Gaslight (1944 film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed by George Cukor
Produced by Arthur Hornblow Jr.
Screenplay by John Van Druten
Walter Reisch
John L. Balderston
Based on the play Gas Light 
by Patrick Hamilton
Starring Charles Boyer
Ingrid Bergman
Joseph Cotten
Dame May Whitty
Angela Lansbury
Music by Bronisław Kaper
Cinematography Joseph Ruttenberg
Edited by Ralph E. Winters
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
  • May 4, 1944 (1944-05-04)
Running time
114 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $2,068,000[1]
Box office $4,613,000[1]

Gaslight is an American 1944 mystery-thriller film adapted from Patrick Hamilton's 1938 play Gas Light. It was the second version to be filmed, following the British film Gaslight, directed by Thorold Dickinson and released in 1940. This 1944 version was directed by George Cukor and starred Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotten, and 18-year-old Angela Lansbury in her screen debut. It had a larger scale and budget than the earlier film, and lends a different feel to the material. To avoid confusion with the first film, this version was in the UK originally given the title The Murder in Thornton Square.[2]


The film opens just after world-famous opera singer Alice Alquist has been murdered. The perpetrator bolted, without the jewels he sought, after being interrupted by a child—Paula (Ingrid Bergman), Alice's niece, who was raised by her aunt following her mother's death.

Paula is sent to Italy so that she can train to be an opera star with the same teacher who once trained Alice. She studies with him for years, all the while trying to forget that terrible night at Number 9 Thornton Square in London.

Paula meets Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer) and soon falls in love with him. She eventually ends her long tutelage to marry him. He persuades her that they should live in the long-vacant London townhouse her aunt bequeathed her and, to help calm her anxieties, suggests they store all of Alice's furnishings in the attic. Before they do, Paula discovers a letter addressed to her aunt by a man named Sergis Bauer, dated only two days before the murder, tucked away in a music book. Gregory's reaction is swift and violent, but he quickly composes himself, explaining his outburst as one of frustration at the bad memories his bride is experiencing.

After Alice's things are packed away in the attic and the door blocked, things take a turn for the bizarre. At the Tower of London, Paula loses a brooch that Gregory had given her, despite its having been stored safely in her handbag. A picture disappears from the walls of the house, and Gregory says that Paula took it, but Paula has no recollection of having done so. Paula also hears footsteps coming from above her in the sealed attic, and sees the gaslights dim and brighten for no apparent reason. Gregory suggests that these are all figments of Paula's imagination.

Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight. She has discovered a letter.

Gregory does everything in his power to isolate his wife from other people. He allows her neither to go out nor to have visitors, implying that he is doing so for her own good, because her nerves have been acting up, causing her to become a kleptomaniac and to imagine things that are not real. On the one occasion when he does take her out to a musical gathering at a friend's house, he shows Paula his watch chain, from which his watch has mysteriously disappeared. When he finds it in her handbag, she becomes hysterical, and Gregory takes her home. She sees why she should not go out in public.

The young maid, Nancy (Angela Lansbury), does little to improve the situation. Whenever she shows up, her face betrays a feeling of disdain; Paula becomes convinced that Nancy loathes her.

Unknown to Paula, her husband is in fact Sergis Bauer, her aunt's murderer. He sought out Paula in Italy, managed to win her heart, married her, and suggested they live in London, all with the aim of getting back into the house to continue searching for Alice's jewels. He has been secretly rummaging through Alice's belongings in the attic to find the jewels he is certain are there.

Gregory, the husband, does everything in his power to convince his wife that she is going mad. If she were certified insane and institutionalized, he could search without impediment for the jewels. The footsteps she hears in the attic are thus his, and the flickering gaslights he claims she has imagined are in reality caused by him turning the attic lights on, reducing the flow of gas to the downstairs lights.

The plan almost works. Paula is saved by her trip to the Tower of London — although this visit was the catalyst that enabled Gregory to cement his control over her, it also led to a chance encounter with Inspector Brian Cameron of Scotland Yard (Joseph Cotten), an admirer of Alice Alquist since his childhood. Cameron was also present at the aforementioned musical gathering, and thus witnessed Gregory's strange behavior from an independent perspective. By enlisting the support of the housekeeper Elizabeth (Barbara Everest) (who suspects her master is at the root of all the odd events) and a neighborhood busybody (Dame May Whitty), Cameron is able to delve into the long-cold case. Cameron eventually manages to get inside the house and see Paula, whose sanity is quickly restored when he confirms that the gaslights are indeed flickering. The dramatic conclusion comes as he moves in to arrest Gregory on the evening when Gregory at last discovers the jewels he has sought for so long: hidden in plain sight, disguised as costume jewelry.

