Film Pop: Gaslight

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

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

Film Pop: Marnie

Year: 1964
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Stars: Tippi Hedren, Sean Connery, Diane Baker

It seems I don’t have too many movies fresh enough in my mind to choose to review today, but I did recently watch a film starring Sean Connery from 1964. What’s that, I reviewed Goldfinger last week? But no, I managed purely by chance to settle on Marnie, Hitchcock’s thriller from the same year with the same leading man, to watch on Friday. Based on the book of the same name by Winston Graham, the film details the troubles of the titular young woman (Hedren). Marnie is compensating for an apparently troubled childhood by lying her way into jobs and sneaking her way out of them with pockets full of cash from the safe. This routine is abruptly halted by new boss Mark Rutland (Connery), who recognises her from her last job but pushes to hire her so that he can catch her in the act. Rutland has fallen in love with Marnie and quickly marries her despite her abject fear of being touched by a man (as well as of storms and the colour red). He promises to help her overcome her stealing problem, a task in which he is hindered by her total inability to tell the truth in addition to the scheming of Lil (Baker), his first wife’s sister who for some reason lives in the family home and is unsurprisingly madly in love with Mark.  He then agrees to pay back all of the former employers from whom she has stolen, including the aforementioned most recent manager who confronts Marnie having been invited to a party by Lil to cause trouble. I won’t spoil the ending, as it certainly took me by surprise, but it is both intelligent and intense, and is undeniably the crucial scene of the film.

Marnie is a good watch, perhaps middle-of-the-road by Hitchcock standards but that’s no little praise. Tippi Hedren produces a commendable performance off the back of The Birds a year earlier, really coming into her own in the denouement, although perhaps she ended up a little typecast as a Hitchcock heroine as she has few noteworthy credits to her name in the fifty years since. Connery, in the midst of his turn as 007, at least plays his character of “man who gets what he wants” believably; I’m not sure how much that’s a compliment on his acting and how much it’s a criticism on his character. It’s definitely the ending that saves the movie from the mediocrity that I felt it was in danger of drifting into and places it far above the likes of Family Plot in my Hitchcock standings.

I haven’t read the book, and so again I can’t attest to its faithfulness, but it seems to fit perfectly as an Alfred Hitchcock thriller. If you’re a Hitchcock fan you’ll certainly enjoy Marnie, and even if you’ve never seen one of his films this is a good one to see what he’s all about without jumping straight to the blockbusters with a Rear Window or a Psycho. I personally feel he can be very hit-and-miss, but Marnie is definitely a hit as far as I’m concerned.

My Rating: 7.5/10

Film Pop: The Fly

Year: 1986
Director: David Cronenberg
Stars: Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, John Getz

Another of those films languishing (no more) under the rather large blanket of “cult classics I still haven’t seen”, The Fly is the tale of a brilliant scientist (Goldblum) who, after an experiment gone horribly wrong, spends the most of the movie *SPOILER ALERT* turning into a fly. Opposite him stars Davis as Veronica Quaife, a journalist inexplicably working under her wonderful boss-cum-ex-boyfriend Stathis Borans (Getz), who ingratiates himself to the audience with such kind-heartedness as to let himself into her apartment and take a shower, and of course sexually harass her at every moment. She soon falls in love with Seth Brundle, the aforementioned scientist, after he promises her exclusivity on the biggest scientific breakthrough since 1985’s Weird Science. This is of course his teleportation chamber, which at first turns a monkey inside out (methinks it wasn’t the first to suffer the fate), but after a confusing encounter with a steak is soon remedied to, say, splice a man’s genes with a stowaway fly. Following an encounter of this nature, Brundle becomes briefly superhuman (and a sex machine) before slowly making the transition into what he terms “Brundlefly”, growing odd hairs, becoming increasingly ugly and eventually walking over walls and ceilings. Veronica watches on horrified, before abandoning him and subsequently finding herself pregnant with who knows what. She demands a termination but is snatched away by Brundlefly (now in full-on hideous fly mode), who has learned of the pregnancy and decides that what he wants to do is use his invention to merge himself, his (now ex-)girlfriend and his unborn child into one wonderful being. The day is saved by Borans, who proves himself to have some sort of moral character after all. And a shotgun.

The film was, for the most part, enjoyable. Of course that comes with the requirement that you ignore some of the ludicrous ‘80s movie futuristic science (a semi-sentient, voice activated teleportation device? Why not?). I spent a lot of the film wondering where the 18 Certificate was coming from before some pretty gruesome scenes towards the end involving a man’s hand and the way flies digest their food (look it up). Nevertheless, it’s an interesting premise and an enjoyable watch, with no really remarkable performances but commendable makeup and effects for the time. Unfortunately, for me, the ending ruins the movie. A large part of me wanted to see the result of Brundle’s crazy plan – that could have been an exciting and horrific end to a shameless gore-fest. A small part of me would have liked to see Brundle cured and reunited with his love and child. None of me wanted to see the man I spent the film being told to hate becoming the hero with one hand, one foot and one shotgun cartridge, leaving our troubled protagonist to be inexplicably merged with the machine (or at least that’s what I think happened) before being put out of his misery by Veronica with a final shotgun to the face. That, frankly, was crap.

My Rating: 6/10