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:
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.