Inspiration can come from anywhere. For example, this movie was based on William Hogarth’s 1732-1734 painting series A Rake’s Progress.
Written by producer Val Lewton and director Mark Robson, who would go on to make Peyton Place, Valley of the Dolls and Earthquake. It would be Lewton’s last movie for RKO.
Boris Karloff plays Master George Sims, who runs a fictionalized version of Bedlam, or as it is more formally known, the Bethlem Royal Hospital. Referring to his patients as looneys, he makes them perform for him. He’s based on John Monro, who was in charge of the real Bedlam and actually charged the public admission to see his patients’ bizarre behavior.
Shocked by the treatment of the patients, Nell Bowen (Anna Lee, “The British Bombshell” who would become the matriarch of soap operas General Hospital and Port Charles) tries to reform Sims’ asylum, only to end up jailed there and menaced by the very patients she was trying to save.
The film closes with this legend: “Reforms were begun in 1773 — a new hospital was erected shortly afterward — and since that time Bedlam — once a by-word for terror and mistreatment–has led the way to enlightened and sensible treatment of the mentally ill.”