For Reel

Bedlam (1946)
November 1, 2015, 10:56 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Mark Robson
3.5 Stars
BedlamIt is more than a little unusual that the title cards of Bedlam refer to the shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill in the eighteenth century. This justification for a film seems absurd–the war had just ended, so certainly there were more pressing social issues to discuss than centuries old psychiatric facilities? But mental health reform is largely a MacGuffin in Val Lewton’s most overtly feminist film, which casts a strong heroine (Anna Lee) who has the gull to speak out against a largely male institution and finds herself–well–institutionalized for it. Her adversary is brilliantly played by Boris Karloff, who must have appreciated having someone to go toe-to-toe with. The best element of the film is that Karloff becomes increasingly obsessed with testing Lee’s convictions, suggesting that she is a hypocrite when she spends her time in the facility staying far away from the more disturbed inmates and instead mingling within the upper class of the madhouse hierarchy. Bedlam itself is memorably rendered–the straw floor, the endless wailing of those suffering within its walls–but the film’s horrors are more linked with social injustice than the supernatural, deathly kind of Lewton’s other productions. The film flounders in the early goings and Mark Robson’s direction is not particularly inventive, but even if it is perhaps the least of the Lewton pictures, it is still damn good in its own right, if only for the fireworks between Lee and Karloff.

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