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 Alquist (Ingrid Bergman) 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 (Charles Boyer). 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
If you're looking for everything you've ever wanted to know about horror, mystery, depression, and suspense, go take a peek into Ingrid Bergman's eyes.
The actress -- who would soon become blacklisted after her marriage to Italian director Roberto Rossellini -- can convey every emotion and nuance of her character through her amazingly expressive eyes. Completely believable in George Cukor's Gaslight as a wife whose husband (Charles Boyer) is trying to make insane, Bergman can show you all her turmoil and emotional stress just by looking around.
The plot is simple, perhaps even arcane. A famous opera singer is murdered in London, leaving behind no motive, no clues, and Paula, the young niece who discovered the body. Paula is sent to Italy, where she, too, studies music, until she elopes with an older, dashing pianist (Boyer). He convinces her to move back to the exact same house where her aunt was murdered, where nothing has been changed in all those years. And, naturally, here is where the movie really begins.
Soon, her husband starts acting very strangely, and starts convincing her that she is very ill and unable to go out. Trapped in the house, alone with her husband, a somewhat-deaf cook, and a tart of a housekeeper, Paula soon starts to hear noises, see things, lose things, and even hide things. Or is she? Is she going mad? Or is her husband -- who she is supposed to love, honor, and obey -- making her mad?
The show is Bergman's to steal, and she does so with gusto, garnering an Oscar for her endeavor. With her performance, Bergman transforms the character of Paula Alquist from a weak, paranoid wimp of a wife into a woman struggling with her own identity and her role in marriage and society. Perhaps unintentionally, perhaps unwittingly, Bergman's Paula is a symbol and a superhero for all women trapped in an abusive marriage. Even today.
Granted, the story line is somewhat contrived, and one can't help but wonder how Paula never notices that her husband is completely evil BEFORE the marriage. Also, Joseph Cotten, as the Scotland Yard detective smitten with Paula's beauty, seems to come out of nowhere. Still, the acting prevails over the plot, and what better actor to come out of nowhere than Cotten? His charm and charisma make up for his character's two-dimensionality.
Although there are faults, Gaslight is an extraordinary film, generating its suspense not from an evil lurking in the shadows, but from the psychology of the mind itself. Perhaps one of the first "pure" psychological thrillers, Gaslight, just like Ingrid Bergman's eyes, contains the perfect blend of mystery, suspense, and beauty.
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