Monday, August 15, 2016

Gaslight (1944)



Director: George Cukor

Honors:

One usually finds refuge in the comfort of their significant loved one when life begins to go arry, but in in Gaslight it happens to be this very loved one that is secretly causing one’s issues. This 1944 MGM picture manifests yet another effort of Hollywood to attempt to monopolization of the motion picture medium with a remake of a 1940 British picture. The picture comes with its share of interesting history into becoming one of the finest thrillers of its day featuring a trio of great performers at the height of their careers.

Gaslight is a thriller of a woman who is being physcologically manipulated by her husband to believe she is going insane, and a curious detective who detects the foul play determined to help her. With a history of a troubled past Paula (Ingrid Bergman) believes she is going mad with as bizarre, unexplainable events begin to occur around her. She is made to believe she has misplaced treasured items, hears noises no one else hears, and experiences her room’s gaslight inexplicably dimming on its own. Little does she know it is her supposed loving husband Gregory (Charles Boyer) that is manipulating these events, with the attention of making her a troubled shut-in, but for reasons unexplained. It is only with the aid of curious onlooker Scotland Yard Inspector Brian Cameron (Joseph Cotten) that details unfold. The mystery unravels to Cameron that Gregory is an elaborate thief in search of valuable jewels once belonging to Paula’s famous deceased Aunt stowed somewhere the their attic, which explains the mysterious footsteps and dimming of her gaslight. Cameron reveals Gregory’s deadly past as the murderer of Paula’s Aunt years ago in a first attempt to acquire the rare gems and his relationship with Paula was a ruse to gain access to them once again. The arrest of Gregory leaves Paula relieved, yet a broken person in need of reassembling the truths of her life.

This Hollywood remake of a rather well received British motion picture actually outshines the original with it wonderful acting, cinematography, and carefully constructed story by the director George Cukor. The story grows more and more suspenseful as the Bergman’s character is driven deeper into insanity. The audiences goes for a ride as we become aware of Gregory’s actions as both the man she loves and the villain who causes all the distress for his lovely wife.

Boyers’s performance is haunting with his elaborate play of his character, incredibly charming at one moment and his frighteningly turn the next. Bergman plays the troubled victim with such grace and sorrow, that the audience shares ever growing compassion for. Joseph Cotten, an actor who could easily had played Boyer’s role, here portrays the hero that aids Paula as we follow him connecting the pieces, deducing the truths of the mystery.

Form the moments the 1940 picture Gaslight became a hit overseas in England MGM saw the opportunity for themselves. MGM would acquire remake rights casting it with Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman whom they had on loan from David O. Selznick. To insure the film’s success the studio had ordered that all copies of the British film be destroyed, including the negatives. Fortunately a number distributors were wise enough to not adhere to these edicts and the British original still exists for audiences to enjoy today in comparison, even though it is outshined by this Hollywood remake.

Gaslight would be so well received that it netted nearly $1 million in profits, a rather big number for World War II hindered numbers. The Motion Picture Academy would nominate the film for seven awards that year, including for Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress for a young newcomer named Angela Lansbury as the housemaid, making it one of the most celebrated pictures of the year. Ingrid Bergman would take home honors for Best Actress while the film also garnered a win for Best Art Direction.

Looking back on this version of the film it is difficult to think that this was technically a remake as the performances are delivered so genuinely by the actors and the story feels so original. The British original, which was based on a successful 1938 play, stands up in its own right, but lack the larger budget this version received. In a century of suspense thrillers dominated with Alfred Hitchcock picture’s this feature stands up with almost anything the famous auteur had or will produce.

Gaslight is a wonderful picture not to be missed by any true film fan of this era in Hollywood history. Its background remains as another layer of intrigue, but is not essential when coming to enjoy and appreciate this motion picture. Its noir style and mystery tale makes it one of the finer films out of World War II Hollywood, and is still enjoyed to this day.

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