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Back to Bedlam

Title Shot of Val Lewton’s Bedlam (1946)

Title Shot of Val Lewton’s Bedlam (1946)

Originally, it was called Bethlem Royal Hospital or St. Mary Bethlehem. Over the years, the British mental hospital has moved from Bishopsgate to Moorfields to Southwark, where it is now, a reputable institution associated with Kings College London. From its period of notoriety in the 18th century, where the glitterati paid admission to see loonies chained to the wall, it was better known as Bedlam.

There is a wonderful Val Lewton film of the same name, starring Boris Karloff, that was released by RKO in 1946 (see above). In it, a sane young woman is forcibly admitted to the insane asylum when she refuses to odious attentions of a powerful rake. Like almost of all of the Lewton films I have seen, it is a delight. It includes a rebellion of the inmates against the infamous Boris Karloff, who plays the head physician at Bedlam.

Poster for Val Lewton’s Bedlam

Lobby Card for Val Lewton’s Bedlam

The reason that Bedlam the movie comes to mind is my realization that we have little progressed from those bad old eighteenth century days when the mentally ill were mistreated for the amusement of visitors. Now, things are almost worse. Ever since the 1980s, the mentally ill have been on their own.When they receive any attention at all, it is usually by the police and prison guards. Instead of getting the medication that helps keep them on an even keel, the mentally ill are mistreated by guards who punish them for their non-normative behavior.

Recently, several Orange County, California police beat up and killed a mental patient named Kelly Thomas who was living on the street. In their various police academies, the police are trained to deal with malefactors, and not with persons who have a tenuous grip on reality. The police were tried and acquitted by an Orange County jury.

The outlook for the mentally ill who are loose on the streets is not a good one. Perhaps even the old Bedlam would have been an improvement.

One thought on “Back to Bedlam

  1. I love that movie too, Jim, and the beautiful Anna Lee.

    Some of my favorite tv fodder is when one of the characters goes undercover in asylum and then cannot get out. There is also Ten Days in a Mad-House by Nellie Bly in which Nellie, undercover, almost didn’t make it out.

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