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Mark Robson
Boris Karloff, Anna Lee, Billy House
Writing Credits:
Mark Robson, Val Lewton

When Nell Bowen tries to reform Bedlam, cruel Master Sims who runs it has her committed there.

Rated NR.

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 68 min.
Price: $21.99
Release Date: 10/19/2021
Available As a Double Feature with The Ghost Ship

• Audio Commentary with Film Historian Tom Weaver


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Bedlam [Blu-Ray] (1946)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 22, 2022)

Over two short years, horror legends Boris Karloff and Val Lewton united for three movies. With 1946’s Bedlam, we get their final joint effort.

Set in London circa 1761, the St. Mary's of Bethlehem Asylum acts as an asylum for those with mental illness. Master George Sims (Karloff) runs this facility with an iron fist.

Into this setting steps Nell Bowen (Anna Lee), a young woman who hopes to reform the establishment and deal with Sims’ excesses. Confronted with this challenge, Sims lashes back and commits Nell to become one of the inmates,

With Bedlam, we find an unusual take on the horror genre. Rather than go for something supernatural or overtly horrific, the movie focuses on real-world terror.

This means the tale leans on man’s inhumanity to man and the awful treatment of the mentally ill. The story remains much more believable than most in the genre and that helps give it impact.

Really, this emphasis on the near randomness of who ends up in the asylum makes it pretty scary. When people get committed to an awful facility like St. Mary’s for reasons not connected to mental health, viewers can feel a chill of “that could be me” recognition not likely to accompany more fantasy-related movies.

A pretty terrific performance from Karloff helps. He makes Sims a slick, wily character who uses his rough-hewn charm to advance his sadistic agenda.

Despite multiple chances to take the role over the top, Karloff resists these. He keeps Sims fully real, and that makes the role even creepier.

At times, Bedlam falters due to a sense of smugness. Characters often pat themselves on the back for the perception they live in an enlightened “Age of Reason”, and the movie’s tone snickers at them.

Yes, I get it: these people seemed far from enlightened nearly 200 years later. This still feels like an arrogant POV that doesn’t work, especially given how many commonly accepted views from 1946 now come across as outdated.

Nonetheless, Bedlam mostly creates an effective little horror tale. With its grounding in the real world, it becomes an engaging thriller.

The Disc Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B-/ Bonus C+

Bedlam appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.37:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This became a highly satisfying presentation.

Overall sharpness worked well, with only a smidgen of softness in a couple of wider shots. Most of the film boasted fine delineation and accuracy.

Neither jaggies nor moiré effects impacted the proceedings, and the presence of light grain meant it seemed unlikely that digital noise reduction came into play. Edge haloes remained absent and I saw no print flaws.

Blacks seemed deep and rich, while contrast gave the movie a fine silvery sheen. Low-light shots brought us nice smoothness and clarity. This turned into a more than satisfactory image.

I felt pleased with the relatively the high-quality DTS-HD MA monaural soundtrack, as it held up nicely for its age. Music and effects didn’t boast great range or punch, but both came across accurate enough and they lacked distortion or problems.

As usual for older recordings, speech came across as a little tinny, but the lines remained fairly concise and only a few spots of edginess occurred. The mix lacked hiss, noise or other problems. This turned into a more than acceptable mix for its era.

The movie comes with an audio commentary from film historian Tom Weaver. He delivers a running, screen-specific look at story and characters, cast and crew, historical elements, various production components and related notes.

Weaver’s commentaries are always money in the bank, and this one follows that trend. Well-researched and prepared, he digs into a slew of useful topics in this brisk, informative chat.

An unusual form of horror tale, Bedlam holds up nicely over more than 75 years. Aided by a strong lead performance from Boris Karloff, it offers a dark, creepy experience. The Blu-ray offers good picture and audio along with an informative audio commentary. Expect a fine dark drama here.

Note that Bedlam appears on Blu-ray only as part of a two-film disc along with The Ghost Ship.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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