The 1944 version of Gaslight is one of the first classic films I saw and I return to it frequently. It is Hollywood filmmaking at its best, where talent, story, and production value are so good that a simple entertainment becomes an artistic triumph. I recently revisited the George Cukor-directed film on a new Blu-ray release from Warner Archive, which includes the original British adaptation of the film from 1940, directed by Thorold Dickinson.
Both versions on the film center on a wealthy couple in London. She is the fragile, but perceptive survivor of a horrific childhood incident. He is as much her stern caretaker as husband, always claiming to have her best interest in mind, but rarely demonstrating the warmth and regard of true love. When he begins to make her doubt her own sanity, their lives become consumed with emotional violence.
There’s also much to enjoy in the 1940 production, included on the disc as a special feature, which sticks closer to the 1938 stage play upon which it is based. The original also feels more like a stage play, which means that in some respects it is less dynamic than the Cukor version, but that more static feeling also serves the tense mood of the film. As the couple at its center, Anton Walbrook and Diana Wynyard seem more isolated and focused on each other.
A dramatic difference between the two films is in the way the marriage is portrayed. In the 1940 version Paul and Bella already have a tense relationship. While Bella still desires the affection of her husband, she fears him and already senses that something is deeply wrong. There’s an extra chill to Cukor’s film, because you see Gregory and Paula fall in love, enjoying all the giddy pleasures of a new romance. When it goes wrong, there’s a feeling of loss and even betrayal.
The term Gaslight has become more common over the past few years, as it is now inextricably connected to the trauma of current politics. It was interesting to revisit the more intimate, devastating origins of the concept, and the two different, and in their way equally compelling ways in which this method of abuse is portrayed.
In addition to the 1940 Gaslight, special features on the disc include a 1946 Lux Radio Broadcast of Gaslight, the short featurette Reflections on Gaslight, a Reminiscence by Pia Lindstrom About her Mother Ingrid Bergman, a 1944 Academy Award ceremonies newsreel, and a theatrical trailer.
Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.