#248 Gaslight

(1944, George Cukor)

“How can a madwoman help her husband?”

I love me a good noir thriller. Spooky mystery and tense atmosphere is an easy way for a film to win me over. And so, I gleefully look back to a movie from the classic era of film noir starring classic actress Ingrid Bergman, Gaslight, the remake of a British movie released only 4 years before.

World-famous opera singer Alice Alquist has been murdered, and her murderer has escaped before he could find her jewels, as he was interrupted by Alice’s daughter, Paula. A few years later, Paula (Ingrid Bergman), studying singing in Italy, where she meets a man named Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer).

Gregory convinces Paula to move back into the inherited home owned by Alice, but when they move in, strange things start happening. Things begin disappearing or moving around the house, footsteps are heard in the sealed attic and the gaslight lamps begin to fade at mysterious times. Is Paula going mad or is there something sinister afoot?

The answer is, rather obviously, yes to the second one. After an alarmingly rushed intro that causes you to miss a lot of important things if you happen to blink during the opening exposition, the movie begins to foreshadow that something is indeed up. In fact, it foreshadows it so heavily that it may as well just tell you straight out the gate.

I try and avoid spoilers in my reviews, but this is so goddamn obvious that I’m going to say it right here. Anton killed Paula’s mother and is trying to convince her that she’s going mad. The reason I give this away is because Anton has a huge outburst really early on in the movie, simply because Paula finds something curious in her mother’s belongings and he’s otherwise seemed eerily calm otherwise.

What’s more, for the rest of the movie, Charles Boyer is ridiculously over the top in his performance. He’s so clearly evil throughout that it’s hard to see him as anything other than scheming and diabolical. He never came across as sympathetic or likeable, and as such, all sense of mystery disappeared.

There were other flaws that got in the way of the mystery. A lot of backstory is told via monologue and conversation rather than actually shown through better means, and this does cause the film to feel a little rushed at times. There were also scenes with an elderly neighbour inserted for comic relief that shifted the tone of the movie and just got in the way. There was also an inspector character played by Joseph Cotton who was central to the movie’s plot but felt poorly explained for the most part.

However, the movie still remained tense despite all of this. The movie was shot in such a way that it remained edge-of-your-seat exciting and a new mystery emerges from wondering exactly what Anton plans to do and what he will ultimately do with Paula. There’s also a sense of confusion about whether or not Paula is going mad or not at times, and it’s tense wondering whether or not she’ll figure out what’s happening.

It also helped that Bergman’s acting was fantastic. Her acting made it incredibly easy to connect with Paula and this performance carries the whole movie. The ending also feels incredibly satisfying, so it definitely all works out in the end.

So basically, Gaslight is a very messy but very tense thriller that provides a lot of entertainment although not a lot of mystery.

Starring Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotten, Dame May Whitty & Angela Lansbury
Written by Patrick Hamilton (play) and John Van Druten, Walter Reisch & John L. Balderston
Produced by Arthur Hornblow Jr.
Music by Bronislaw Kaper
Cinematography by Joseph Ruttenberg
Edited by Ralph E. Winters

Favourite Scene: Bergman’s performance at the end of the movie was absolutely fantastic.
Scene That Bugged Me: Gregory’s outburst early on the film, which may as well have hung a sign saying “he’s a bad guy!”

Watch it if: You like tense noir films
Avoid it if: You like to feel a little more surprised by your mystery films

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Posted on January 2, 2014, in 1940s, Film Noir, Mystery, Thriller and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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