Gaslight (1944): A Guest Movie Review

Gaslight starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles BoyerGuest blogger Priscilla writes:

How would you do without the electric lights to which you are so accustomed? What if you had only fires and gas lights to see by after sundown? Even better – or more terrifying – what if you lived in a creepy old London rowhouse with gas lights, a cruel husband, and the memory of your dead aunt, who was murdered there?!

This is precisely the situation that Paula (Ingrid Bergman) finds herself in after determining to face her worst fears with her new, and mysterious, husband. The worst is yet to come, however; in the flickering light of the dimming gas, Paula is losing her mind. As she sinks into despair and misery, two men are poised on either side of her sanity: her husband trying to take her mind and a fond onlooker trying to save it.

The result is a fascinatingly tense film that keeps you guessing and hanging on every word. For acting it can’t be matched. Charles Boyer nails the part of the sadistic husband who has a nefarious motive for driving his wife slowly and systematically out of her mind. He was nominated for Best Actor for this role.

Ingrid Bergman won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance in this film, and it was well deserved. She is at every moment believable, and in every instant sympathetic. Her performance of growing terror will draw you out to the edge of your seat.

Angela Lansbury (Murder, She Wrote and Beauty and the Beast) made her screen debut in this film and turned out such an accomplished performance that she too earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Not bad for a first outing.

Joseph Cotten plays our hero. The man who once admired Paula’s aunt and now sees in Paula a deeply troubled and threatened young woman. Can he intervene soon enough to save both her life and her mind?

Besides Bergman’s win Gaslight scored the Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Black-and-White Oscar and was nominated for three others:

  1. Best Cinematography, Black-and-White
  2. Best Picture
  3. Best Writing, ScreenplayGaslight starring Charles Boyer and  Ingrid Bergman

Bergman also won the Golden Globe that year for Best Motion Picture Actress in this role. Even if you are not one to be swayed by awards, however (I usually don’t trust ‘em myself), I hope your interest is piqued enough to give this one a try.

George Cukor directed this film to great emotional effect, but he also succeeded in producing a film that is visually intriguing if nothing else (but it’s so much else!). His use of shadow in story-telling is unique and should be noted. Keep in mind, also, that Boyer was shorter than Bergman and had, on occasion, to stand on a box to make the scenes work.

I hope you check this one out and come back to give your opinion. I’d love to hear what you think about it.

Priscilla is a lover of all things “old film” and a fanatic of anything to do with Doris Day. She writes her blog, Reel Revival, in the hope of reviving widespread interest in old movies.

  • JUanita Curtis

    Gaslight is one of my favourite films of the 40′s and definitely one of Ingrid Bergmans finest roles. Boyer was very effective in his portrayal of a sadistic husband – a rare unsympathetic part.

  • Debbie

    Yes it was a great part for Ingrid Bergman and she
    did win the Academy Award. Also Angela Lansbury played a good part as the maid.

  • John Quinlan

    Gaslight, one of my all-time favorites. Very, very well acted by all. The scene at the end when Boyer is tied up and Ingrid is saying she could free him if only she wasn’t crazy is one of the best ever.

  • Joseph Imhoff

    Everyone was great in this movie, down to Dame May Whitty as the nosy neighbor. Long before I saw the movie, I remember the spoof that Jack Benny did on his radio/television show, this was before most people had a television, ‘Autolight’. Jack was in the Charles Boyer role, Dennis Day played the detcective, and I assume it was a guest star in the Ingrid Bergman role!

  • El Bee

    To Joseph Imhoff
    The “guest star” in Jack Benny’s “Autolight” was none other than Barbara Stanwyck who had lost the Oscar for DOUBLE INDEMNITY to Bergman for GASLIGHT.

  • Charlie Ray

    Great film — as is the original British version. It doesn’t have the star power of the Bergman/Boyer version, but it’s shorter and tighter — it’s really pops. Very suspenseful. They’re both wonderful classics.

