ask – does it spoil Cat People or I Walked With A Zombie? Since those are his most well-known pictures, I assume the documentary covers them in greater detail than the others, and I’d hate to have stuff spoiled. But I’d also like to clear up my DVR. I’m torn!

What say you?


  1. I think the game the kid is playing is a variation on "Conkers," where two kids would get a conker (nut) each on a string and swing them at each other until one of the nuts cracked--kind of like playing "pencils" in grade school, but, you know, without pencils.

    The fact that the kid is trying to play the game by himself just shows he's OH SO WONE-WEE! :)

    Bedlam is pretty good--I like the pre-Goldfinger death-by-gold scene, and Karloff is always good as the prick villain (though not as good here as in The Body Snatcher, imo). But as I'm sure others have told you, you missed the two best Lewton flicks in I Walked with a Zombe and Cat People. You're in for a treat with those.

  2. I'm catching up on my Val Lewton films thanks to another TCM Lewton-fest and this is my favorite of the three I've seen so far (the other two are CAT PEOPLE and THE LEOPARD MAN). You're right, BEDLAM is less horror-oriented than most of the others (as best I can tell so far), but I think it still counts, as the dread the movie builds up over time is pretty palpable. Also, the Poe-inspired ending is kinda awesome. The thing I've noticed about the Lewton films so far is that every major character is really well-drawn and multi-dimensional. Even Karloff, in BEDLAM, has a point of view that is understandable (although he's still an evil scumbag) and even the Quaker stonemason, while an unflinching Good Guy, has a perspective that seems real and well-drawn/. I wish movies like this were still made.


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