Set in 1761, a young protégée (Anna Lee) seeks to improve the conditions in an infamous London asylum, only to be committed herself by its sadistic head physician Sims (Boris Karloff).
I was pretty impressed with his film. I came into it blind, but should've been put at ease when I saw it was not only an RKO Picture, but a Val Lewton RKO picture. 1942's Cat People is the tits and Bedlam carries on its terrific tradition. This is definitely the only horror film I can think of that was directly inspired by a series of paintings (William Hogarth's A Rake's Progress 1732-1734) and think it's cool that they are kind of regarded as the first storyboards.
Like a lot of RKO Pictures, the dialogue has a particular flow to it, especially this one with its older English dialect. I got a Shakespeare, and later on, Edgar Allen Poe vibe from the proceedings. The camerawork is dope and I can't say I've seen often seen the inside of an asylum shot quite this way. It would be easy to just have a bunch of lunatics climbing the walls, but instead Bedlam is mainly populated with sad or confused people. Lee's interactions with them while she is inside are really compelling.
In truth, there were a lot of people in those times who shouldn't have been there, but the powers that be just didn't know what else to do with them. Although, I'm sure charging admission so the public could come and look at them probably wasn't the best strategy. All I know is that payoff with the missing trowel was really fucking great.
I've only seen a handful of Karloff's roles, but I imagine this has to be ranked among his best. He's a real nasty fellow, but still somewhat charming. Lastly, I was pumped that I was going to see a young Jason Robards because he was as old as the hills even when I was young, only to find it was his father that was in the film. I guess that tracks.
There's been a few movies in the Guide so far where I wouldn't have missed not seeing, but I'm super glad I watched Bedlam. Even it heaped praise on this film.