  • Raif D’Amico

    Gaslight,Bergman so beautiful,Boyer so wicked,Cotten so handsome and careing,everyone was great.This is a must see movie and a true CLASSIC.

  • Char Melfe

    I’ve watched that movie so many times I could probably spout off the dialogue throughout. Great cast. Boyer was perfect in his role.

  • http://www.facebook.com/whatever41 Cynthia LaRochelle

    I never tire of watching this film. I know what’s going to happen, but still get chills. What a great cast of characters. I think I know all the lines by heart. I love the payback flicks, RE: ” The Heiress” .

  • Rob Maynard

    A good film – but not a patch on the British film that has outstanding performances from Diana Wynyard and Anton Walbrook. No wonder MGM tried to suppress the original version!

  • Judy

    This is a favorite film of mine, too. Angela Lansbury was something like 15 years old, if you can believe it, in her first film. And I read not too long ago that Charles Boyer had a very sad personal life — his beloved wife died, his only son died, and then he, so emotionally fragile, took his own life. Other great “payback” films are “Witness for the Prosecution” and “Madeline,” both shown on TCM.

  • Lisa

    Gaslight is one of my very favorite movies!Boyer, Bergman and Lansbury were great. Love a payback movie. Very well acted.

  • John Mecca

    In my opinion, this is the one and only movie that a movie studio captured the perfict look for Ingrid Bergman…she actually is pretty, as opposed to most of the other films, drama as well as romance, she always appeared frumpy and much older than she was. Her acting is first rate in this film, and she delivers a flawless performance throughout especially in the climax.

  • Jackie

    My mom got me hooked on Bergman films when I was 10.
    We were both fans of great theater and fine acting. She was crazy about Charles Boyer and Humphrey Bogart,as well.Gaslight is a movie that one one can NEVER forget..much like another..gripping madman husband style.” Midnight Lace ” . Who out there remembers that one?!

  • Jim S

    I think the most brilliant thing about Gaslight is that the writers/director decided not to make it a mystery. We’re suspicious of Boyer from the get-go, and his nefarious doings are revealed fairly early on. From that point, it’s not “who’s-doing-this?” but “will-Ingrid-lose-it-completely?” The suspense is psychological.
    As for performance, I have always though Boyer would have made an incomparable silent move actor. He can say it all with his eyes. Watch his loving expression when Ingrid is looking at him, and watch it change to icy contempt as soon as her back is turned.
    And, of course, the climactic scene is simply my favorite “Boy, do you ever have this coming” scene in all of film.

  • Tito Pannaggi

    “Gaslight” is Charles Boyer’s film. He outsmarted both Ingrid Bergman and Joseph Cotten (Both actors I have great respect for). Boyer became one of my favorites after this film!

  • Leslie Hunter

    A great movie. The settings inside and outside the house create a wonderful atmosphere. And, all of the supporting cast were superb – like the bobby who helped Joseph Cotten, and the housekeeper. Her role during the confrontation between Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer really built the tension. You couldn’t tell where she was going in that scene. Altogether – faultless!

  • Nora

    For me, watching the character played by Boyer with his obsession for jewels — subtly in the Tower of London and not so subtly when he finds the aunt’s jewels — made me wonder, “So who’s really the crazy one here?” What a nice plot twist.

  • Brenda S Mitchell

    “Gaslight” reflects what most women secretly fear the most, falling in love with a man that’s not the man they represent–namely a Psychotic. It makes my flesh crawl to think of it. Most of us would say, “There’s no way it could happen to me!” OH, but it can & does happen all the time. Ask anyone in law enforcement. Boyer hid his motives very well from Bergman. The old house lit by gaslight is creepy to say the least. I’ve often thought how hot it must have been. Those gaslights gave off a lot heat & to top it off, all those layers of long clothes! Whew! One must consider since it was London, the climate is usually cooker and damper. Aside from the creepy ambiance, the scariest thing is sometimes we don’t really know the person sitting next to us. Trust isn’t just something we desire, as humans, we require it to be really happy & breathe freely.

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