A Movie A Day: Quint is admitted to BEDLAM (1946) Split him in two! Split him in two!
Published at: Sept. 4, 2008, 12:39 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Today’s our final Val Lewton movie for a little bit. We still have THE LEOPARD MAN and THE BODY SNATCHER to hit before we’re done with this column, but I figured I’d squirrel away some tasty nuts for winter.
BEDLAM is our picture today, directed again by Mark Robson and starring Boris Karloff as the seedy proprieter of a turn of the century insane asylum, a man almost as demented as his patients, but a lot more politically savvy.
The flick was based off of a single image, William Hogarth’s The Rake’s Progress, Plate 8, which you can see below:
Creepy, huh? Even though Robson goes through great pains to recreate that image for one tracking shot the tone of the whole movie doesn’t exactly live up to it.
I wasn’t prepared for the pomp and circumstance aspect of this movie, thinking it was going to be mainly set in the insane asylum, but honestly we only spend maybe 20% of the film in the asylum.
The rest of the time we follow the rich and powerful of England and Karloff trying his best to worm his way into their good graces.
His main opposition is Anna Lee’s Nell Brown, a socialite with a conscience. On the surface, she’s a pretty face, but as ugly on the inside as those she surrounds herself with. She’s full of jest and contempt for everything around her, but she really hates Karloff for some reason. Maybe it’s a protective instinct as he’s constantly trying to whittle out a spot in Lord Mortimer’s life. Mortimer (played by Billy House) is a fat, childish man that only wants to concern himself with empty jest, usually at the expense of others.
They never expressly say it, but Mortimer is pretty obviously boinking Ms. Brown, a trophy for him and a high position in society for her. So, she senses that Karloff is trying to use Mortimer the same way she is (minus the sexual undertones) and she steps up to prove that Mortimer likes her more.
At first, she’s right. Karloff takes a lot in stride, including slaps to the face, never betraying his humble, good-natured appearance. But during the first couple of acts, Brown starts to betray a twinge of humanity, which, unfortunately, starts the snowball rolling downhill, getting her excised from the group and under Karloff’s care at Bedlam.
To be quite honest, this movie didn’t do much for me. I wasn’t bored while watching. The cinematography and performances alone were enough to keep me interested in the story, but I never could connect with it.
Anna Lee does a fine job as a woman taking charge and I really enjoyed her character’s arc (from bitch to saint, essentially). Karloff is menacing, but also more vulnerable than I expected, however that couldn’t really get me involved in the flick.
I was always watching, never invested. Know what I mean? I felt me watching the story unfold if that makes any sense.
That said, there are great moments. The trial of Karloff by the inmates is classic, especially the guy that keeps repeating “Split him in two” after everything the “judge” says. It’s creepy, but somehow very sweet and the inmates display more humanity than those on the other side of the bars.
Final Thoughts: There’s a lot to like with this movie, but it didn’t grab me. Stylistically and performance-wise it’s not the best example of Val Lewton’s RKO work. For my tastes a little too much time was spent outside of the asylum and away from Karloff. I much prefer Sam Fuller’s SHOCK CORRIDOR if you want a good nuthouse movie and I vastly prefer ISLE OF THE DEAD if you want Karloff and Lewton together (and I hear The Body Snatcher is great, too… but we’ll get to that one next month).