After a whirlwind courtship, promising young soprano Paula Alquist (Ingrid Bergman) marries a pianist, Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer). They move into the same mansion in London’s Thornton Square where Paula was raised by a rich aunt who was strangled there by an unknown assailant. Wedded bliss soon sours when Paula’s hard-hearted husband insists that she is unwell; that she is forever forgetful and absent-minded. Paula becomes a prisoner in her own house. Gregory will not allow anyone to see her and has her believing that she is losing her mind. A Scotland Yard snoop (Joseph Cotten) - still on the case of the murdered woman - had wondered whatever happened to the victim’s niece and now fears that Paula may soon become a victim herself.
Review by Keith Lofthouse:
For those few who have seen the 1940 British version, which was suppressed by MGM boss Louis B. Mayer when he tried to buy up all the prints and destroy them, this more ornate but less chilling specimen hardly bears comparison…which might explain why Mayer wanted to wipe the earlier film from the face of the earth! And yet, for those uninitiated, Gaslight 1944, as adapted from Patrick Hamilton’s stage play, Angel Street, is a superb psychological melodrama, with a musty and claustrophobic mood. It features a poignant Oscar winning performance from Ingrid Bergman as the beleaguered wife (Irene Dunne and Hedy Lamarr were thought of before her) and a magnificently malevolent one from the Oscar nominated Charles Boyer, the perennial French romantic in his first villainous part.
This is a surprisingly neglected film (less so than its ill-fated predecessor, of course) but is much better than most critics estimate. It never made The New York Times’ 1999 list of the Best 1000 Movies Ever Made, for example, but probably should have, given that, my God, Chariots Of Fire and Life Is Beautiful are there, as are 16 Hitchcock films, including the trumpery To Catch A Thief! Gaslight lights up foreign territory for director Cukor, but it has all the elements of classic Hitchcock…suspense, duplicity, a woman in peril, quirky characters, comic relief in Mrs Thwaites (Dame May Whitty as a dotty old busybody determined to snoop round the Victorian hell house) and a staircase to the boarded-up room where the MacGuffin lays hidden… for far too long, one suspects.
You almost expect Hitchcock himself to emerge from the London gloom in one of his ritual cameos, but instead we see Gregory disappearing into the fog on one of his nightly excursions that so distress his spouse. Cukor was a renowned director of women, but a sadistic Boyer steals the film from Bergman who, for someone so on the brink of being committed to an asylum, looks as “healthy as a horse.”
The torment begins when Gregory, with fire in his eyes, snatches an incriminating letter from Paula’s grasp. With a supercilious wobble of the head and a surreptitious glance, Gregory puts a subtle spin on the evil in his heart. “It hurts me when you’re ill and fanciful,” he purrs, so that you don’t believe a word of it. The cad flirts with the servant girl, Nancy, an insolent and sullen little tart (Angela Lansbury, 18, in her acting debut) and is forever trying to convince Paula that she is forgetting things, losing things, hiding things. “If I could ever get inside that brain of yours and understand these crazy, twisted things (you do),” he gloats sadistically, instantly evoking sympathy for the petrified Bergman, who of course plays it for all its worth, especially in her breakdown scene at Lady Dalroy’s musical soirée. The soundtrack includes a symbolic grab from the mad scene in Lucia Di Lamamoor. More than many hundreds of films with more venerable reputations, Gaslight has withstood the ravages of time and still captivates the discerning viewer. Let’s pluck a contemporary from the aforementioned Best 1000. Now… who could possibly bear the bum-numbing experience of the 170 minute For Whom The Bell Tolls (1943) again?
The compact Special Features bundle includes fascinating insights into the film from Bergman’s daughter, Pia Lindstrom, who reveals that Boyer, who was shorter than her mother, had to stand on a box for their kissing scenes. Lansbury, who was only 17 when she signed on for the role remembers Bergman as “marvellously human” with “no movie star airs about her.” She also recalls with great affection how “Gaslight opened a thousand doors for me.”
Published March 11, 2004
Email this article
GASLIGHT: DVD (PG)
CAST: Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotten
DIRECTOR: George Cukor
SCRIPT: John Van Druten, Walter Reisch, John Balderston (based on the play Angel Street by Patrick Hamilton)
RUNNING TIME: 109 minutes
PRESENTATION: 4 x 3 Dual Layer. English 1.0. French, Italian, German, Spanish, Arabic, Romanian, Dutch.
SPECIAL FEATURES: Reflections on Gaslight: Pia Lindstrom remembers her mother, Ingrid Bergman, with Angela Lansbury. Oscars newsreeel, trailer.
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video
DVD RELEASE: March 17, 2004