Gaslight (1944)

*. This is the second adaptation of Patrick Hamilton’s play Gas Light, which had been previously filmed in 1940 by Thorold Dickinson. Apparently MGM tried to destroy all the prints and even the negative of that earlier film but weren’t successful.
*. Believe it or not, at the time this tawdry melodrama was considered a prestige picture, and it went on to be nominated for a raft of Academy Awards, with Ingrid Bergman winning for Best Actress.
*. I’ve already said in my notes on the 1940 version that I prefer it in almost every way. This movie is too long and filled with extraneous stuff. Why bother with all the back story of Boyer romancing Bergman when he’s too smooth to be trusted for a second anyway? And, despite adding so much, I still didn’t think the husband’s plot made any sense.
*. David Thomson thought Cotten’s character “a sham and a waste of everyone’s time.” That said, I doubt Thomson’s preferred way of handling things, which would be to have Bergman solve her own problems without the help of an interested third party, was in the cards at the time.
*. This was Angela Lansbury’s debut, playing the slatternly cockney housemaid who is either a red herring or just an awkward fit in the plot. Lansbury was only 17 and had to be accompanied by a social worker on set. But she’s an actress who has always seemed to be years older than her actual age and she looks like she’s about 30 here. Which kind of gets rid of the sense of something really taboo going on between her and the master of the house (a slightly kinky relationship that was made more explicit in the 1940 film).
*. This isn’t a bad movie, but it’s very much a studio production of its time and I think it does suffer in comparison with Thorold Dickinson’s film. Still, this is the kind of thing audiences wanted, and it’s what a lot of people still want to see when they re-visit Hollywood’s golden age.

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