Gaslight
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FAQ for
Gaslight (1944) More at IMDbPro »

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FAQ Contents


A Note Regarding Spoilers

The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags have been used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.

What is 'Gaslight' about?

Years after prima donna Alice Alquist was murdered, her niece Paula (Ingrid Bergman) moves back into the house with her new husband, pianist Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer). After discovering a mysterious letter from someone named Sergis Bauer, Gregory begins to psychologically torture Paula, causing her to believe that she is losing her mind.

Gaslight is based on the play Gas Light written in 1938 by English playwright Patrick Hamilton [1904-1962] and performed first in London in 1939 before opening in New York under the name Angel Street in 1941. The play had already been made into a British film, released in England as Gaslight in 1940, and renamed The Murder in Thornton Square for its U.S. release. Hamilton's play was adapted for this 1944 version by John Van Druten, Walter Reisch, and John L. Balderston.

In the movie, Paula keeps seeing the gas light dim whenever husband Gregory goes up into the attic. No one else ever sees the light dim, so Paula (and Gregory) attribute it to her seeing things. Thanks to this movie, Gaslighting has come into use as a term for a type of psychological abuse that causes the victim to doubt herself, her memories, perceptions, intuition, etc. These behaviors are done in secrecy, behind closed doors, so that friends and community end up validating the abuser not the victim's experience.

In the opening scene, the newspaper that the couple is reading is dated 14 October, 1875. That's a few days after the murder of Alice Alquist and the night that young Paula leaves the house in Thornton Square. When Paula, now older, takes the train, her compartment partner Miss Thwaites (Dame May Whitty) talks about the murder and how the Alquist house has been unoccupied for the past 10 years. That places the movie's setting around 1885. The play was also set in 1885.

Gregory was the pianist when Paula was singing for Maestro Guardi (Emil Rameau) in Italy.

The first piece was the 1st movement of Beethoven's Piano Sonata #8 in C minor, op.13 (commonly known as Pathetique). The second piece was Chopin's Ballade No.1 in G minor, op.23.

No. Elizabeth (Barbara Everest), the older maid, was partially deaf and couldn't hear the noises coming from the upstairs and was obviously displeased when she finds out what is going on at the end of the movie. Most viewers see Nancy (Angela Lansbury) as simply young, impressionable, and easily manipulated by Gregory, on whom she seemed to have a crush. Gregory has been subtly turning Nancy against Paula so that Nancy will be hostile to Paula--which he, of course, chalks up to Paula's paranoia. For example, consider the scene where Paula is trying to more coal on the fire. Gregory won't let her do it herself and insists that she call a servant to do it for her. Then, when Nancy shows up, instead of asking her to do the job, Gregory passes the buck to Paula so that, to Nancy, it seems like she was called away from her duties just to do a menial task that Paula was too lazy to do. Lots of little instances like that -- of Gregory manipulating everyone around him almost invisibly -- do make it seem like the maids are aiding and abetting him.

He didn't...not till the very end did he put all the pieces together. The person he recognized, or thought he recognized, was Paula because of her resemblance to Alice Alquist, her aunt. Brian Cameron (Joseph Cotten) had been a long time admirer of Alice, ever since he was a young boy. After seeing Paula in the company of Gregory, Brian came to suspect that Gregory was trying to gaslight her, that is, to drive her mad.

How does the movie end?

Scotland Yard Inspector Brian Cameron, who has been watching Paula and following Gregory for weeks, figures out that Gregory has been leaving his house at No. 9, then going around into the alley, entering the vacant No 5, then climbing out on the roof and dropping down into the attic of No. 9, where he has been searching through Alice's things looking for her legendary jewels. One night, after Gregory has left the house, Brian pays a visit to Paula. Using the glove that Alice gave him when he was but a star-struck lad, he gains Paula's confidence. When Brian also notices the dimming of the gas light and hears the footsteps in the attic, Paula begins to realize that she hasn't been imagining them. They open Gregory's desk, looking for his revolver, and Paula finds the letter from Sergius Bauer that Gregory told her she had just imagined seeing. Comparing the handwriting on the letter with Gregory's handwriting, Brian concludes that Gregory is Sergius, one of the suspects in Alice's murder. When the gaslight brightens (meaning that Gregory has turned off the gaslights in the attic and is about to return to the house), Brian leaves instructions with Elizabeth and goes outside to wait. Gregory comes in and immediately notices that his desk has been opened. He accuses Paula of doing it, but Paula denies it, saying it was a man who visited the house. Since she doesn't know his name, Gregory calls in Elizabeth to see if she knows him, but Elizabeth denies letting anyone into the house. Suddenly, Brian returns, carrying the dress on which Alice had her jewels sewn. Gregory has been caught in his act, and Brian has Constable Williams (Tom Stevenson) tie him up. Paula asks to speak with her husband one more time alone, during which he begs her to free him. In a turnabout play, Paula pretends that she is "mad", that the knife in his desk is simply imaginary, and that she must have "lost" the knife. Finally, she tells Gregory that she hates him and calls for Brian to have him taken away. In the final scene, Brian and Paula agree to see each other again, and Mrs Tlwaites (who finally gets her chance to see inside the Alquist house) can be heard saying, "Well!"

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