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]

In 1875, when world-famous opera singer Alice Alquist is murdered at her London home, her niece Paula is sent to Italy to follow in her footsteps. As an adult, Paula marries her accompanist Gregory Anton, after a two-week whirlwind romance. At his suggestion, they settle in London and occupy her late aunt's long-vacant townhouse.[10]

Paula grapples with the memory of her aunt's murder, and Gregory suggests storing Alice's furnishings in the attic. When Paula finds a letter to her aunt from a man named Sergis Bauer, Gregory reacts violently but apologizes. He hires a young maid, Nancy, and insists that she never bother his "high-strung" wife.

Paula is surprised when Gregory chides her supposed forgetfulness, but on a visit to the Tower of London, she cannot find an heirloom brooch he gave her, although it was stored safely in her handbag. She is plagued by noises coming from the boarded-up attic, and notices the gaslights dim for no apparent reason when Gregory is not home, which he assures her is only her imagination.

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

Gregory flirts with Nancy, whose disdain for his wife only worsens Paula's nerves. Her anxious behavior is noticed by Inspector Brian Cameron of Scotland Yard, a childhood admirer of Alice. Struck by Paula's resemblance to her aunt, Cameron attempts to reopen the cold case, discovering that a gift of royal jewels was not recovered after Alice's murder.

Isolating his wife from the world, Gregory convinces her that she is a kleptomaniac, responsible for hiding a painting, and is too unwell to be in public. Unable to prevent her from attending a party hosted by her old family friend, Gregory accuses Paula of stealing his watch. When he finds it in her handbag, Paula becomes hysterical in front of the guests. Taking Paula home, Gregory angrily claims that her mother died in an asylum, and that the letter she discovered from Sergis Bauer never existed. Doubting her own sanity, Paula breaks down.

A suspicious Cameron recruits a patrolman to watch Gregory, whom they learn often visits an abandoned house nearby, and is planning to institutionalize Paula. When Gregory leaves, Cameron offers Paula his assistance, confirming that the attic noises and flickering gaslights are indeed real. He deduces that Gregory goes to the neighboring vacant house to enter his own attic through a skylight. Paula has heard him searching through Alice's belongings, and the gaslights flicker when he turns on the attic lights, reducing the gas to the downstairs lamps.

Cameron pries open Gregory's desk, and Paula finds the letter from Bauer that her husband insisted was a delusion. They realize "Gregory" is actually Sergis Bauer, who murdered Alice but was interrupted before he could find her jewels. His marriage to Paula was a scheme to gain access to her aunt's home, employing a cunning strategy to drive his wife mad and have her institutionalized, leaving him Alice's estate and allowing him to search unabated for the jewels.

In the attic, Sergis discovers the jewels hidden in plain sight, sewn into one of Alice's famous costumes. He returns downstairs to find his desk unlocked, and a mentally exhausted Paula admits that she was visited by a man. To protect Paula, the kindly cook Elizabeth assures Sergis that this was merely a figment of her imagination, driving Paula to despair. Cameron appears and confronts Sergis, chasing him into the attic and tying him to a chair.

Finally convinced of her own sanity, Paula is left alone with Sergis, who urges her to cut him free. Instead, Paula taunts him, musing that the knife in her hand might not be real and finding the "missing" brooch. As the police drive Sergis away, Cameron expresses interest in seeing Paula again.

Cast[edit]

Gregory and Paula in their 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 89% based on reviews from 35 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 Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons and William Ferrari;
Interior Decoration: 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 Inducted
New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Actress Ingrid Bergman Nominated
Online Film & Television Association Awards Hall of Fame – Motion Picture Inducted

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

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ 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. ^ "Gaslight (1944)". Filmsite LLC. Retrieved 19 November 2021.
  11. ^ "BFI Screenonline: Dickinson, Thorold (1903–1984) Biography". BFI. Retrieved 2014-02-22.
  12. ^ "Gaslight (1944)" 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 2022-10-11.
  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. 2012. Archived from the original on 2012-08-17. Retrieved 2008-12-18.

External links[edit]