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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).

The schedule for the next 7 days is: Thursday, September 4th: BLACK SABBATH (1964) Friday, September 5th: BLACK SUNDAY (1960) Saturday, September 6th: TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE (1972) Sunday, September 7th: TRAGIC CEREMONY (1972) Monday, September 8th: LISA AND THE DEVIL (1976) Tuesday, September 9th: BARON BLOOD (1972) Wednesday, September 10th: A SHOT IN THE DARK (1964) As you can see, we take a radical shift from Bava (our Bava-thon begins tomorrow) to comedy... look for a week following a rather famous inspector that I'm ashamed to admit I don't know very well. But we'll be fixing that in a week and I greatly look forward to it. See you folks tomorrow when we follow Karloff over to BLACK SABBATH! -Quint quint@aintitcool.com



Previous Movies: June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
July 31st: The Man Who Knew Too Much
August 1st: The Spirit of St. Louis
August 2nd: Von Ryan’s Express
August 3rd: Can-Can
August 4th: Desperate Characters
August 5th: The Possession of Joel Delaney
August 6th: Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx
August 7th: Start the Revolution Without Me
August 8th: Hell Is A City
August 9th: The Pied Piper
August 10th: Partners
August 11th: Barry Lyndon
August 12th: The Skull
August 13th: The Hellfire Club
August 14th: Blood of the Vampire
August 15th: Terror of the Tongs
August 16th: Pirates of Blood River
August 17th: The Devil-Ship Pirates
August 18th: Jess Franco’s Count Dracula
August 19th: Dracula A.D. 1972
August 20th: The Stranglers of Bombay
August 21st: Man, Woman & Child
August 22nd: The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane
August 23rd: The Young Philadelphians
August 24th: The Rack
August 25th: Until They Sail
August 26th: Somebody Up There Likes Me
August 27th: The Set-Up
August 28th: The Devil & Daniel Webster
August 29th: Cat People
August 30th: The Curse of the Cat People
August 31st: The 7th Victim
September 1st: The Ghost Ship
September 2nd: Isle of the Dead

Readers Talkback

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  • Sept. 4, 2008, 12:27 a.m. CST

    Out with a whimper

    by Geekgasm

    Too bad Quint couldn't have ended his Lewton-athon with yesterday's offering instead of "Bedlam", which is my least favorite in the Lewton canon. Still, "The Leopard Man" and "The Body Snatcher" next month won't disappoint. As for tomorrow, "The Wurdulak" segment of "Black Sabbath" is disturbing as fuck all and downright scary. As I understand it, Karloff *really* did a lot of preparation for the role and really gave it his all and it absolutely shows. Genuinely disturbing, storywise, and beautifully lit and photographed. I wish I owned the DVD. I'd watch it right now.

  • Sept. 4, 2008, 12:48 a.m. CST

    Yay, BODY SNATCHER

    by the beef

    I was afraid you wouldn't watch it. Bedlam is my least favorite of this Lewton set, but it does have its redeeming qualities.

  • Sept. 4, 2008, 1:11 a.m. CST

    A4EFFORT

    by HEADGEEK

    No - the real Mrs. Knowles has a black box like me

  • Sept. 4, 2008, 1:38 a.m. CST

    The trial makes the movie

    by wuher da brewer

    Are you going to get to any of the Amicus anthologies in October?

  • Sept. 4, 2008, 3:13 a.m. CST

    Not seen A SHOT IN THE DARK?

    by palimpsest

    Bless your heart, Quint. Quite possibly Peter Sellers' finest moment, and definitely the best of the PINK PANTHER movies. And it's got a William Peter "EXORCIST" Blatty script.

  • Sept. 4, 2008, 4:35 a.m. CST

    3rd best behind frknstn & THE MAN WHO CHANGED HIS MIND

    by ironic_name

  • Sept. 4, 2008, 5:01 a.m. CST

    Bedlam thoughts

    by psychedelic

    The end of the first third gets a bit dry, too much talk, but events move along once she’s condemned. Clichés of insane people are sidestepped by developing them as real, even if they’re very ill or don’t speak. It’s a good accomplishment considering how easy it would be for constant over-the-top behavior, another example of the smart writing of Lewton productions. I must say I can’t think of many thrillers whose central conceit is how kindness might change people compared to how callousness hurts, once again rich writing. For a second time it seems Hitchcock was inspired by Mark Robson imagery. In The 7th Victim it was the shower conversation inspiring Psycho’s infamous shower scene. In Bedlam, it’s the two times people hang off the asylum’s roof edge inspiring Jimmy Stuart hanging off a roof in Vertigo. Obviously, it’s a great compliment to how good Robson is. The first and second halves contrast the viciousness of “polite, civilized” society versus the docile insane. At least you get what you see with the mentally ill. But the movie does not bluntly point this out, another positive for thoughtful filmmaking. Bedlam doesn’t have edge-of-your-seat suspense like other Lewtons, but the more I think of it in hindsight the more I like it. I’m glad Lewton has his own box set.<p>Of the Lewtons watched, here’s my ranking from favorite to least: The Ghost Ship, Cat People, Isle of the Dead, Bedlam, Curse of the Cat People, The 7th Victim.<p>It’s been fun going through these Lewtons with all of you. I’ll probably go ahead and watch the others. Keep up the good work, Quint. I’ll be tuning in. You’re in for a treat with A Shot in the Dark. It might be the best of The Pink Panther series.

