Twenty years ago, old Mrs. Barlow was killed in her home at 12, Pimlico Square for her priceless rubies. The murderer searched the whole house without finding them, then disappeared. The house has been empty since then, but now Paul and Bella Mallen move into the apartment. Bella Mallen suffers from forgetfulness and nervousness - at least that is what her husband tells her. An elderly horse wrangler, B.G. Rough worked as a policeman twenty years ago and still remembers the unsolved case. He notices that Mr. Mallen looks just like Louis Barre, Mrs. Barlow's nephew. And why does Mr. Mallen mysteriously leave every night just to go into the apartment next door, no. 14? Written by
A strong story in the right hands can be made more than once with interesting results - and this is certainly true of the 1940 British film "Gaslight," remade as an extremely popular 1944 film by Hollywood. The stars here are Anton Walbrook, Diana Wynyard, Frank Pettingel, Robert Newton, and Cathleen Cordell.
In this version, the plot centers on a retired detective (Pettingel) recognizing a Mr. Mallen (Walbrook) as a man named Bauer, rather than a hot young detective recognizing the wife as the relative of a late opera singer who was once kind to him. Mallen has moved into a house with his wife Bella (Wynyard) where a vicious murder had occurred 20 years earlier by a robber searching for the resident's famed rubies. After the murder, he trashes the house searching for the jewels. Rough, the old detective, becomes interested in what Bauer is doing in England under another name, and starts watching the house. Inside, Bella is slowly being driven mad by Mallen, as he accuses her of forgetting things, losing things, finally making her too paranoid to leave the house for long or to go out socially. When she does, he makes sure she breaks down so everyone else knows she's crazy. He openly flirts with the maid (and takes it a lot further in this film) and embarrasses his wife in front of her. His motive in this version for wanting Bella declared insane is different from the Hollywood version, but his departure from the house each evening and the dimming of the gaslight is due to the same goal.
If you're familiar with the Boyer/Bergman "Gaslight," this "Gaslight" feels like it starts in the middle, as there is no backstory in this one, though Mallen remains a pianist. In the '44 film, it was the wife's famous aunt who was murdered and seen by the young niece; she meets her husband to be while she's studying voice and marries him, finally moving into the house where her aunt's murder took place. Nothing like that here. This version comes right to the point - Mallen wants to have his wife committed.
The acting is marvelous. Wynward is a good deal more internalized than Bergman and somehow seems less vulnerable. Where Bergman has a soft look, Wynward's is more defined. It's an excellent performance, but one in which the weight of the film is transferred, as it's supposed to be, over to the character here called Mallen, played by Anton Walbrook - the exact opposite of what Hollywood does with the story. Walbrook is openly cruel and sly - no velvet glove here - and very slimy. A real monster. The maid Nancy is here played by Cathleen Cordell, a very pretty actress. Where Lansbury is a cheap tramp from the beginning, it's harder to see that Nancy is a tramp until a little later in the film. She just seems like a flirt at first. Turns out she's a lot more trampy than Lansbury, as the Mallen character does more than flirt with her. I give the slight edge here to Lansbury, though both performances are interesting - Lansbury's cheap look and Cockney accent contribute a great deal to the atmosphere of the later film. Robert Newton has a small role as Bella's cousin, who is brought in by Rough.
Beautiful to look at, both films are wonderful. I don't consider comparing them "a trap" as one poster states. I find the different handling of the story fascinating, and both results very absorbing. See both if you can.
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