Sunday, April 17, 2011

Classic Movie Marathon Day 2: Gaslight (1944)

Here's day 2 of the Classic Movie Marathon: 2 down, 10 to go. Up tomorrow is Woman of the Year (1942).

In the last post, I tackled Double Indemnity, a movie also made in 1944. Is that much of a connection to Gaslight? Well, not really, but Ingrid Bergman's performance in this won the Oscar over Barbara Stanwyck's performance in that, so I spent most of the movie comparing the two performances and seeing which one was really better. The truth is, both of them were amazing. Where Stanwyck was fierce and cool, Bergman was innocent and extremely fragile, and both of them did that stunningly well, which makes it hard to pick just one. So Oscar went with Bergman, and fair enough too. Her polite, melodramatic performance as a wife being slowly driven to insanity by her husband (Charles Boyer) Paula Alquist is indeed the highlight of this moody psychological thriller. Watching her gradually go crazy, all the while being the sweetest thing to be restricted by a corset, is an interesting, yet sour experience. I just felt like she was the wrong girl Gregory Anton could have messed with. I guess vulnerability works, though.

Gaslight was a movie of firsts on a few accounts. It features an eighteen year old Angela Lansbury in her screen debut, which also scored her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. She's enjoyable in this, with her unpleasant nature and delightful British accent, showing a lot of promise for what was to become of the rest of her career. Charles Boyer was cast against type here, trading in a nice tough guy persona for a sinister, manipulating role. Just think of the most controlling, evil person ever. That's not too far off from Gregory Anton, the character he plays here. Director George Cukor also tries something different with this one. He spent years making romantic dramas and comedies...he was the epitome of a great chick-flick director. However, with Gaslight, he's challenged with the task of making a tense thriller in similar vein to any Hitchcock suspense. There are shadows and darkness aplenty here, as Cukor builds up the tension as he plays with lighting techniques. This movie is probably one of the biggest reasons as to why he is one of my favourite directors.

The story itself is a thrilling look at the decline of a woman's sanity at the hands of a psycho puppeteer. Paula Alquist pursues a music career after her aunt, famous singer Alice Alquist is murdered at her home in London. While pursuing that dream to keep her mind off the horrific murder, she falls in love with her pianist, Gregory Anton, and eventually marries him. Anton suggests that they move back to London, into the house which Paula's aunt left her, that house being the one that her aunt was killed in. Once they move in, Alice's stuff is moved into the attic and Paula tries her best to lead a new life. That's until she starts believing that she is responsible for losing valuable things and starts to question her own sanity. Little does she know that she isn't the one responsible for her gradual craziness. Her husband is placing her things elsewhere and is locking her away from the world. It seems no one could save her from the prison her husband has built up for her...that is, until an admirer of her aunt, Brian Cameron (Joseph Cotten) becomes aware of what is happening at 9 Thornton Square.

The story isn't a problem, though I did feel that the story-telling was slightly pedestrian and too intent on trying to set the mood. There was probably an example too many to show Paula's craziness. Joseph Cotten's character felt slightly misplaces as he wasn't explained enough in the movie, though he is arguably the hero come the end of the film. The movie was also more melodramatic than it needed to be. The acting, particularly from Bergman, was slightly over-the-top, and to a modern viewer, may be too much. However, that's not to say Bergman's performance, or the film, is bogged down by those minor flaws. It's a great example of a quasi suspense/drama with brilliant performances across the board. The climatic end is by far the most exciting part about this film, even though the last moments are a little too gleeful considering what had just happened. I was disappointed that it wasn't as great as I remembered it to be, but I still loved it all the same.

What I got:


  1. That's something I know; a film you remember as a great one, and when you watch it again, it's not just as fantastic as you thought it was. Also a reason why I'm a bit of a Paris Hilton, when it comes to DVDs: I watch them and then put them in the cupboard again.

  2. Interesting. I want to see this film. The title has always intrigued me.

  3. Nice review,

    This one doesn't interest me as much as the previous one. But I suppose they are both Classics that i'll need to see someday...

  4. I'm a huge Bergman fan and also a sucker for melodramas, so I've never really understood the complaint most people have of this film being too over the top. It's one of my favorite Bergman performances and a film I really want to revisit.

    However, I was a bit disappointed that we figure out what is going on fairly fast in the film. I wish the film had found a way to make it more of a mystery.

    I do like some other George Cukor films a lot, especially Holiday and The Philadelphia Story.

  5. Lime(tte) - It rarely happens to me, a movie is usually better the second time I watch it. But then again, I watched this a long time ago, and I wasn't a very good movie watcher back then. I still liked it a lot though.

    Lesya - The title is really clever, as it ties in with most of the content in this movie even though you wouldn't think it would.

    Jack - Gaslight < Double Indemnity. Well that's what I'm thinking, anyway.

    James - This is one of my favourite Bergman performances as well. And I agree with you, I was disappointed that we found out what was going on so early in the piece.
    George Cukor is one of my favourites. Holiday and The Philadelphia Story are two of my favourites too.


You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.


Related Posts with Thumbnails