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GASLIGHT (aka: THE MURDER IN THORNTON SQUARE) (director: George Cukor; screenwriters: from the play by Patrick Hamilton/Walter Reisch/John van Druten/John L. Balderston; cinematographer: Joseph Ruttenberg; editor: Ralph Winters; music: Bronislau Kaper; cast: Ingrid Bergman (Paula Alquist), Charles Boyer (Gregory Anton), Joseph Cotton (Brian Cameron), Angela Lansbury (Nancy), Dame May Whitty (Niss Thwaites), Barbara Everest (Elizabeth), Terry Moore (Paula, at 14), Heather Thatcher (Lady Dalroy), Tom Stevenson (Williams); Runtime: 114; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Arthur Hornblow, Jr.; MGM; 1944)
“A terrific atmospheric thriller.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

George Cukor, known as a “women’s picture” director, expertly helms this more sweeping update of the Brit 1940 version of Gaslight that starred Anton Walbrook. Ingrid Bergman won the first of her three Oscars for Best Actress, in probably her best performance ever, making a character believable who is almost impossible to understand. Charles Boyer is superbly creepy as the obsessed smarmy foreign baddie invading the confines of a staid upper-class English household and acting monstrous to his wife, while a young Angela Lansbury sparkles as a tart cockney maid. It’s based on the play by Patrick Hamilton; screenwriters Walter Reisch, John van Druten, John L. Balderston keep the period melodrama tense and psychological. Gaslight is set in Victorian London.

The film opens with a radiantly happy Paula Alquist (Ingrid Bergman) arriving in Lake Como for an Italian honeymoon with her bossy Czech pianist composer hubby Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer). Upon the return to London, the couple move into the abandoned mansion inherited by Paula from her Aunt Alice, a famous opera singer who was murdered 10 years ago in an unsolved case that has been closed. Paula, who lived with her aunt, was sent away to an Italian school to study music after the murder. There she met the dapper but much older Gregory and fell in love, even giving up her musical studies for him.

It soon turns out that hubby Gregory had ulterior motives for marrying Paula, and now tries his best to drive his docile wife insane by making her look bad in front of the servants and bullying her for constantly misplacing things–implying she’s mentally unbalanced. Gregory keeps her confined to the claustrophobic mansion while he in secret conducts a search of Alice’s locked attic room for the valuable jewels given to her as a gift by a prominent admirer. His ultimate plan is to get Paula committed to an insane asylum or be ruled mentally unfit so he can take control of the property and freely search for the jewels. The police believe the motive for the murder was the rare jewels, which were never found because the killer was scared off by the presence of a child entering the room—Paula.

Luckily for Paula, Scotland Yard detective Brian Cameron (Joseph Cotton) was an admirer of the singer and his interest in the unsolved murder is piqued upon her niece’s return. This interest saves her life from her aunt’s killer. Brian gets beat cop Williams transferred to watch the home and by courting the maid Nancy, he learns that there’s something not kosher about the hubby in the way he keeps his wife so isolated.

A terrific atmospheric thriller that moves along in the fogbound London streets bringing about a genuine feeling of terror as the sociopath hubby methodically carries out his insidious plan to drive his gentle wife insane while the servants learn to ignore the lady of the house and obey only the foreigner’s commands. Cukor efficiently shows the rigid class structure of 19th century London and gives us a good sense of the prevailing psychological attitudes among the upper-class at the time.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”