Gaslight (1944 film)

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Gaslight
Gaslight (1944 poster).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byGeorge Cukor
Screenplay by[1]
Based onGas Light
1938 play
by Patrick Hamilton
Produced byArthur Hornblow Jr.
Starring
CinematographyJoseph Ruttenberg
Edited byRalph E. Winters
Music byBronisław Kaper
Production
company
Distributed byLoew's, Inc.[2]
Release date
  • May 4, 1944 (1944-05-04)
Running time
114 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$2 million[3]
Box office$4.6 million[3]

Gaslight is a 1944 American psychological thriller film directed by George Cukor and starring Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotten, and Angela Lansbury (in her film debut). Adapted by John Van Druten, Walter Reisch, and John L. Balderston from Patrick Hamilton's play Gas Light (1938), it follows a young woman whose husband slowly manipulates her into believing that she is descending into insanity.[4][5]

A remake of the 1940 British film of the same name directed by Thorold Dickinson, Cukor's version 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, Cukor's version was originally titled The Murder in Thornton Square in the UK.[6] The film features numerous deviations from the original stage play, though the central drama remains that of a husband trying to drive his wife insane in order to distract her from his criminal activities.

Gaslight was released theatrically on May 4, 1944, by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to critical acclaim and box-office success, grossing $4.6 million on a $2 million budget, and received seven nominations for the 17th Academy Awards, including for the Best Picture, winning two: Best Actress (for Bergman), and Best Production Design. In 2019, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[7][8][9]

Plot[edit]

World-famous opera singer Alice Alquist has just been murdered at her home, No. 9 Thornton Square, London. The perpetrator leaves behind the valuable jewels he killed her for after Alice's fourteen-year-old niece, Paula, interrupts him. Alice had raised Paula following her mother's death. Paula was later sent to Italy to train as an opera singer.[1][10]

Years later, an adult Paula meets and marries Gregory Anton after a two-week whirlwind romance. At Gregory's insistence, Paula returns to London, where she has no friends, to live in her late aunt's long-vacant London townhouse. To help calm Paula's anxiety over the memory of her aunt's violent murder, Gregory suggests storing Alice's old furnishings in the attic. Inside a book, Paula discovers a letter addressed to her aunt from a man named Sergis Bauer. Gregory reacts extremely when seeing her reading it. However, he apologizes, saying his outburst was a reaction to seeing Paula affected by bad memories.

After Alice's belongings are locked away in the attic, events become bizarre. At the Tower of London, Paula loses an heirloom brooch that Gregory had given her, despite its having been stored safely in her handbag. A picture disappears from its place on a wall and Gregory says that Paula took it and other items, then returned them. Paula has no recollection of doing this. Paula also hears footsteps coming from the sealed attic, and notices the gaslights dim and brighten for no apparent reason. Gregory suggests it is only her imagination.

With Gregory looking on, Paula has discovered the letter from Sergis Bauer.

Gregory gradually isolates his wife from the outside world, claiming it is beneficial for her nerves. He accuses her of becoming a kleptomaniac. He is also jealous and accusatory whenever others express an interest in her. When Gregory does takes her to a party, he shows Paula his watch-chain, saying his watch has mysteriously disappeared. Gregory finds it in her handbag. Paula becomes hysterical in front of the guests and Gregory takes her home. Paula begins to believe she should not go out in public. Their young maid, Nancy, worsens the situation, as Paula becomes convinced that Nancy loathes her. Gregory tells Paula that she is paranoid and is imagining the maid's disdain, while he secretly flirts with her.

Paula does not know that her husband is really Sergis Bauer, her aunt's murderer. He sought out Paula in Italy with the aim of finding Alice's jewels. He has been secretly rummaging through Alice's belongings in the attic to find the jewels which he believes are there. The footsteps Paula heard in the attic were his. The flickering gaslights which he claims she has imagined were caused by his turning on the attic lights, thus reducing the gas to the downstairs lamps. The kleptomania exhibited by Paula is all sleight of hand by Sergis.

"Gregory" employs a cunning strategy to convince his wife that she is going mad, hoping to have her institutionalized, giving him power of attorney over her and allowing him to search unabated for the jewels. The plan almost succeeds. During a trip to the Tower of London, Paula has a chance encounter with Inspector Brian Cameron of Scotland Yard, who admired Alice Alquist since childhood. Seeing Paula, who resembles her aunt, rekindles Cameron's interest in the cold case murder of Alice and her jewels, a royal gift that was never found. With the aid of a police patrolman, Cameron figures out that "Gregory" slips into a vacant house next door and enters his own attic via a skylight. Cameron visits Paula and confirms that the gaslights are indeed flickering. They discover the letter from Bauer that "Gregory" insisted was a figment of her imagination.

