Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Horror Of...Bedlam, In Short

A fun film to while away a bit of an afternoon with is a lesser known work by Boris Karloff. It's interesting in allowing Karloff one of his opportunities to play a monster of a very human sort. From 1946, an RKO Film...


It's a story of late 18th century England. A time when hospitals for those with psychiatric issues were horrible places meant mostly for locking them away. ...And it's not like that issue continued at all in the the 20th century... One such place is Bedlam, as it's called.

We meet our heroine, Nell, a protege of a rich lord.

They are out for a ride when they pass Bedlam. People are gathered, as an inmate of the asylum has died while trying to escape.

They see it is a man that was a friend of the lord. Angered at this, the lord demands the head of Bedlam come and see him at his home.

Enter Karloff. He's playing Sims. He's a struggling playwright and poet who's worked his way up in the world to be in charge of Bedlam. But he would rather spend his time writing plays, and currying noble favor.

He scrapes and bows before the lord. It's what he's forced to do to keep his place in society. He's stuck in a role, and he's embraced what power he has.

He then lays out a ridiculous tale when the lord accuses him of murder. (It seems the dead man was a rival playwright.) He explains that he'd come to visit him at Bedlam, but the guards mistook him for a patient. Then he died trying to free himself.

It seems clear what the truth is.

Nell chides and mocks Sims. She's made an enemy.

She later goes to check out Bedlam, to see how bad it is. (Sims offers people a chance to look inside at the troubled people inside, to gape at them, for a little money. Like a circus sideshow.)

She is troubled. Outside she meets our hero. He's a manly Quaker.

Among the sights that Sims reveals are that he likes to use the patients in the asylum as actors, who are punished harshly when they have trouble (acting or due to their conditions).

So, yeah. Sims is a monster of his age.

Nell decides to make changes. When Sims blocks her moves, she isn't exactly tactful. She ends up making herself more enemies.

So her former friend, the lord, and Sims plan how to deal with her. They plan to commit her to Bedlam. (Wouldn't be the first time someone with power used the hospital to remove a problem.)

At the meeting to determine her mental faculties, Nell proves to be way too cocky. She mocks and jokes, and those presiding take it as evidence of her diminished state. (But if a lord asks, would they really not commit her in the end?)

So Nell ends up learning a lot more about Bedlam and it's patients then she ever imagined.

Maybe not the scariest movie you'll see, it is an interesting look at the horror that was psychiatric medicine for centuries. And Karloff gets to play an odd and curious role. Struggling man in the middle class, who's embraced amorality and abuse to get along in life.

A mundane horror that was all too real.

No comments: