Gaslight (1944)

Directed by George Cukor

Long before we got those woman-in-peril slasher films that popped up like dandelions in the late fifties into the sixties, then developed into those Halloween-type movies of the seventies and eighties, woman-in-peril movies could be much more adult, intelligent and, frankly, interesting. Like 1944’s Gaslight.

The major difference between those films and this one is the later ones were based on shock whereas Gaslight is all about suspense – it’s a psychological thriller rather than a gore festival.

It’s a wonderfully atmospheric movie set in a foggy, dark London of the Victorian period. It begins following a murder, the death of young Paula’s (Ingrid Bergman) famous mother. Paula is taken away from the home and goes to live with relatives.

The movie then jumps ahead about ten years. Paula takes singing lessons (her mother was a singer) but her heart isn’t in it. She’s in love with her instructor’s assistant (Charles Boyer).

Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer) and his new wife, Paula Alquist (Ingrid Bergman) in Gaslight, 1944.

They eventually marry and, despite Paula’s anxieties about returning to the home her mother died in, her new husband wants to go to London so she insists they move into the old home.

But once married, her husband appears to behave erratically and treats Paula almost as a child. One moment he’s kind, the next he is cruel.

He justifies his harsher behavior as concern because Paula is growing increasingly unstable mentally.

She sees things others don’t see. Things disappear that she has apparently taken though she can’t recall doing so.

She begins doubting herself; she doesn’t know what is wrong with her but she becomes convinced she’s at fault.

All the while, however, there is a police inspector (Joseph Cotton) watching from a distance.

The case of the murder of Paula’s mother has never been solved and he believes he can crack it. He’s suspicious of Paula’s husband.

Anton (Charles Boyer) all tied up by knife wielding Paula (Ingrid Bergman) in Gaslight, 1944.

The movie revolves around the “gaslighting” of Paula, the psychological games being played on her to make her doubt her sanity and make others distrust her.

(The term “to gaslight” someone gives the movie its title. It also refers to the frequent dimming of the gas lights Paula sees.)

Bergman’s performance as a woman slowly losing her mind is great – she received an Oscar for it.

Equally good are Charles Boyer as a smarmy devil destroying his wife’s mind, and Joseph Cotton as the dashing, intelligent inspector.

The movie’s look is also brilliant – it also received an Oscar for Best Interior Decoration.

It’s very detailed in its sets and, as mentioned earlier, atmospheric. It creates a wonderful mood that enhances the suspense and makes this a great film to watch.

2½ stars out of 4.

© 2003 Piddleville Inc.

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