“Ours is a human world; theirs is a bestial world.”
Response to Peary’s Review:
Karloff is perfectly cast here as “Master Sims” — an unspeakably evil psychopath whose desire to dominate those weaker than himself manifests in a hellish, sorry existence for the hapless souls trapped in Bedlam. His character’s depth of depravity is hinted at in one brief moment, as he strokes the cheek of a mute woman known simply as “The Dove”:
His simple gesture implies an ongoing history of sexual molestation, though this is never made explicit. Indeed, Sims’ depravity seems to have no limits: in one of the film’s most eerily disturbing scenes, Sims allows a young boy (Glenn Vernon) painted entirely in gold to suffocate while reciting a poem, then casually asserts that the boy caused his own death.
But it’s Anna Lee’s fiery courtesan Nell Bowen who this story is really about. As Peary notes, Lee is indeed “the most dynamic of Lewton’s remarkable women” — and her character’s transformation from self-absorbed mistress to selfless caretaker (without ever losing any of her spunk or vitality) drives the narrative.
As noted in TCM’s analysis, the film could be seen in some ways as a “feminist horror film”, given that the intelligent, fearless Bowen is essentially being punished for speaking her mind. When Bowen makes the mistake of defiantly eating the money given to her by her former client (House is drolly amusing as the corpulent, well-meaning, yet fatally clueless Lord Mortimer):
… our hearts sink from the knowledge that Sims will inevitably twist its meaning and use it against her.
Fortunately, Sims comes to an appropriately horrifying ending in the film’s satisfying, Poe-inspired denouement.
Note Apparently Lee’s riding dress is the infamous “curtain dress” worn by Vivien Leigh in Gone With the Wind (1939).
Redeeming Qualities and Moments: