Movie Critique – Gaslight

Stars: 5 / 5

Recommendation: A brilliant psychological thriller showcasing the abuser and abusee in a web of deceit all for taking control over the inheritance. It would leave you trembling sometimes, wanting to murder the abuser the next.

Gaslight is a 1944 American psychological thriller starring Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman and Joseph Cotton. It is adapted from the 1938 play Gas Light by Patrick Hamilton, directed by George Cukor. It is also a remake of the 1940 British film Gaslight which was directed by Thorold Dickson. The main plot, set in 1874, is about a woman whose husband slowly drives her insane using psychological methods.

Paula Alquist (portrayed by Ingrid Bergman) marries Gregory Anton (portrayed by Charles Boyer) and moves into her deceased aunt's London apartment. But as Paula and Gregory settle in to their lives, bizarre things start to happen, driving Paula insane. But Inspector Brian Cameron (portrayed by Joseph Cotten) has his own doubts around the whole situation Paula is in.

The movie won two Academy Awards - Best Actress in a Leading Role; Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Black & White - from the 7 nominations it got that year. If not for anything, I would have given the award for just the sheer genius the film makers showed in the opening and closing credits. They are displayed over a backdrop of burning gaslight throwing shadows. Observe the shadows closely and you will notice that it is of a man strangling a woman.

Joseph Cotton portrays the role of Inspector Brian Cameron from Scotland Yard. I have heard so many of his radio shows in the past year on the Down These Mean Streets podcast and had been mesmerized by his voice. Now I got to see him on screen. He is equally mesmerizing in the movie. No wonder he had a long career on radio, theater, tv and films.

An 18-yr old Dame Angela Lansbury made her screen debut with this film as Nancy Oliver, Paula's maid. For her very first role, Lansbury made a very impertinent maid with airs of her own effectively. No wonder she won an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. 

To get into the character, Ingrid Bergman spent sometime in a mental hospital to study a few of the mental breakdown patients, so she can be better prepared for her role. She is every bit mesmerizing as she was in her Academy Award winning film in the 1942 Casablanca. (My review here).

The hardest part of the movie was watching Charles Boyer in a negative role. I remember him from the 1939 hit American romantic movie Love Affair (My review here). With his French accent, he comes across more of a lover than a villain. For someone who could bring out so much love and romance on screen, it was a shocking to watch him depict an evil man. 

I just realized that Boyer's voice and dialogue delivery reminds me of the Polish actor, Aleksander Krupa who has portrayed several roles as villain or criminal in TV and films. My memorable role of him is as Peter Beaupre in the 1997 American family comedy film, Home Alone 3. Only thing is Aleksanderhad started his career 10 years after Boyer had passed away. I wonder if Aleksander watched too many Boyer movies to imitate him. 

Terry Moore portrayed the uncredited role of young Paula Alquist at the age of 14 years. With one Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, Moore has been a successful film and television actress. At 91 years she is the last surviving star of Golden Age of Hollywood. Note how closely she looks in appearance to Bergman. 

The story-line had several changes from the original play, though the central plot-line remained the same. However, the psychological term "gaslighting" became a synonym for a victim being abused psychologically and gradually manipulated to doubt their sanity. 

I can see how easy it was for Gregory to manipulate Paula, who by nature was shy and hesitant despite the successful opera singer. We see first hand how all the abuse in this world takes place, specially by those who wore sheep skin over a wolf body. Sometimes the most smoothest are the most cruelest in the world, as we see more than often happening. 

The subtle way Gregory pushes into Paula's brain that she isnt sane; his undermining of her; callously dismissing her; creating situations to make her go crazy; is very very chilling. The play of light and shadow certainly adds to the terror. In the end, you yourself want to actually kill Gregory for putting Paula through hell. That's how well Boyer becomes Gregory and erases the memory of Michel Marnet from his 1939 hit classic Love Affair. 