The dénouement partly involves Paula indulging herself in a bit of revenge, psychologically torturing Gregory after he's been bound to a chair, tantalizing him with the suggestion that she might free him so he can escape arrest, trial, and execution.


Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman in the final confrontation

Angela Lansbury and Terry Moore are the last surviving cast members.


Encouraged by the success of the play and the British 1940 film, MGM bought the remake rights, but with a clause insisting that all existing prints of the first film be destroyed,[3] even to the point of trying to destroy the negative,[4][5]To avoid confusion, MGM allegedly ordered that all prints of the original Gaslight be destroyed. Evidently that order was not honored to the letter, since the 1940 Gaslight is still safely available for both theatrical and TV exhibition.

Gaslight as expression[edit]

The psychological term gaslighting, which describes a form of psychological abuse in which the victim is gradually manipulated into doubting his or her own sanity, originated from the play and its two film adaptations.[6][7]


Box office[edit]

According to MGM records the film earned $2,263,000 in the US and Canada and $2,350,00 elsewhere resulting in a profit of $941,000.[1]

Critical response[edit]

When Gaslight was first released, The New York Times film critic, Bosley Crowther, praised the actors. He wrote, "And with Mr. Boyer doing the driving in his best dead-pan hypnotic style, while the flames flicker strangely in the gas-jets and the mood music bongs with heavy threats, it is no wonder that Miss Bergman goes to pieces in a most distressing way. Both of these popular performers play their roles right to the hilt. Nice little personality vignettes are interestingly contributed, too, by Joseph Cotten as a stubborn detective, Dame May Whitty and Angela Lansbury as a maid."[8]

Noir analysis[edit]

Recently, film critic Emanuel Levy discussed the noir aspects of the film:

A thriller soaked in paranoia, Gaslight is a period films [sic] noir that, like Hitchcock's The Lodger and Hangover Square, is set in the Edwardian age. It's interesting to speculate about the prominence of a film cycle in the 1940s that can be described as 'Don't Trust Your Husband'. It began with three Hitchcock films: Rebecca (1940), Suspicion (1941), and Shadow of a Doubt (1943), and continued with Gaslight and Jane Eyre (both in 1944), Dragonwyck (1945), Notorious and The Spiral Staircase (both 1946), The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947), and Sorry, Wrong Number and Sleep, My Love (both 1948). All of these films use the noir visual vocabulary and share the same premise and narrative structure: The life of a rich, sheltered woman is threatened by an older, deranged man, often her husband. In all of them, the house, usually a symbol of sheltered security in Hollywood movies, becomes a trap of terror.[9]


At the 1945 Academy Awards, the film was nominated for seven Oscars: Best Picture, Best Actress for Ingrid Bergman, Best Actor for Charles Boyer, Best Supporting Actress for Angela Lansbury, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction (black and white) (Cedric Gibbons, William Ferrari, Edwin B. Willis, Paul Huldschinsky), and Best Cinematography (black and white), winning for actress and art direction.[10]

Adaptations to other media[edit]

Gaslight was dramatized as a half-hour radio play on the February 3, 1947 broadcast of The Screen Guild Theater, starring Charles Boyer and Susan Hayward.[11] A 1946 one-hour radio production on Lux Radio Theater featured both of the film's original stars, Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman.


  1. ^ a b c The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study .
  2. ^ BBFC: The Murder in Thornton Square Linked 2014-03-08
  3. ^ "BFI Screenonline: Dickinson, Thorold (1903-1984) Biography". Retrieved 2014-02-22. 
  4. ^ Fristoe, Roger. "Gaslight (1940)" on
  5. ^ Horne, Philip (2008-10-04). "Thorold Dickinson's 1949 film The Queen of Spades has been called 'a masterpiece' by Martin Scorsese – so why is his work not better known? | Film". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-05-30. 
  6. ^ Rush, Florence (February 1992). The best-kept secret: sexual abuse of children. Human Services Institute. p. 81. ISBN 978-0-8306-3907-6. Retrieved 16 June 2011. 
  7. ^ Levy, Emanuel. Emanuel Levy – Cinema 24/7, film review. Accessed: July 24, 2013.
  8. ^ Crowther, Bosley. The New York Times, film review, May 5, 1944. Accessed: July 24, 2013.
  9. ^
  10. ^ "NY Times: Gaslight". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-18. 
  11. ^ "Radio Broadcast Log Of: The Screen Guild Theater". Audio Classics Archive. Retrieved 13 February 2010. 

External links[edit]