Thursday, January 5, 2012

Gaslight (1944)

“I am mad. I'm always losing things and hiding things and I can never find them, I don't know where I've put them.”

            Ingrid Bergman was the first classic film actress I admired. Before I found out how to download movies and found them used on Amazon I would spend a lot of money buying the DVDs. During that time I made some lousy purchases but one of the best films I got during that time was Gaslight. I can remember buying it just because Ingrid Bergman was on the cover. I remember buying the DVD like it was yesterday I bought it along with another Bergman film The Inn of the Sixth Happiness. The first time I saw Gaslight I was floored by how amazing Bergman was and how beautifully it was filmed.
            Paula Alquist (Bergman) was a young girl when her opera star aunt Alice was murdered in their home. The murder was never solved there seemed to be no motive. She was sent away to Italy where she studied music. While there she meets and falls in love with an older man named Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer). He convinces Paula to live in her old home in London.
            For a while they live happily in their home facing a square. Things begin to change one day when Paula finds a note from a man named Sergis Bower hidden among her aunt’s sheet music. After that she begins to hear footsteps in the attic and the gaslight dims down then burns brightly again. Gregory convinces her that she is losing her mind and losing things around the house and that she is seeing and hearing things.
            One man who sees something is not right is police detective Brian Cameron (Joseph Cotton). He is curious why after so many years Paula has come back. When he first meets Gregory he senses the man is no good. No matter how hard he tries he cannot get into the house to speak to Paula.
            By the time Brian is able to get into Paula’s house to help her she has been driven towards real insanity. Gregory wants something in the house that once belonged to Alice and the only way he could get what he wanted was to drive Paula away to an asylum.
            I have to say even though the story of a man driving a woman to insanity or to a breaking point had been done before and has been since 1944- Rebecca, Suspicion, Sorry Wrong Number, Laura- but what makes Gaslight so menacing comes down to the direction and lighting and acting by Charles Boyer. It is a gothic story filmed in the noir style; they are two of the most interesting and psychologically thrilling genres mixed together.
            While reading reviews of the film on IMDB one person excellently wrote: “If you're looking for everything you've ever wanted to know about horror, mystery, depression, and suspense, go take a peek into Ingrid Bergman's eyes.” The reviewer summed up Ingrid Bergman perfectly in the film. You can see Paula’s fear, sadness, and confusion in her eyes. There are so many shots of just her eyes and they say so much. Bergman is amazing this is definitely one of her best films she ever made. This film attests to her incredible acting talent. Bergman was one of those great actresses that no matter what type of character she played you believed she was the character you were not watching an actress you were watching the character. You believe she is a woman who wants love, the love she thought she found is only trying to drive her mad and you can see her questioning her identity and struggling to find herself again.  I will admit there are quite a few scenes that Bergman goes a little too dramatic but those are balanced out with her other scenes especially the one at the end (you will know what I am talking about if you have ever seen it or when you see it).
            Charles Boyer as Gregory Anton creates the most tension. He has the look of a person who is only out for what they want and does not care who they hurt or how to get it. You really just want to punch him the face. He was perfect for the part I cannot imagine anyone else in the role.
            Joseph Cotten was wonderful as the good guy. He was the perfect balance to Boyer’s evilness. You want Paula to trust Brian and go with him when he eventually gets into the house. Cotten was such a great actor though he had that silent greatness he never commanded a scene either playing a bad guy or a good guy he was just there… in a good way. I look forward to seeing a film where Cotten is one of the stars.
            This was Angela Landsbury’s first film. She was eighteen years old at the time. She plays the tart house maid who aids in helping Paula lose her mind. All I ever think of her as is the sweet old lady from Murder She Wrote which makes her role in this film even better.
            George Cukor is known mostly for his adorable women’s comedies and dramas. To me this film is a world apart from what I am used to seeing from him. He did a fantastic job of filming Ingrid Bergman and creating an air of tension that does not let up until the very end.  
            Gaslight is one of the greatest psychological films ever made. Even one of my friends who is into all these weird modern psychological thrillers told me that one of his all time favorites is Gaslight. I think it holds up very well today there is so much suspense and so many things that Gregory does that drives not only Paula crazy but you as well! Every time I watch this film the more I love it and the happier I am that I spent money on the DVD all those years ago. Gaslight will have you on the edge of you seat from beginning to end.