GASLIGHT—-1880s England: with a fortune in jewels as prize, a man methodically plots to drive his wife insane. A well received and popular 1944 ‘chiller’, it holds up as a star vehicle, even while a modern audience won’t work up much a scare over the doings, which take around 40 minutes of slow-going to rev up.
What makes it of interest are the superior performances and glossy $2,068,000 production package. Sets, costumes and art direction are pure old-school M-G-M, captured in sharp black & white by Joseph Ruttenberg’s camera.
Ingrid Bergman is first-rate as the slowly freaking victim, Joseph Cotten is fine as the one person who believes her plight may be manufactured and 17-year old Angela Lansbury makes an auspicious debut as a nasty little strumpet of a maid.
The top honors go to Charles Boyer as the husband. As always, he’s charming and debonair, but this time he’s also cruel and ruthless, and given to moments where he just ‘snaps’. Bergman & Boyer play superbly off one another, and if the tension hasn’t worn all that well, the high quality acting by these irreplaceable stars still commands attention.
Previously filmed in England in 1940, this showier version was directed by George Cukor,who unspooled its psychological torments over 114 minutes, with Dame May Whitty, Barbara Everest, Emile Rameau, Halliwell Hobbes and Terry Moore.
It took in $4,613,000, 13th among the years successes. Bergman won the Oscar for Best Actress and the Art Direction also took a statue. It was nominated for Best Picture, Actor (Boyer), Supporting Actress (Lansbury), Screenplay and Cinematography. I think the Academy goofed, giving Bergman the award because they’d messed up the year before by shutting out her wonderful ‘Maria’ in For Whom The Bell Tolls in favor of Jennifer Jones job in The Song of Bernadette—no contest. This time Bergman’s trophy belonged to Barbara Stanwyck’s evil ‘Phyllis Dietrichson’ in Double Indemnity, a schemer who could give Boyer’s foul cad a run for the money. Boyer’s cultivated fiend lost to Bing Crosby’s likable priest in Going My Way. Bing was fine, Charles is better.