Film Pop: Gaslight

Year: 1944
Director: George Cukor
Stars: Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotten
IMDb

As I mentioned recently, I don’t watch very many films at all at the moment – I’m way too busy reading.  Last night, however, my girlfriend and I sat down to watch Gaslight, specifically the 1944 American-produced version (following the 1940 film adaptation of Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 play).  This was a film we’d been meaning to watch for a few months now, after she’d introduced me to the term “gaslighting”, a form of psychological abuse owing its name to the play and its adaptations.  All will become clear.

The film opens with reports of the London murder of Alice Alquist, famous opera singer, before cutting forward to Italy several years later, where her niece, Paula (Bergman) is receiving musical training from a man who once coached Alice herself.  However, Paula has had her head turned by Gregory Anton (Boyer), losing passion for her studies, and soon abandons her tutelage to marry him.  He persuades her to move back to the house where her aunt was murdered (in which Paula had lived at the time).  Among her aunt’s possessions, which are swiftly moved to the loft for Paula’s peace of mind, she finds a letter dated two days before the murder from a man named “Sergius Bauer” which could help solve the yet-uncracked case; Gregory swiftly relinquishes her of this and keeps it to himself.

Soon afterwards, strange events begin to happen around Paula which she is unable to explain.  She begins to misplace glightitems, finding them in places she is sure she didn’t put them (or not finding them at all).  Meanwhile, a man in the park recognises in Gregory a man whom he thought to be dead – this man, who turns out to be Brian Cameron of Scotland Yard (Cotten) starts to use his connections to investigate the matter.  These investigations are not helped by Gregory, who makes every effort to isolate his wife from the world, thereby encouraging her feelings of confusion and persecution – feelings which are increasingly revealed as justified, as it becomes evident that Gregory is deliberately misleading his wife in an attempt to convince her that she is going mad (i.e., “gaslighting” her).  Furthermore, Cameron’s investigations reveal that Gregory Anton is none other than Sergius Bauer, author of the mysterious letter and murderer of Alice Alquist.  He married Paula in order to find some precious stones, for which he had killed her aunt but failed to locate.  In the dénoument, he finds these jewels, but not before his atrocious behaviour is revealed to his wife by the heroic Cameron, who has arrived to detain the murderer and thief…

Gaslight is definitely worth watching, at least as much for its cultural significance as for its inherent quality as a film.  It suffers a little from traditional 40s over-acting, with a few interesting accents, but overall it’s a well-produced movie.  It also has some significance as the screen début of Angela Lansbury, aged 18, as a coarse maid who is either in on Gregory’s plot or just plain nasty.  But the idea behind the plot is a powerful and quite disturbing notion of abuse, making Anton one of the more despicable characters to grace my screen.  His eventual comeuppance is long-awaited and well-deserved, and the satisfaction of that is perhaps the highlight of the film.

 

My Rating: 8/10

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