Monday, January 9, 2012

Gaslight (1940)

Gaslight is based on the stage play Angel Street by Patrick Hamilton, was released by British National Films Ltd., filmed at D&P Studios Ltd., and stars Anton Walbrook, Diana Wynyard, Frank Pettingell and Cathleen Cordell.  The film is directed by Thorold Dickinson and produced by John Corfield.

The story takes place in London and begins at No. 12, Pimlico Square with the murder of an elderly woman followed by a frantic search of the house by an unknown person searching for an unknown item or items.  A short time later we find that the items in question are some valuable rubies which are reported missing.

Years later we see that the same residence where the dreadful murder took place is now being inhabited by a young couple, Paul Mallen (Walbrook) an overbearing and controlling husband, and his wife Bella (Wynyard) who is recovering from a breakdown.  Mr. Rough (Pettingell) a retired police officer becomes suspicious when he believes he recognizes the man as the nephew of Alice Barlow, the woman who was murdered in the house twenty years earlier.  The case was never solved, and this has bothered Mr. Rough all these years because he had originally worked on the case.

This film follows the same basic storyline as the remake although the character names are a little different.  A man tries to conceal a deep dark secret as his wife struggles against his efforts to drive her mad, and finds herself drifting between reality and insanity. Of course like everyone else I'm probably spoiled by the repeated viewings of the superior 1944 remake starring Ingrid Bergman, who won an Oscar for her part, Charles Boyer, and Angela Lansbury who was nominated for an Oscar in her debut film at only 17 years old.

Much of the dialogue is the same in both films, and the camera angles and interior set designs are very similar.  The scene in the music hall featuring the "can-can" dancers is amazing. 

Diana Wynyard is lovely but seems to be missing the more fragile and naive quality that Bergman brought to the part.  Ms. Bergman actually spent time observing the mannerisms and habits of a female resident of an asylum as she researched her role.  Walbrook does a nice job as the cold, calculating and verbally abusive husband.  And Cordell's portrayal of the maid Nancy is very good, though I prefer Lansbury's more cocky portrayal of the maid.  But Bergman's grace and Boyer's growl are sorely missed.

There are some pretty good British suspense films out there but to me, this one falls just a little short.  I find this version slightly less dramatic and the acting a little stiff at times.   A pretty good musical score helps to drive the film which does have its moments.  It's definitely worth a viewing if you haven't seen it yet and have an hour and a half to kill.  But if you're looking for some real drama, stick with the more memorable, moody, and atmospheric film from 1944 directed by one of film's great directors George Cukor.


  1. The 1944 version is much superior, but this is still a good watch.

  2. For years I heard that this version, sometimes called "Angel Street," was superior to the 1944 "Gaslight." But when I finally saw it a few years ago and then rewatched "Gaslight," which I hadn't seen in a long while, I have to say I agree with your assessment. I found the treatment of the melodramatic plot too restrained in this version and Wynyard in particular seemed very enervated. I found Cukor's more florid approach and Bergman's mounting hysteria more entertaining.

  3. Kim -
    I agree ... I don't want to turn anyone away from watching this version because it is good and does have a few scenes that stand out. But if you have to choose between the two, I would definitely recommend the 1944 film ...

    R.D. -
    The 1944 version has a little longer running time, but I think the time is well used to make the story flow a little smoother and more lavishly. Of course the Bergman/Boyer/Cotten/Lansbury combination doesn't hurt either ...

  4. I am a big fan of Anton Walbrook (who was sublime in "The Red Shoes" and "La Ronde") and not so great a fan of Charles Boyer. But. Much as I'd heard about the original version (even that it was the superior rendition), I prefer the remake. Bergman's quavering, emotional portrayal is very effective and more accessible - plus, in great supporting roles, Joseph Cotten, Angela Lansbury and Dame May Whitty. I can't deny, though, that I would love to have seen Walbrook and Bergman together under George Cukor's direction.

  5. wow! I really love classic films so much. I always watch on my Applicazioni Ipad on my ipad. thank you for sharing this post.

  6. Eve -

    Walbrook is a great actor and he did a really nice job in this film, but I think maybe the chemistry between Walbrook and Wynyard didn't quite click. The supporting cast can't compare with the '44 version either. It's too bad Robert Newton didn't have more screen time, he could have made the film a little more interesting ...

    raven -

    Classic films are the best ... Thanks for stopping by, and hope to hear from you again ...