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.