Tuesday’s Overlooked Film: Gaslight (1940)

For this week’s selection of the ongoing series from Todd Mason at Sweet Freedom, I have chosen the British thriller Gaslight from 1940.

The film is based on the play Gas Light / Angel Street (in the United States) by Patrick Hamilton. It is also the film that caught the attention of Hollywood studio MGM, who made the picture 4 years later with director George Cukor and starring Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotten and Angela Lansbury. In fact, according to reports at the time, MGM attempted (unsuccessfully, obviously) to get all negatives of the original version destroyed, for fear that it would compete with their bigger budget adaptation.

While I did enjoy the MGM production, I feel that the British version also has a lot going for it. For one, it is not as melodramatic as the American version. There is a coldness, sterility and greater sense of peril present in this version; especially in the way the actors interpreted their roles. I pay particular notice of the portrayal of Paul/Gregory (Anton Walbrook and Boyer, respectively) and my response to them and their actions. When the big “reveal” happens, I found myself not as surprised that Boyer’s character could go to such lengths – in fact I do not see Boyer batting not giving his action a second thought. But in the case of Anton Walbrook, it is made all the more surprising.


*While this article is not entirely dedicated to an analysis of Gaslight, it provides a solid background to the film.

Comments

  1. Patti Abbott says:

    This movie has always scared me to death. Even the pictures above. I wonder if the Victorian setting adds to it. I have never seen the British version or read the book.

    • I think the Victorian setting has a great deal to do with it. You can find the British version on TCM – it crops up on occasion. Not sure if the title is Gaslight or Angel Street though.

  2. Hi, iluv and company:

    ‘Gaslight’ has always been a high water mark for suspense and underlying creepiness.

    Though one wouldn’t suspect it, Charles Boyer does a more than admirable job of a bon vivant with a secret to keep. While Ingrid Bergman plays a women manipulated and coaxed to the edge with a touch more style and flair than in her later portrayal in ‘Spellbound’ under Hitchcock’s deft direction.

    And yes, I agree that the wide, shadowy Victorian surroundings do heighten the atmosphere and suspense.

    I may invite Ruth from FlixChatter drop by. Since she recently posted about Gregory Peck, Bergman and ‘Spellbound’ and expressed an interest in ‘Gaslight’.

    BTW: Drop by FlixChatter later on today or tomorrow. I’ll be doing a guest review of ‘The Hustler’ with Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason from 1961.

  3. You had me at Anton Walbrook.

    Also, I did not care for the MGM version of Gaslight neither did I with Boyer acting in English nor Bergman’s Oscar win over everyone. Although I like Joseph Cotten.

  4. It’s interesting that today my colleagues and I were just talking about Angela Lansburry and someone mentioned this film. I like Ingrid Bergman since ‘Spellbound’ so I might check this one out.

  5. I have seen the 1944 version and the way Charles Boyer’s eyes looked when he was talking about the jewels creeps me out every single time. I will have to keep an eye out for the 1940 version because I do enjoy the story and it will be interesting to see a different take on it.

  6. I love both films. Since 1944 was seen first by most Americans, this 1940 one is extraordinary for the way the sotry is played out and everything else. Yes, pros and cons on both films, facts & names changed, but who cares, it’s how the filming, acting and music goes. Yes, the music is ignored in reviews…it’s the music by Kaper AND Addinsell that make these films….the mystery & “spookiness” of scenes in appropriate use and timing are wonderful as both composers do not hit you with it 24/7 and know exactly when to present what kind of music and when……watch your films without music sound and what do you have? Not much.
    I can name as a musician most all the titles used, uncredited in both films. But the one we can NOT figure out is the pianist Angus Morrison’s piece in the concert when Bella falls apart after Paul “discovers” his watch in her purse [supposedly she put there while in one of her “mad” moments she is led to believe]. WHAT COMPOSER AND WHAT WORK IS THAT BEING PLAYED? If ANYONE can tell me, what a genius you are!!!! Let me know
    THANKS…..Peace, Rosemary

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