OOM #19 – Bedlam (1946)

Hello once again to another gloomy day of October. I remember when I started doing these pieces on Horror movies, and some people, because I am in the Southern Hemisphere, said that I was really crazy in saying that they were gloomy and strange days, filled with dread and horror, specially since if I went outside the flowers would’ve grown and it would be sunny. Well, not anymore guys, we’ve had maybe the coldest October in a long time and we can all thank Global Warming for that. It’s funny how things come around to you in the end, even if it is in the most shitty and least convenient way possible… anyway, it’s gloomy and cold and chilly, let’s get to the horror movies.

Today the Cinemassacre’s Monster Madness took a look at a movie that is among the most talked about in recent years, the James Wan directed effort ‘Insidious’ (2010), a movie that I had the chance to see last year, because of the sequel that came out, but I never mustered enough energy to go out of my way to see it in cinemas. The video takes a fair view at this movie, and at the same time it also brings a discussion point regarding the two halves of this film, somewhat a contrarian view but I kinda agree with it, mostly. Here is his video on it. While I didn’t review it, I did write a few thoughts on it on Letterboxd and here they are:

It’s scary and that’s all it needs to be really. It’s not a film that aims to something else, and if it achieves some kind of pretension of high art, it’s welcome, but if it doesn’t, I guess it should be achieved only by accident and not consciously looking for it. For example, I didn’t think there was that much of a big division between the first and the second half of the movie, as it feels like a smooth transition from one tone to the next as the most obvious transition, one that was needed, one that was not linked to any cliche. The second half had some charm to it. I actually watched this so I could see the sequel, but I fell asleep and couldn’t go in time, maybe I’ll go at night and be scared for real. I rate it 8 out of 10.

Obviously, I didn’t go and see ‘Insidious: Chapter Two’ (2013) that night nor any other night, but the intention was there, as you can read. So, since I watched the James Wan film, I have to choose a new movie from the list, and advancing from 1932 on my list there aren’t horror films to see until 1946! This is the movie that we have today, ‘Bedlam’ (1946), an RKO effort starring Boris Karloff. What horrors does it await? Let’s see!

Actually, not so surprisingly, since it’s a movie from the 1940’s, the film didn’t hold too many horrors, but still managed to hold a beautifully constructed story, a great acting work from the professionals of the time and a wonderful look at the nasty subject of mental health in the 18th Century. ‘Bedlam’ (1946) is about, would you be surprised, a Bedlam in the year 1777, where Boris Karloff plays the owner and the doctor in charge of the treatment, he is among the courtship of a Lord in England, who is the only one who could care a little about the place for the madmen, so he can put some money into the care of the sick people, but in fact most of the money would go, unsurprisingly, to the pockets of Karloff’s character, such is the situation of England at the time, where the Lordship only wants fun and the poor must starve away in the streets.

Here comes a woman, a jester, a singer, a joker, a woman with a bird, who is in the courtship of the Lord, trying to entertain him every moment, it is left unclear if she is also engaged in a sexual relationship with him, but we can assume so, but she is at first entertained but later appalled by the way in which the mental patients are treated in the Bedlam, and as she cooks up some way of helping them, she also becomes entrapped and enraged with the social situation. It becomes quite the strong picture, specially when we see a woman like her in the 18th Century screaming and spitting in the face of what seems to be her superiors, at the time it was a brave move, and even at the time of release it was somewhat of a discomforting scene, I’m sure, women reclaiming their rights in front of the powerful was still something unheard of most of the time. We may call ‘Bedlam’ (1946) among the many early feminist pictures.

The women’s shout and later jest to Karloff’s character make her end up inside the Bedlam under false pretense, and there’s where the horror starts… well, kinda anyway. She is more horrified than scared at the prospect of being there, with all these madmen, but in the end she finds herself accommodation between the crazy people, feeling their problems and even playing their games so she can fit in and slowly come up with ways of going out. She befriends all of the crazies and tries to convince them of uprising against their caretaker, and thus her vengeance comes forward and that’s when the horror starts, the violence and the faces of the crazies, the way in which the justice is served by the crazy in a made up court in which they condemn Karloff to a fate worse than death, and it is in that moment that the film achieves a force, with the pleading of the masterful actor and the way in which the scene is edited.

The film is well shot and has some really good art direction when it comes to the representation of the time, but it does have a lot of filler in the middle, between the moment in which she renounces to her position with the Lord and she is incarcerated there are a lot of scenes without much of a reason, without much plot, without even any good acting, it just seems like the preparation for the big scene in which the magistrate of wise men condemn her to the Bedlam. But at 80 minutes it’s not long and it’s highly watchable and seeing Karloff act here is a marvel. I love him.

8/10

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