  • Sept. 4, 2008, 5:12 a.m. CST

    Karloff

    by Shoegeezer

    great thing about Hollywood in those days, having movie stars with appeal based on their creepy looks. Having villains as the lead character, ending that weren't really that happy. These films may as well be from another world. A good nuthouse horror film is British 1974 movie Ghost Story (not the Peter Straub one). Has ghosts, a spooky possessed doll, Marianne Faithful and lunatics.

  • Sept. 4, 2008, 5:38 a.m. CST

    A Shot in the Dark is Sellers funniest film

    by HypeEndsHere

    "Be careful, you fool! I could have killed you with a karate chop!"

  • Sept. 4, 2008, 6:31 a.m. CST

    Not great, but okay movie

    by Trazadone

    The portrayal of a 1761 insane asylum is fascinating. Apparently this was based on some fact. The treatment of the “patients” is unsettling. The scene where Nell is being evaluated is chilling. Although she answers all of the board’s questions with perfectly rationale responses, all of her responses appear irrational because of their preconceived notion that she is “insane”. Karloff is great and his ultimate fate is poetic. This is not a horror film but rather a history lesson of sorts. Nevertheless, it’s still engrossing and worth a peek.

  • Sept. 4, 2008, 8:15 a.m. CST

    I've nevr seen the Mrs. Knowles black box

    by Grammaton Cleric Binks

    Does she use Yoko, as she is plugged by Harry? By the way Headgeek, I know you haven't talked about it for a while, but I'm still pulling for you on the weight loss. I hope all is going well. Also, take care of Quint. Don't let him have an aneurysm doing AMAD. It is one of the best, no, it is the best column, but we don't want him to burn out.

  • Sept. 4, 2008, 11:17 a.m. CST

    The Gold covered skin suffication scene in Bedlam.

    by cookylamoo

    Predates Goldfinger by several years.

  • Sept. 4, 2008, 3:02 p.m. CST

    Old movies are best when you're

    by NiceGuyEddie19

    SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSMMMMMMMOKIN' weed.

  • Sept. 4, 2008, 4:27 p.m. CST

    Jesus Christ Dude

    by nam0krut

    Are you ever going to watch/review anything that wasnt made before the Reagan era?

  • Sept. 4, 2008, 4:31 p.m. CST

    In defense of old movies

    by Continentalop

    As St. Martin of Scorsese once said, someone who wants to be a filmmaker should watch old movies just as someone who wants to paint should look at the old masters - to learn from them and see study what they did that works and what doesn't work. I think the same statement could apply to film fans and enthusiast. You watch old movies to see how it has progressed or regressed and to gain an appreciation for the art, to expand your horizons. I don’t think it is coincidence tha the best filmmakers out there usually have the biggest knowledge of cinema history to draw upon.

  • Sept. 4, 2008, 4:36 p.m. CST

    by Continentalop

    Plus, the entire purpose of this column to expose people to films they might never heard of or thought of seeing. Quint is acting as our scout, taking the risk of a bad movie so we don't have to. And even if the movies are not great movies, almost all films have one thing worthwhile in it. I think "The Last American Virgin" is one of the worst films I have ever seen, BUT it has one of the most poignant endings I have ever seen in any film.

  • Sept. 4, 2008, 5:45 p.m. CST

    nam0krut

    by the beef

    Probably not. The reason why he's watching these films is to further educate himself (and us) as a devoted film fanatic. If he's been a fanatic his whole life then he's probably seen the overwhelming majority of films that people think he should see since he was young (the Reagan era on forward), plus he's a film journalist / critic and sees probably everything worth seeing year to year ever since he's been a writer.

  • Sept. 4, 2008, 11:04 p.m. CST

    Snatcher...

    by The Eskimo

    ...one of my favorites in that genre in this period in film making. Looking forward to that review. And hey...if it hasn't been said: GREAT job with this colum Q. I look forward to it every day.

  • Sept. 5, 2008, 8:32 p.m. CST

    alk

    by YakMalla

    a;sldkjf;lasdkj</p>;asldkfja;