Life is neither good or evil, but only a place for good and evil… Marcus Aurelius
In 1761 Bedlam was the slang name for St. Mary’s of Bethlehem Asylum in London. An acquaintance of Lord Mortimer (Billy House) dies in an attempt to escape from the asylum. The Lord is furious and sends for Master George Sims (Boris Karloff), the manager of the asylum. Sims tries to appease Mortimer by offering to put on a show for the Lord using inmates from the asylum. Mortimer is pleased with the suggestion. His protégé Nell Bowen (Anna Lee), however, is not.
Mortimer suggests that she go and tour the asylum to see for herself how the inmates are treated. She does. When she visits the asylum she is horrified at what she sees. She confronts Sims. He considers them animals. She leaves the asylum and meets a stonemason named Hannay (Richard Fraser). He is a Quaker who believes Nell has concern for the inmates. She tries to show him bravado, but he sees through her haughtiness. He becomes her confidant and friend.
She tries to persuade Mortimer to help the inmates but is unsuccessful. A feud erupts between Nell and Mortimer. She then seeks the help from a Whig politician John Wilkes. Feeling threatened Mortimer and Sims railroad Nell and have her committed to the asylum.
At first she is terrified of her surroundings. Eventually she becomes committed to making the life of the inmates better. When Hannay finds out she is there he contacts Wilkes. Wilkes manages to get another hearing for Nell. Sims decides that to stop her from getting out he will give her a “cure”. The last time he did that the inmate did not do well.
“Bedlam” was released in 1946 and was directed by Mark Robson. This was the last movie that Val Lewton made for RKO and the last of three that featured Boris Karloff. Also starting in this movie is Anna Lee. She was the goddaughter of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. If she looks familiar to you soap opera fans she was Lila Quartermain in “General Hospital” for many years. The dress Anna Lee is wearing as she mounts her horse is the one Vivien Leigh made from the curtains in Gone with the Wind (1939).
“Bedlam”, like all of Lewton’s horror movies, is not really a horror movie. It’s basically a psychological thriller. Again as in previous movies, even though Nell ends up in the insane asylum, she is still a feminist. Actually she ends up there because she is a feminist. Quite often Bedlam was the place that husbands would deposit ‘troublesome wives’ back in the day. A troublesome wife could be anything from a substitute for divorce to a woman who refuses to mind her place. And anything in between.
Bethlem Royal Hospital was founded in 1247 by the Priory of St Mary of Bethlehem to shelter and care for homeless sick people. It gradually evolved into a hospital for the insane. Although it has moved several times it is still in existence.