GASLIGHT ( 1944 )

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During the years there has been a myriad of notable thrillers, but none of them have reached the pinnacle of success that Gaslight attained. Released in 1944 when Film Noir was at it’s zenith, Gaslight offers the viewer plenty of chills and thrills while it takes you on a journey of Victorian London and a case of a paranoid female trapped in the house of terror.

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Gaslight was not only one of the decades most triumphant films, it also marked the birth of nineteen year old Angela Lansbury, who made her film debut in the role as Nancy.

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Several months before casting for the film went into consideration, Angela Lansbury was present at a party hosted by her mother when John Van Druten approached her and said that he thought she’s perfect to play the role of Nancy Oliver in Gaslight, and the rest they say is history.

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The film is the second version of the production which was based on Patrick Hamilton’s long running stage play titled Gas Light. After earning considerable profits in London, it moved to Broadway in 1941, where it was renamed Angel Street, and ran for three years with Vincent Price and Judith Evans serving as the main cast. Following the consummation it received on Broadway, it was originally adapted to the screen in 1940, starring Anton Walbrook and Diana Wynyard in the lead roles.

Four years later MGM decided to remake the film, so they purchased the rights to Dickinson’s version, which caused chaos when they withdrew it from circulation by unsuccessfully attempting to destroy prints of the film, creating animosity with the British film makers.

Once the 1944 version went into preparation, Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotten and Angela Lansbury were cast under the masterful direction of George Cukor, who was one of Hollywood’s most eminent directors.

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The film revolves around the story of Paula Alquist Anton ( Ingrid Bergman ) who with her new husband Gregory Anton ( Charles Boyer ) moves back into her former 9 Thornton Square residence in London where her aunt, Alice Alquist was murdered ten years earlier.

Unbeknownst to Paula, Gregory inhabits a mysterious secret which exacerbates as time progresses. After continuing to isolate Paula from the outside world, he begins to slowly terrorize her to make her believe that she’s going insane.

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Gaslight is the true definition of a thriller. Shot in glorious black and white and abounded with superb cinematography, this atmospheric production takes place in foggy, gaslit Victorian London, and stars Ingrid Bergman in the lead role as the frightened Paula who is made to doubt her sanity.

One of the reasons that makes Gaslight so spectacular is because it’s not just a thriller. While the film is classified as a thriller, it contains many elements of Film Noir, and shares the same premise and narrative structure of a lot of notable films from the same era. To add to the already exquisite creation is the paranoia that the film is soaked in which helps enhance the moody ambiance of Paula’s sheltered existence.

Another redeeming feature is the stars. Gaslight features a stellar cast which includes, Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotten, Angela Lansbury and Dame May Whitty in a supporting character role of the inquisitive and amiable Bessie Thwaites.

Some films spotlight a top cast, but not all those players are adept at the role they are portraying. In Gaslight all the stars are prominent. Ingrid Bergman in my opinion delivers her most commendable performance of her career. Her role as Paula is a complex character study, and to execute the part perfectly involves intense drama wrapped in extreme expressionism. Needless to say, Ingrid Bergman was able to succeed in all aspects of bringing her character to life while believing that you are really watching Paula on the screen instead of Ingrid Bergman. Part of the reason why Bergman’s performance was so meritorious was that researching for her role entailed many hours spent in a mental institution, observing patient symptoms of nervous breakdowns. The hours spent at the institution acquired laudable results.

Angela Lansbury in her film debut is another highlight. Here she plays the cockney and vibrant Nancy, the young maid, who does very little to improve the situation by expressing nothing but antipathy towards Paula, which only leads to her thinking even more she’s insane. By watching Lansbury’s performance, you wouldn’t believe that this was her first role. Her portrayal of Nancy was exemplary, and helped build her illustrious career.

Charles Boyer plays against type in this. Considering that this was a completely different role than what he’s ever been warranted, he played the role of Gregory to considerable detail by really showcasing his villainous elements. Joseph Cotten as inspector Brian Cameron is the sugar to go with all the spice surrounding Gregory and the maids, and this is just another film that highlights his indelible talents as an actor.

From thriller, suspense to Film Noir, Gaslight is not just a movie; It’s a cinematic masterpiece that will keep audiences enthralled for many decades to come.

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Trivia:

Angela Lansbury was only 19 when she made this, her film debut. She had been working at Bullocks Department Store in Los Angeles and when she told her boss that she was leaving, he offered to match the pay at her new job. Expecting it to be in the region of her Bullocks salary of the equivalent of $27 a week, he was somewhat taken aback when she told him she would be earning $500 a week.

The very distinctive brass bed (with a swan’s-neck design) that is in Ingrid Bergman‘s hotel room near the beginning of the film was also prominently featured in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944).

Both Irene Dunne and Hedy Lamarr turned down the chance to play Paula.

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Quotes:

Paula: “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.”

Paula: “It isn’t here, you must have dreamed you put it there. Are you suggesting that this is a knife I hold in my hand? Have you gone mad, my husband.”

Gregory: “I knew from the first moment I saw you that you were dangerous to me.”

Brian: “I knew from the first moment I saw you that you were dangerous to her.”

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Cast:

Ingrid Bergman: Born August 29th, 1915 in Stockholm, Sweden. Died: August 29th, 1982 in London. Aged 67. Cause of death: Breast Cancer.

Charles Boyer: Born August 28th, 1899 in France. Died: August 26th, 1978 in Phoenix, Arizona. Aged 78

Joseph Cotten: Born May 15th, 1905 in Petersburg, Virginia. Died: February 6th, 1994 in Los Angeles, California. Aged 88.

Angela Lansbury: Born October 16th, 1925 in Regents Park, London.

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3 thoughts on “GASLIGHT ( 1944 )

  1. tammayauthor says:

    This is one of my favorite films (and I’ll probably be doing a blog post about it in the future at some point). I don’t know that I would call Bergman’s character paranoid though, as this implies that it’s a condition that comes out of her own mind. The whole idea of Gaslight is that Bergman is being manipulated by her husband so the paranoia is coming from the outside, not inside.

    Tam

    Like

  2. Virginie Pronovost says:

    Can’t believe Angela Lansbury was only 19! I’m 20 and I look much younger lol. Of course, you can’t go wrong with a picture starring two of my most favourite actors: Ingrid Bergman and Joseph Cotten! It was indeed one of Ingrid’s very best performance and that Oscar was totally deserved. Your article was great as always and was covering the most significant elements of the film. Good job!

    Like

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