Some films have a life of their own – “Gaslight” – Warner Archive Collection
BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
Ingrid Bergman stars with Charles Boyer in “Gaslight,” directed by George Cukor. She won a Best Actress Oscar for the role.
“GASLIGHT” – WARNER ARCHIVE COLLECTION
Blu-ray; 1944; Not Rated
Best extra: “Reflections on ‘Gaslight’” hosted by Pia Lindström
IT’S A WORD that’s gone into our vocabulary – to “gaslight” is to drive someone into believing they’re losing their mind.
Not a nice thing to do, but fascinating to watch on film. Based on a popular British play, “Angel Street,” “Gaslight” first became a big screen hit in 1940 starring Anton Walbrook and Diana Wynyard. Soon after, MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer had all prints of the British film destroyed so it wouldn’t compete with his version directed by George Cukor of “The Philadelphia Story” (1940), “Les Girls” (1957), and “My Fair Lady” (1964) for which he won an Academy Award.
Under contract with David Selznick, Ingrid Bergman was loaned to MGM for the role of Paula Alquist. She had just finished “Casablanca” (1942) and “For Whom the Bell Tolls” (1943), but was eager to do “Gaslight” because it would co-star popular French actor Charles Boyer. Boyer always got top billing, and Selnick objected, pulling his actress out of the film. Bergman, however, begged him to let her continue as Paula, the naïve young bride whose husband, Gregory Anton (Boyer), attempts to drive insane. She got her way.
“Gaslight” begins with the murder of a famous opera star, a woman who raised her niece Paula Alquist (Bergman) since she was a child. The killer was never captured, and Paula is sent to Italy to study music.
Paula’s instructor understands her heart is not in music; she’s in love with the pianist, Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer).
The first day of filming was awkward, Bergman’s daughter Pia Lindström says in the 2004 carryover, “Reflections on ‘Gaslight.’” Bergman was nervous and Boyer was miffed over the studio billing war. Still, he wanted to play the villain of "Gaslight," hoping to break out of his continental lover typecasting. Naturally, a love scene was first up, with the two sharing a passionate kiss. Bergman was a tall woman; the suave Boyer was short, and had to stand on a box. When she rushed into his arms, Bergman accidentally kicked the box – and kept kicking it in take after take. The two began laughing, a testament to their good natures, and became friends,
The 1944 cast is full of stars. Joseph Cotten of “The Third Man” (1949); “Citizen Kane” (1941); and “Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte” (1964), plays Detective Brian Cameron. Angela Lansbury, 17, makes her film debut as Nancy, the brazen new maid, for which she received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Role. She would go on to make “The Manchurian Candidate” (1962), “The Picture of Dorian Gray” (1945) – another beauty from the Warner Archive Collection – and the ever popular series “Murder She Wrote” (1984-1996, 2004),
“‘Gaslight’ was the key that opened a thousand doors for me. It was a terribly important breakthrough. I don’t know whether I could ever have gotten off the ground without it.” — Angela Lansbury
There are notable character actors, and gorgeous sets and costumes. Cinematography is by Joseph Ruttenberg, a multiple Oscar nominee who won awards for “Gigi” (1958) and “Somebody Up There Likes Me” (1956). Sourced from a 4K scan of a second-generation print, the new 1080p transfer (1.37:1 full screen aspect ratio) is another Warner Archive winner. The slight softness found in some night scenes appears intentional. This is a moody thriller that almost falls into the horror category.
(1) Anton and Paula return to London, and take up residence in her aunt’s old home. (2) Paula turns to Anton for affection, as he speculates on how to be rid of her. (3) Anton adjusts the gaslights to frighten Paula.
Daytime and well-lit interiors look sublime, with pristine black and white contrast, and sharp detail. Ruttenberg’s noir-like use of shadows is particularly good, with consistent film grain throughout. Marks, burns and scratches are mostly erased. A DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 soundtrack delivers clear dialogue as well as the masterful effects used to drive new bride Paula insane. Optional subtitles are easily accessed.
Two kinds of love battle for dominance in the story; naïve young love and passionate obsession, Lindström explains. Paula and Anton return to London after a whirlwind romance and marriage. They plan to reside in her late aunt’s home, an opera star who was murdered there. The killer was never found.
As they renovate the house, Paula becomes aware of strange sounds at night. The gaslights in her room grow dim, although no one admits to using the gas elsewhere. Things begin to go missing, like the brooch Anton gives Paula as a wedding present. He demands she wear it, but she can’t find it. Later it shows up … and we see that Anton is behind this nasty game of cat and mouse. Anton tricks Paula into falling apart where others can “witness” her instability, all the better to have her removed to an insane asylum.
But what about those odd footsteps and darkening lights? Detective Brian Cameron (Cotten) of Scotland Yard isn’t easily fooled. He doesn’t trust Anton, and begins an investigation, which leads him all the way back to the opera star’s murder.
(1) Anton hires flirty new maid Nancy, played by Angela Landsbury in her film debut. (2) Paula finds a letter to her late aunt from a mystery man, Sergis Bauer. (3) Paula’s brooch keeps disappearing and reappearing, leaving her confused and frightened. (4) Scotland Yard Detective Brian Cameron (Joseph Cotten) is baffled by Anton and Paula.
Bergman won the first of her three Academy Awards for “Gaslight,” which also won an Oscar for Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Black and White. It was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor (Boyer), Best Writing and Best Cinematography (Ruttenberg).
Extras include that “banished” 1940 British film starring Wallbrook and Wynyard. There are differences in the two versions, but both are loaded with suspense. “Oscars for Movie Stars” shows a few celebrities, including Bergman, receiving their awards for 1944 films. A “Lux Radio Theater Broadcast” has Bergman and Boyer reprising their roles in a 1946 radio play.
There’s plenty to recommend Warner Archive’s classic remaster: Its Oscars, Cukor’s direction, fine performances, and a story that, sadly, still resonates for a modern audience. With Bergman, Boyer and Cotten as the leads, you can count “Gaslight” as one of the best.
— Kay Reynolds
Nancy is dismissive of her employer’s requests. “Seventeen-years-old, totally inexperienced … but I was ready. I had decided this was a wonderful opportunity and I blooming well better be good.” — Angela Lansbury
Paula worries that she's losing her mind. Pia Lindström, Bergman’s daughter says: “My mother ... studied a lot for her parts [and] actually went to a mental institution and watched one of the woman patients for a long time. Mainly, she tried to see how her eyes moved, going in and out, moving around when she was unsure of herself or when she forgot what was happening.”
(1) Anton finds the jewels he’s been searching for, hidden in the opera star’s gown. (2) Detective Cameron confronts Anton with his suspicions. (3) Anton's hidden gun. (4) The truth is out! Paula ironically defies her husband: “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?”