Are you familiar with the term “gaslighting?” The term is given to a type of psychological abuse where the victim is purposely and gradually manipulated into questioning their own reality. The moniker comes from Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 English stage play “Gas Light,” in which a young woman is purposefully duped into questioning her own sanity. The play was a huge success both in its native England and in America where it was performed under the names “Five Chelsea Lane” and “Angel Street”—which featured Vincent Price in the cast.
The success of the play led to it being adapted twice for the silver screen in the 1940s. First, there was a British film made in 1940, simply titled “Gaslight” in the UK, and issued in America under the Broadway production’s title, “Angel Street.” The film was a success both in America and in the UK. Usually when a little import film makes a mark in the states, odds are good some big shot American producer will want to make their own version. That’s exactly what happened with “Gaslight” as the premier studio of classic Hollywood, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, produced their own version of the film in 1944.
As MGM was preparing their adaptation, to be directed by the great George Cukor with a headlining cast featuring Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, and the great Joseph Cotton, they worried that the 1940 UK film could be re-released and compete with their film. As a sort of insurance policy, when they negotiated the rights to produce their version, MGM had a clause included that ordered all prints of the 1940 film destroyed, even going so far as to attempt to destroy the original negative of the film. They failed, but more on that later.
Set in 1880s London, “Gaslight” is the story of young Paula (Bergman), who has undergone a shock, discovering her aunt’s murder and murderer at only 14 years of age, causing the murderer to flee, who was after the aunt’s valuable jewels. Paula is sent away to Italy, with the hopes for her to study and become an opera singer just like her beloved Aunt. In Italy, Paula meets Gregory Anton (Boyer), who she marries after a two-week romance. Returning to London, Anton insists they live in Paula’s Aunt’s house.
That’s when things begin to take a turn. The romance shifts as Gregory becomes upset with Paula. The house lights flicker and dim, strange sounds are heard coming from the Attic. Paula is cut off from the outside world, and she begins to wonder. “Are these things really happening, or am I going mad?” To go any more into the plot of “Gaslight” would be to spoil the fun for those of you who haven’t seen it. Which you absolutely should do, it’s a wonderful film, and it’s just been issued in a great new blu-ray release by Warner Archive.
There’s a lot to love about George Cukor’s version of “Gaslight.” Incredible performances, suspense, beautiful photography, and the film debut of an 18-year-old Angela Lansbury—who was nominated for an Oscar for her work. Other nominations were for Charles Boyer and Bergman, who won for Best Actress. The film was also nominated for Best Picture, losing to the Bing Crosby film “Going My Way.”
Utilizing a new 4K scan of original elements, Warner Archive’s blu-ray of “Gaslight” looks absolutely incredible! The rich, black and white photography shines. The film has a fine grain pattern that makes this the finest presentation of the film ever issued. “Gaslight” was issued on DVD many years ago, and all the bonus material from that disc has been ported over here. This is most welcomed as one of the highlights of that set was the entire 1940 British version.
I could do an entire column comparing the two films, so I’ll skip that for now. But considering the film was nearly lost to the ages, that a print exists for inclusion here is wonderful. It’s not in HD, it’s in what appears to be the same transfer made for the DVD release, but who cares? It’s a nice touch including the film as a bonus. Also included is the original trailer, a newsreel showing off that year’s Oscar winners, plus a featurette made for the DVD that looks back on the film featuring Ingrid Bergman’s daughter and Angela Lansbury. Capping it all is the 1949 “Lux Radio Theater” broadcast of the film with Bergman and Boyer reprising their roles.
“Gaslight” has been a favorite for years, and when Warner Archive announced the release there was much excitement. It’s a great blu-ray of a great film, and a real delight to add to the library. I hope you’ll pick this one up, regardless if “Gaslight” has been a long favorite, or if you’ve never heard of the film before. Or have you heard of it before? Hmm… See you next week.