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BEDLAM
DVD Region 0. Odeon.

BedlamWhen I was a kid, Bedlam was one of those infamous titles that genre critics like Alan Frank and Dennis Gifford informed us was so shocking that it had been banned by the British censors, alongside the likes of Freaks, Island of Lost Souls and...erm... Dr Zanikoff's Experiences in Grafting. Of course, a few years later I began to discover that the BBFC had banned hundreds of films, rarely with good reason, but nonetheless, the film still held a fascination for me until I finally saw it on TV and was somewhat disappointed to find that it was a rather sedate historical drama.

BedlamThe film is set in 1761, where the head of the Bethlehem (or Bedlam) asylum, George Sims (Boris Karloff) runs the institution as a combination of prison and freak show, charging people to come and look at the 'loonies' and sometimes renting them out as party performers to wealthy wasters like Lord Mortimer (Billy House), who chortle as the poor wretches are painted gold and made to perform soliloquies until them die. Mortimer's companion Nell (Anna Lee) is less amused by this and - with the encouragement of a local Quaker (William Hannay), she tries to convince her benefactor to reform the place. However, Sims convinces him that such reforms would be expensive, and when he backs out, Nell leaves him and then exposes him to public ridicule. Before long, she has been hauled in front of the Insanity Board and finds herself locked up in Bedlam, where she discovers that not all the inmates are as mad as they seem.

The first in a long line of films that see sane people locked up in hellhole asylums (cf: Shock Corridor, Behind Locked Doors, The Snake Pit), Bedlam is suitably indignant, handsomely mounted and has a masterful villain in the form of Karloff, rarely as slimy and cruel as he is here. Admittedly, at times the film feels like a slightly more expensive Todd Slaughter effort, with lashings of melodrama and theatrical excess, but on the whole the film is suitably restrained - perhaps not as much as the average Val Lewton production (this was his last horror film), but moreso than most horror films of the period.

This is one of Lewton's less regarded films, and so it's good to see it emerging on DVD where it can hopefully find a new audience. It's not a great film, but certainly one worthy of attention.

DAVID FLINT

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