Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Gaslight (1940)


What a find! I only recently saw for the first time the more famous MGM version, with Ingrid Bergman’s Oscar-winning performance, and Charles Boyer and Joseph Cotton. I was very impressed. I didn’t expect much from this, but by the end I was convinced this version is better. I’m not sure which version is more faithful to the theater smash hit, but I strongly suspect it is this one. In the MGM, Hollywood version the girl is rescued by a younger man, leaving the possibility of romance. In this one, her champion is a retired, portly gentleman, much older than she is. But the most important difference is in the evil husband. Charles Boyer was charming much of the time. Here, Anton Walbrook is much harsher, and it soon becomes clear that he is insane. Boyer was only obsessed. Walbrook is more sinister, too, flinty-eyed and cold.

Yet the thing that sets this apart as a masterpiece instead of just a real good thriller is the final minutes. Bergman was helpless throughout the movie. Once she understands the depth of her betrayal, Diana Wynyard gets a scene where, for a moment, she is as cold and frightening as he is. My hair stood on end. I really didn’t know what she was going to do. I’d recommend that everyone see this. You might have to look for it under the title used for the US release: Angel Street. At that, we’re lucky we can see it at all. MGM was so keen that it not compete with their big star vehicle that it is rumored that they tried to destroy all the prints!

Did you know that gaslighting has become a term for using tricks to make someone doubt their own sanity? That tactic was used very effectively by Audrey Tautou in Amelie.