Gaslight (1944 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||George Cukor|
|Produced by||Arthur Hornblow Jr.|
|Based on||Gas Light|
by Patrick Hamilton
|Music by||Bronisław Kaper|
|Edited by||Ralph E. Winters|
|Distributed by||Loew's, Inc.|
Gaslight is a 1944 American mystery-thriller film, adapted from Patrick Hamilton's 1938 play Gas Light, about a woman whose husband slowly manipulates her into believing that she is going insane. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Screenplay; winning two for Best Actress and Best Production Design.
The 1944 version 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 an Oscar-nominated screen debut (Supporting Actress). Gaslight 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 originally given the title The Murder in Thornton Square in the UK. This film features numerous deviations from the original stage play, though the central drama of a husband trying to drive his wife insane in order to distract her from his criminal activities remains.
World-famous opera singer Alice Alquist has just been murdered at her home, No.9 Thornton Square. The perpetrator left without the jewels he sought after being interrupted by Paula, Alice's fourteen-year-old niece. Paula was raised by her aunt Alice following her mother's death. After Alice is murdered, Paula is sent to Italy to train to become an opera star herself.
Years later, an adult Paula (Ingrid Bergman) meets and marries Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer) after a two-week-long whirlwind romance. Paula returns to London where she has no friends, at his insistence, to live in the long-vacant London townhouse of her deceased aunt Alice. To help calm her anxieties, Gregory suggests they store all of Alice's furnishings in the attic. Before they do, Paula discovers a letter in an old book addressed to her aunt by a man named Sergis Bauer. Gregory's reaction is violent. However, he dismisses his outburst as one of frustration at the bad memories his bride is experiencing.
After Alice's belongings are locked away in the attic, events take a turn for the 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 the walls of the house; and Gregory says that Paula took it, one of many instances of her removing and hiding it. But Paula has no recollection of having done so. Paula also hears footsteps coming from the sealed attic, and sees the gaslights dim and brighten for no apparent reason. Gregory suggests these are in her imagination.
Gregory isolates his wife from the outside world, implying that he is doing so for her own good, because her nerves have been acting up, causing her to become a kleptomaniac. He is also jealous and accusatory whenever others express an interest in her. When Gregory does take her out to a friend's house, he shows Paula his watch chain, from which his watch has mysteriously disappeared. When Gregory conveniently finds it in her handbag, Paula becomes hysterical, and he takes her home. Paula begins to believe she should not go out in public. A young maid, Nancy (Angela Lansbury), worsens the situation, as Paula becomes convinced that Nancy loathes her. Gregory secretly flirts with the maid and tells Paula she is paranoid and is imagining the maid's disdain.
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 getting back into the house 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. The footsteps Paula heard in the attic were actually his. The flickering gaslights he claims she has imagined were caused by his turning the attic lights on, thus reducing the gas to the downstairs lights. The kleptomania exhibited by Paula is all sleight-of-hand by Gregory.
Gregory does everything in his power 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 works. Paula is saved by her trip to the Tower of London, as it also leads to a chance encounter with Inspector Brian Cameron of Scotland Yard (Joseph Cotten), an admirer of Alice Alquist since childhood. Seeing Paula rekindles Cameron's interest in the cold case murder of Alice and her royal jewels that were never found. With the aid of the police, Cameron figures out that Gregory slips into a vacant house next door and enters his own attic via a skylight. Cameron eventually gets inside the house to see Paula and confirms that the gaslights are indeed flickering, and she discovers the letter from Bauer that Gregory had told her was a figment of her imagination.
That same evening, Gregory at last discovers the jewels hidden in plain sight, disguised as costume jewelry. He returns to the house to discover that Paula has apparently been visited by another man. Though he knows he has been discovered, he convinces the still confused Paula everything is in her imagination. However, Cameron appears in the doorway behind and arrests him with the help of police. Paula, finally convinced of her own sanity, indulges herself in a bit of revenge. She taunts Gregory, who is now bound to a chair but still trying to manipulate her, suggesting that she might cut him free so he can escape justice. She muses that the knife in her hand may not be real, before calling in Cameron to take him away.
- Charles Boyer as Gregory Anton/Sergis Bauer
- Ingrid Bergman as Paula Alquist Anton
- Joseph Cotten as Brian Cameron
- Dame May Whitty as Miss Bessie Thwaites
- Angela Lansbury as Nancy Oliver
- Barbara Everest as Elizabeth Tompkins
- Emil Rameau as Maestro Guardi
- Edmund Breon as General Huddleston, Brian's supervisor
- Halliwell Hobbes as Mr. Mufflin, Paula's lawyer
- Tom Stevenson as PC Williams
- Heather Thatcher as Lady Mildred Dalroy
- Lawrence Grossmith (in his last film role) as Lord Freddie Dalroy
- Jakob Gimpel as Pianist
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, even to the point of trying to destroy the negative. Evidently that order was not honored to the letter, since the 1940 Gaslight is still safely available for both theatrical and TV exhibition, as well as DVD release.
Gaslight as expression
The psychological term gaslighting, which describes the 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. The fictional work is also the first artistic portrayal of this type of psychological abuse.
According to MGM records the film earned $2,263,000 in the US and Canada and $2,350,000 elsewhere resulting in a profit of $941,000.
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."
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.
|Academy Awards||Best Picture||Arthur Hornblow Jr.||Nominated|
|Best Actor in a Leading Role||Charles Boyer||Nominated|
|Best Actress in a Leading Role||Ingrid Bergman||Won|
|Best Actress in a Supporting Role||Angela Lansbury||Nominated|
|Best Writing, Screenplay||John L. Balderston, Walter Reisch, and John Van Druten||Nominated|
|Best Cinematography, Black-and-White||Joseph Ruttenberg||Nominated|
|Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Black-and-White||William Ferrari, Cedric Gibbons, Paul Huldschinsky, and Edwin B. Willis||Won|
|Cannes Film Festival||Grand Prize of the Festival||George Cukor||Nominated|
|Golden Globe Award||Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama||Ingrid Bergman||Won|
|New York Film Critics Circle Award||Best Actress||Nominated|
- List of American films of 1944
- Gothic romance film
- Gaslighting, the form of psychological manipulation portrayed in the film
- The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
- BBFC: The Murder in Thornton Square Linked 2014-03-08
- "BFI Screenonline: Dickinson, Thorold (1903–1984) Biography". Screenonline.org.uk. Retrieved 2014-02-22.
- Fristoe, Roger. "Gaslight (1940)" on TCM.com
- 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?". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-05-30.
- 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.
- Levy, Emanuel (2006). "Gaslight: Cukor's Masterpiece Starring Ingrid Bergman in Oscar-Winning Performance". EmanuelLevy.com.
- Crowther, Bosley. The New York Times, film review, May 5, 1944. Accessed: July 24, 2013.
- "Gaslight". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-18.
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