Years after her aunt was murdered in her home, a young woman moves back into the house with her new husband. However, he has a secret that he will do anything to protect, even if it means driving his wife insane.
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Paula's aunt, Alice Alquist, a famous entertainer, is murdered in her home. Paula, who lives with her aunt, finds the body. Police fail to find the killer, and Paula is sent away to school. Ten years later, Paula returns to London with her new husband. They take up residence in her aunt's house, which she has inherited. Paula is increasingly isolated by her husband but does come to the attention of an admirer of her aunt, Mr. Brian Cameron. Written by
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Solidly-written ground-breaking psychological mystery; it's Bergman's show
"Gaslight" (1944) was in its time first a play by Patrick Hamilton and next a psychological thriller of great influence. Since the work was directed by George Cukor, one expects fine performances, and the film delivers several of these; it is in fact unusually well-done in many respects in my judgment. The screenplay by John Van Druten, Walter Reisch and John Balderston has also been widely admired for retaining the theatrical tension of the original work. As produced by Arthur Hornblow Jr., this intelligent but somewhat unsettling drama features understated music by Bronislau Kaper, the fine cinematography of Joseph Ruttenberg, art direction by the great Cedric Gibbons, unusually good set decorations by Edwin B. Willis and costumes design by Irene (Sharaff). But because of the understatement of its scenes, the lack of large scenes of action and image, and the sheer amount of its meaningful dialog, it is an actor's film. The minor players such as Dame May Witty as the heroine's neighbor, Tom Stevenson as Wlliams the policeman, Angela Lansbury as the saucy aid, Barbar Everest as the faithful maid Elizabeth, Emil Rmeau as the maestro, Heather Thatcher as Lady Dalroy, Halliwell Hobbes and Edmund Breon and Lawrence Grossman range in ability from good to exceptional. As the policeman who discerns what is going on that troubles the heroine, played by Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotten is dashing, attractive and acceptable as both potential lover and man of action. Charles Boyer has in this film a thankless role, that of a devouring immoralist who has only two possible moods-- brief burst of anger needing to be controlled and an exuded charm that must be slightly overdone at times. These moods he plays very professionally at all points, his timing being not the least of his accomplishments during the film. In the difficult role of a Victorian young woman of intelligence, honesty and vulnerability, Oscar winner Ingrid Bergman earns the award by sustaining a sunny and intelligent personality undergoing a series of slowly-revealed and subtle attacks from her husband, who is trying to convince her she is incapable of independent function. Everything in the film--lighting, use of flights of stairs, objects, blocking, gestures, observers, character and dialog contribute to the overall effect. Even the title, referring to the mysterious changes in the lighting of the house Bergman and Boyer inhabit has meaning here. The film is not a sunny one; but the suspense is in my opinion rather admirably sustained. In tribute to its quality as a drama, I can only say that in the more than six decades since the film was created, no imitation of its male to female menace has come close to achieving anything really approaching its sterling qualities. To have ushered in a sub-genre--the Victorian menaced-female type, and set so high a mark is no small feat. The mystery's solid construction and simplicity of design certainly play a part in the building of its sustained fascination.
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