Gaslight (1940 film)

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Gaslight 1940 poster.png
Pre-release poster for trade showing
Directed byThorold Dickinson
Written by
Based onGas Light
1938 play
by Patrick Hamilton
Produced byJohn Corfield
CinematographyBernard Knowles
Edited bySidney Cole
Music byRichard Addinsell
Distributed byAnglo-American Film Corp. (United Kingdom)
Release date
  • 25 June 1940 (1940-06-25) (United Kingdom)
Running time
89 minutes[1]
CountryUnited Kingdom

Gaslight (released in the United States as Angel Street) is a 1940 British psychological thriller film directed by Thorold Dickinson which stars Anton Walbrook and Diana Wynyard, and features Frank Pettingell. The film adheres more closely to the original play upon which it is based – Patrick Hamilton's Gas Light (1938) – than the 1944 MGM remake. The play had been performed on Broadway as Angel Street,[2] so when the MGM remake was released in the United States, it was given the same title as the American production.


In Pimlico, London, Alice Barlow (Marie Wright) is murdered by an unknown man, who then ransacks her house, ripping her furniture apart as if desperately searching for something. The house remains empty for many years, until newlyweds Paul and Bella Mallen move in. Bella (Diana Wynyard) soon finds herself misplacing small objects; and, before long, Paul (Anton Walbrook) has her believing she is losing her sanity. B. G. Rough (Frank Pettingell), a former detective involved in the original murder investigation, begins to suspect him of Alice Barlow's murder.

Paul lights the gas lamps to search the closed-off upper floors, which causes the rest of the lamps in the house to dim slightly. When Bella comments on the lights' dimming, he tells her that she is imagining things. Bella is persuaded that she is hearing noises, unaware that Paul enters the upper floors from the house next door. The sinister interpretation of the change in light levels is part of a larger pattern of deception to which Bella is subjected. Rough visits Bella and reveals that Paul is a bigamist; he is the wanted Louis Bauer, who has returned to the house to search for the rubies he was unable to find after the murder of his aunt, Alice Barlow.



Rotten Tomatoes tallied a 100% score, based on six professional reviews.[3]

Leonard Maltin gave the film 3+12 stars (out of 4): "Electrifying atmosphere, delicious performances, and a succinctly conveyed sense of madness, and evil lurking beneath the surface of the ordinary".[4]

The Time Out critic wrote, "Nothing like as lavish as the later MGM version ... But in its own small-scale way a superior film by far. Lurking menace hangs in the air like a fog, the atmosphere is electric, and Wynyard suffers exquisitely as she struggles to keep dementia at bay."[5]

Encouraged by the success of the play and film, MGM bought the remake rights, but with a clause insisting that all existing prints of Dickinson's version be destroyed,[6] even to the point of trying to destroy the negative, so that it would not compete with their more highly publicised 1944 remake starring Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman, and Joseph Cotten.[7][8] "Fortunately they failed, and now the British film has been restored by the BFI and issued in the UK on Blu-ray in a pristine print."[9] Since 2017 the film has been viewable on the YouTube platform.[10]

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"). 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 play was manipulated.[11]



  1. ^ "Gaslight (1940)". BBFC. Retrieved 8 March 2014.
  2. ^ League, The Broadway. "Angel Street – Broadway Show". Retrieved 28 January 2018.
  3. ^ "Gaslight". Retrieved 28 January 2018.
  4. ^ "Gaslight (1940) – Overview". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 28 January 2018.
  5. ^ "Gaslight". Time Out. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  6. ^ Brown, Geoff. "Dickinson, Thorold (1903–1984)". BFI Screenonline. Retrieved 22 April 2014.
  7. ^ Fristoe, Roger. "Gaslight (1940)". Turner Classic Movies. Archived from the original on 1 February 2013.
  8. ^ Horne, Philip (4 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 30 May 2009.
  9. ^ "Gaslight (1940 and 1944)". 17 April 2015. Retrieved 28 January 2018.
  10. ^ "Gaslight (1940)". YouTube. 1 September 2017. Retrieved 8 March 2021.
  11. ^ DiGiulio, Sarah. "happening to you?". NBC News. Retrieved 13 July 2018.

General and cited references[edit]

  • Vermilye, Jerry (1978). The Great British Films. Secaucus, NJ: Citadel Press. pp. 52–54. ISBN 978-0-8065-0661-6.

External links[edit]