The transformation of Paula from a shy, hesitant lover and opera singer to a scared, recluse and losing sanity wife and in the end to a woman who realizes her strength to fight the evil is simply speechless. No words can describe how well Bergman accomplished it.

Typically I make a note of other books, movie, tv shows and radio shows that I come across when I am reading a book or watching a movie or a tv show; so I can look for them later. And so I had made a note of this film when I was posting my review on Murder In A Minor Key book, 16th book in Murder, She Wrote series. Jessica Fletcher is watching this movie in that novel.

Also our heroine Laurie Moran in Mary Higgins Clark's Under Suspicion #6, You Don't Own Me, compares the situation of her case to this movie. More than once I have wanted to watch this movie. Finally I did it!

My heart was racing all along thru the film, trembling at watching how Gregory manipulates Paula, all along knowing she was sane; wanting to go into the film and shake her to show how much her husband was psychologically killing her. 

The climatic scene between Gregory and Paula is phenomenal. Finally when you see Paula break through the fog, find her sanity; she confronts Gregory with some really strong words of her own. 

If I were not mad, I could have helped you. Whatever you had done, I could have pitied and protected you. But because I am mad, I hate you. Because I am mad, I have betrayed you. And because I'm mad, I'm rejoicing in my heart, without a shred of pity, without a shred of regret, watching you go with glory in my heart!

And chilling goodbye from Gregory just creates more and more chills up your spine.

I don't ask you to understand me. Between us all the time were those jewels, like a fire - a fire in my brain that separated us - those jewels which I wanted all my life. I don't know why... Goodbye, Paula.

A brilliant psychological thriller showcasing the abuser and abusee in a web of deceit all for taking control over the inheritance. It would leave you trembling sometimes, wanting to murder the abuser the next. 

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Movie Trivia:

a. This film also marked the last film role for Lawrence Grossmith who plays the part of Lord Freddie Dalroy in here. The older gentleman in the pic below. 

b. In the opening credits we can see that it s mentioned that Miss Bergman and Mr. Cotton were loaned through courtesy of David O. Selznick, film studio executive.

c. Note that May Whitty is titled "Dame" in this film. She is the first actress to be called "Dame" and received Dame Commander of Order of British Empire (DBE) from King George V in 1918. Incidentally Angela Lansbury, her castmate in this film,  received the same honor, seventy years later, from George's granddaughter Queen Elizabeth II in 2014. Here we see May Whitty as the charming companion, Miss Bessie Thwaites, to Bergman's Paula in the train. 

d. Charles Boyer and his wife Pat Paterson had a child during the filming of this movie. 

e. The gasoliers used on the set are real. For instance, the one in Charles Boyer's bedroom is from the 1872 Menlo Park, California mansion of Senator Milton Latham.

f. Paula quotes from "Villette" by Charlotte Bronte in one of the scenes.

g. Lux Radio Theater did a 60 minute adaptation of the film on Apr 29, 1946 with Bergman and Boyer reprising their roles. And so did Screen Guild Theater did a 30 minute adaptation on Feb 3, 1947 with only Boyer reprising his role. 

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. In the beginning of the film, a man is lighting the outdoor gaslights using a long pole with a flame. However, on a closeup scene, there is no flame on the long pole he is holding. Still the gaslight turns on. How was that possible?

b. 24 minutes into the film, when Paula and Gregory are looking at the things in her aunt Alice's house, Paula mentions that the piano need tuning. However, Gregory plays it immediately with ease.

c. Gregory crumples the letter Alice left in her musical score taking it from Paula. But in a much later scene when Paula finds the letter in Gregory's desk, it is neatly folded and devoid of any crumpling. 

d. Nancy, the maid and Elizabeth, the cook are walking up the stairs carrying several folded sheets. But in the very next scene, when Nancy is looking up to the floor above, she doesn’t carry anything. And her sheets are also not seen anywhere on the floor.

e. 43 minutes into the movie, you can see the camera and crew reflected in the window of the front of Paula and Anton's home.


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