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.
After the death of her famous opera-singing aunt, Paula is sent to study in Italy to become a great opera singer as well. While there, she falls in love with the charming Gregory Anton. The two return to London, and Paula begins to notice strange goings-on: missing pictures, strange footsteps in the night and gaslights that dim without being touched. As she fights to retain her sanity, her new husband's intentions come into question.Written by
The film's screenwriter, John Van Druten, suggested that director George Cukor should offer screen-tests to some of Moyna MacGill's daughters for a role in the film. MacGill was a well-known English actress who had become a refugee during WWII. Angela Lansbury was the first of MacGill's daughters that Cukor auditioned. Lansbury had never acted in any capacity before her screen-test, but she wowed Cukor with her natural talent and professionalism. Cukor recalled that from the very first day on set, Lansbury was perfectly at ease and at home, even though she had no experience acting. He called her a natural-born actress. See more »
After the shot is fired, the maid runs to the door and calls across the street to the policeman. Nancy (Lansbury), who is standing with the policeman, obviously yells out, but there is no sound of her voice heard. See more »
Paula Alquist Anton:
[holding the brooch]
I've found it at last, you see, but it doesn't help you, does it, and I'm trying to help you, aren't I, trying to help you to escape. How can a mad woman help her husband to escape?
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The opening and closing credits are displayed over a background of a burning gaslight. If you look at the shadow on the wallpaper, you see a man strangling a woman. See more »
Psychological terror distilled and made utterly palpable
This is an uncharacteristic film for George Cukor, slipping sideways into Hitchcock turf for this period. Psychological suspense was never more focused, and less distracted, than you'll find in Gaslight however. You might find the plot too linear, to predictable overall, to be blown away, but in fact that's partly why the suspense works. As with great Hitchcock, you have a sense of where you going, and you want to stop it.
So we have Charles Boyer, smarmy, deceptive, and ultimately evil, leading his new wife down a path of mental anguish and, he hopes, madness. The wife is played with usual high stakes perfection by Ingrid Bergman (between her stunning roles in Casablanca and Spellbound). Cukor gets the most of her excesses, and her nuances. Boyer is more nuance, and is a perfect match. The movie is really about their back and forth, with Joseph Cotten making his appearance as a necessary line of safety and hope because we can't stand to see the woman go down without a fight.
Most of the film occurs in an old, lavishly decorated house, and the lights and camera-work are dreamy, dripping in rim light and shadow, in odd angles and closeups of their faces. It's quite an involving experience, and because you are limited to mostly these two characters, you get very intimate with them. Yes, the two maids are perfect, including a sassy Angela Lansbury in her first movie role. And the cop, too, is a classic bobby, handsome and cooperative.
The plot, alas, is the one weakness here. The man's obsession with gems is fair enough, but when we finally get to the attic, after many months of him being there searching for them, it's as if he's up there for the first time, opening drawers with cobwebs on them, scattering through drawers like a thief with five minutes and no more. It just undermines the whole premise of a man resolutely devoting his whole devious, murderous life to this one goal.
So forget the plot, exactly. It's a MacGuffin. The real movie is in the acting, the characters in their personal wringings out, and in how beautifully it is done.
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