Posts Tagged ‘George Cukor’

Movie Reviews 368 – Gaslight (1944)

November 9, 2018

You hear the term gaslighting more and more these days. While in a manner it has been around ever since people have lied and manipulated one another, the term now sadly applies to political parties and partisan groups subjecting it to the masses.

According to Wikipedia:

 “Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, making them question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, it attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim’s belief.”

If you’ve ever wondered how the word for a turn of the century mode of household illumination became synonymous with deceit and imbalance look no further than the 1944 production of the multi-Oscar film Gaslight directed by George Cukor.

A young London girl is subjected to the murder of her famous opera singer mother when a thief failed to get some jewels they were seeking. Now grown up and living in Italy Paula (Ingrid Bergman) falls for a Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer) a French aristocrat who sweeps her off her feet . The two soon marry and Anton sways Paula into returning to her mother’s house despite her long held revulsion for the house since the murder.

But it was not chance that led her to meeting Gregory and neither was it coincidental that they have moved back to her old home. Anton, seemingly the loving and caring husband, is slowly and deliberately influencing his wife to doubt her sanity while keeping her isolated from prying eyes and ears. His goal, simple enough, is to have her declared insane so that he can get his hands and what the thief wanted all those years ago.

What makes the plot remarkable is the subtlety in which Paula is manipulated, not by elaborate tricks but mostly by minor events and treatment. With the help of the house servant (Angela Lansbury) her husband also maneuvered into being hired – and with whom he was having an affair with – Anton picks up on the slightest opportunity to induce doubt in Paula. While he does stage a few misplaced objects he devilishly creates an entire living environment mimicking a virtual prison in which Paula’s own mind does the most damage to her sanity.

This is a great film from beginning to end and one that the entire cast shines, but just like it’s own plot, the history of the film itself includes a bit of attempted skulduggery. While the film was based on a play named Angel Street,  the initial movie rights where sold to a lower budget studio English studio which made the film four years prior to this version. But when MGM bought the remake rights to make this one, it also attempted to eliminate every trace of the first going so far as trying to get all prints and the negatives destroyed.

Lucky for me that my Warner Home Video DVD includes both versions because word is that the original is not only closer to the original play, but in some ways even superior to this version that has garnered all the accolades over the years.

That’s right. We’ve been gaslit as an an audience.

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