Sep 6, 2017 | by Jessika Loucks
Losing your mind?
Are the lights really dimming? Why are things being missed placed? Do you hear those footsteps? These are all questions asked by Ingrid Bergman in the 1944 psychological thriller Gaslight.
Based on the play and the success of the 1940 British film, MGM bought the remake rights to Gaslight, with an important clause insisting that all existing prints of the 1940 film be destroyed, even to the point of trying to destroy the film negative. This order was clearly not honored, since the 1940 Gaslight film is still available for both theatrical and TV viewing, as well as DVD release.
Praised by critics, Gaslight was a huge hit at the box office and had multiple wins at the Academy Awards – including Ingrid Bergman for Best Actress in a Leading Role and Best Art Direction for Interior Decoration.
Leads Charles Boyer and Bergman met for the first time on set while having to film the movie’s most passionate kissing scene – which Bergman said later was very awkward. Charles Boyer must have felt just as awkward at times during filming as he was the same height as Bergman and for him to appear taller, he had to stand on a box multiple times throughout filming along with wearing two-inch heels.
“I knew from the first moment I saw you that you were dangerous to me.”-Gregory Anton
The film begins with an eerie soundtrack, while we watch gas lights flicker up and down. This is followed by the revelation of the murder of the world-famous opera singer Alice Alquist. The murderer never found, the case is closed with no leads and no sign of motive.
We are then introduced to Alice’s young niece, Paula, who was being raised by her aunt following the death of her parents. We watch as she reluctantly leaves her home and is escorted to a carriage. Paula is taken to Italy where she will be cared for and taught to sing, just like her aunt. In the next few scenes we are introduced to a much older Paula who is being trained to be an opera star.
Enter Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer) a charming pianist who works with Paula. She quickly falls in love with Gregory and after a two-week romantic whirlwind, the two leave the world of opera and are married.
In the next moment, we are transported to the honeymoon suite where Gregory persuades Paula to leave her friends behind, to return to London and to take up residence in the house her aunt left to her. Obviously frightened to go back to the place of her aunt’s murder, she is assured by Gregory that everything will be fine and that it is the perfect place to raise a family.
To the house we go and we see the beautiful home that Paula left so many years ago. We also meet Miss Bessie Thwaites (Dame May Whitty), their hilarious neighbor who is a curious busybody. Upset by seeing all of her aunt’s things, including a letter that seems to have an interesting effect on her husband, Gregory suggests that everything be tucked away in the upstairs attic. Paula agrees and begins to feel much better about living in the house.
Soon after they are settled, Gregory employs a maid Nancy (Angela Lansbury, in her film debut at the young age of seventeen) and a cook Elizabeth (Barbara Everest), who are the only other people who ever enter the home. Through odd events, such as hearing footsteps in the attic, the gaslights becoming dim when no one else is home, and things vanishing – Paula starts to believe that she is going insane.
Her husband is sympathetic at first, but increasingly becomes less patient with her emotional outbursts and kleptomaniac episodes. Brian Cameron (Joseph Cotten) an investigator at Scotland yard is introduced and we learn that he has been determined to find the murderer of Alice since the case was closed years ago.
The case is reopened and Brian is anxious to meet Paula, who has now cut everyone off and is afraid to leave the house. Is Paula going insane? Will Brian find the murderer? And is Gregory hiding a deadly secret?
“I am mad. I’m always losing things and hiding things and I can never find them, I don’t know where I’ve put them.” –Paula Anton
There is no wondering why Ingrid Bergman won an Oscar for role as Leading Lady. She is absolutely amazing in her portrayl of Paula. The emotion that flows through her is incredible to watch. Bergman spent some time in a mental institution and studied a woman who had suffered a nervous breakdown to get her part right and be believable. Well, let me tell you it worked! Boyer does a wonderful job as her husband with his charm and secret looks. I would like to give a shout out to all the actors in this film as they were all wonderful and acted their parts to a “T”. This film has it all: suspense, romance, comedy and intense drama. The last forty-five minutes had me on the edge of my seat the whole time!
“Gonna work on your tunes again tonight, sir? You’re always working, aren’t you?”-Nancy Oliver
Though I loved the character development in this film, and felt that they did a great job making you feel attached to them, the first half of the film is rather slow and is weighed down by too much dialogue.
Other than that, my only other caution for this film is that it’s not family-friendly, especially for younger children as the emotional outbursts from Paula can be very intense at times.
“I knew from the first moment I saw you that you were dangerous to her.”-Brian Cameron
As always, the question remains: is Gaslight worth your time? My vote is yes! There were a few times I felt that they could have cut a few scenes shorter, but the second half of the film is completely worth any slow scenes in the first half. Grab some popcorn and get ready for an emotional rollercoaster of intrigue and suspense!