That same evening, Sergis at last discovers the jewels hidden in plain sight, disguised as costume jewelry. He returns home to find that Paula has apparently been visited by another man. Though he knows that he has been discovered, he throws Paula into confusion again, telling her that everything is in her imagination. However, Cameron suddenly appears and confronts Sergis, chasing him to the attic and finally arresting him. Paula follows them and, finally convinced of her own sanity, indulges in a bit of revenge. Alone with him now bound to a chair, he tries to convince her to cut him free so he can escape. She taunts Sergis, musing that the knife in her hand might not be real, before calling in Cameron to take him away. As the police drive Sergis away, Cameron expresses interest in seeing Paula again, hinting at a potential romance.[1][10]

Cast[edit]

Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman in the final confrontation

Uncredited

[citation needed]

Production[edit]

Encouraged by the success of the play and the British 1940 film, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer bought the remake rights, but with a clause insisting that all existing prints of the first film be destroyed,[11] even to the point of trying to destroy the negative.[12][13] Evidently that order was not honored to the letter, since the 1940 Gaslight remains available for both theatrical exhibition, television screenings, and DVD release.

Denominalization of the play's title[edit]

Self-help and popular psychology authors sometimes denominalize the film's title (also known as "verbing") and use it as a verb. Gaslighting, in this context, refers to manipulating a person or a group of people, in a way similar to the way the protagonist in the film was manipulated.[14]

Reception[edit]

Box office[edit]

According to MGM records the film earned $2,263,000 in the US and Canada and $2,350,000 in other markets resulting in a profit of $941,000.[3]

Critical response[edit]

Alongside the original 1940 British film, critics generally consider the American remake to also be a classic. Bergman's Oscar winning performance has long been considered among the best to win Best Actress, while Boyer's portrayal of Gregory was also Oscar nominated. On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 88% based on reviews from 32 critics.[15]

When Gaslight was 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."[16]

Noir analysis[edit]

In 2006, film critic Emanuel Levy discussed the film 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.[17]

Accolades[edit]

Award Category Subject Result
Academy Awards[18] Best Motion Picture Arthur Hornblow Jr. Nominated
Best Actor Charles Boyer Nominated
Best Actress Ingrid Bergman Won
Best Supporting Actress Angela Lansbury Nominated
Best Screenplay John L. Balderston, Walter Reisch and John Van Druten Nominated
Best Art Direction – Black-and-White Cedric Gibbons, William Ferrari, Paul Huldschinsky and Edwin B. Willis Won
Best Cinematography – Black-and-White Joseph Ruttenberg Nominated
Cannes Film Festival Grand Prize of the Festival George Cukor Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Ingrid Bergman Won
National Board of Review Awards Best Acting Won
National Film Preservation Board National Film Registry Gaslight Inducted
New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Actress Ingrid Bergman Nominated
Online Film & Television Association Hall of Fame – Motion Picture Gaslight Won

The film is recognized by the American Film Institute in the following lists:

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Van Druten (Screenplay), John; Reisch (Screenplay), Walter; Balderston (Screenplay), John L.; Hamilton (Original Theater Play), Patrick. "Gaslight screenplay (October 8, 1943)". Scripts on Screen. Retrieved 2021-11-19.
  2. ^ Gaslight at the American Film Institute Catalog
  3. ^ a b c The Eddie Mannix Ledger. Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study. Los Angeles..
  4. ^ Hoberman, J. (2019-08-21). "Why 'Gaslight' Hasn't Lost Its Glow". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-11-15.
  5. ^ Wise, Sarah (May 7, 2013). "Gaslight Stories: Driving 'Ingrid Bergman' Insane". Psychology Today. Retrieved 2022-04-06.
  6. ^ BBFC: The Murder in Thornton Square Linked 2014-03-08
  7. ^ Tartaglione, Nancy (December 11, 2019). "National Film Registry Adds 'Purple Rain', 'Clerks', 'Gaslight' & More; 'Boys Don't Cry' One Of Record 7 Pics From Female Helmers". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved December 11, 2019.
  8. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing". Library of Congress. Retrieved 2020-10-02.
  9. ^ "Women Rule 2019 National Film Registry". Library of Congress. Retrieved 2020-10-02.
  10. ^ a b "Gaslight (1944)". Filmsite LLC. Retrieved 19 November 2021.
  11. ^ "BFI Screenonline: Dickinson, Thorold (1903–1984) Biography". BFI. Retrieved 2014-02-22.
  12. ^ Fristoe, Roger. "Gaslight (1940)" on Turner Classic Movies.
  13. ^ Horne, Philip (10 October 2008). "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?". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2009-05-30.
  14. ^ DiGiulio, Sarah (13 July 2018). "What is gaslighting? And how do you know if it's happening to you?". NBC News. Retrieved 6 April 2022.
  15. ^ "Gaslight (1944)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2020-11-24.
  16. ^ Crowther, Bosley (May 5, 1944). "'Gaslight,' Adapted From Play 'Angel Street,' at Capitol -'Hardy's Blonde 'Trouble' Is Shown at Loew's State". The New York Times. Retrieved July 24, 2013.
  17. ^ Levy, Emanuel (2006). "Gaslight: Cukor's Masterpiece Starring Ingrid Bergman in Oscar-Winning Performance". Emanuel Levy Cinema 24/7.
  18. ^ "Gaslight". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. Baseline & All Movie Guide. 2012. Archived from the original on 2012-08-17. Retrieved 2008-12-18.

External links[edit]