Boris Karloff is perfect as the slimy George Sims who runs the asylum known as Bedlam. Realism takes a back seat in this movie based on the William Hogarth engravings “The Rake’s Progress.”
The time: London-1761. A man falls to his death from a window at St.Mary’s Bethlehem Asylum known as Bedlam. He was helped along by Master Sims (Boris Karloff). He was an acquaintance of Lord Mortimer (Billy House) and was going to write a poem for a Masque Mortimer was throwing.
With Mortimer as he identifies the body is actress Nell Bowen (Anna Lee). Sims says he’ll write something and provide the inmates as entertainment. One young man covered in gold gilt dies when his pores close up and that draws a lot of laughs from the crowd. Nell is starting to have her doubts.
At the asylum a Quaker stonemason, William Hannay is waiting to talk to Sims about some work. Sims tries to bribe him and Hannay rejects his offer. Sims leaves him as Nell visits the asylum and is given a tour.
She seems upset at what she’s seen but won’t admit it to Hannay. Later she asks help from politician John Wilks to improve conditions. That gets her into trouble with Mortimer who is in the opposing political party. Mortimer agrees to reforms until Sims tells him how much they’ll actually cost. He and Sims conspire to get Nell locked up in Bedlam.
Hannay sneaks in and sees Nell. She convinces him to give her his trowel so she has some method of defense. One night she helps an inmate by putting cloth under his chains. To do that she has to put the trowel down. Someone takes it.
Nell is due for another sanity hearing. The night before Sims says he’ll get her ready with a special treatment he’s devised. That gets the attention of the inmates and they grab him. Nell escapes. What will happen to Sims?
The unrealistic part is that after a week in the asylum and living in a huge room with other inmates and only some straw to lie on, Nell looks picture perfect. Not a smudge on that pretty face. Her hair continues to look like she just walked out of a beauty parlor. Not a tear or any kind of mark on her clothes. If there’s any reason to watch this at all it’s for the acting of Karloff as Sims and Billy House as Lord Mortimer.
Anna Lee had an over sixty year career in movies and TV. Her final role was as Lila Quartermaine in “General Hospital.”