skip navigation
Gaslight

Gaslight(1944)

  • Sunday, February 8 @ 12:00 AM (ET) - Reminder REMINDER
Up
Down
share:
Remind Me

TCMDb Archive MaterialsView all archives (4)

DVDs from TCM Shop

Gaslight A newlywed fears she's... MORE > $11.99 Regularly $17.99 Buy Now

Articles

powered by AFI

SEE ALL ARTICLES
teaser Gaslight (1944)

SYNOPSIS

Paula Alquist, a wealthy socialite, falls in love with the dashing Gregory Anton. The two marry, and after their return from a romantic Italian honeymoon, Anton insists they live in Paula's childhood home, the place where her aunt, a famous opera star, was murdered. Unknown to Paula, the murderer is still on the loose. In fact, it's her husband and he's currently devising a diabolical trap for her. Anton slowly begins to drive Paula insane in order to commit her to an asylum, leaving him in possession of her family home where her aunt's cache of priceless jewels are hidden. He moves objects in the house, convincing Paula she's misplaced them, and then plants his own possessions in hiding places in order to accuse her of stealing them. Late at night, while pretending to go out for a walk, Anton actually sneaks back into the sealed-off upper floor, sending his wife into hysterics by dimming the gas lights in the home and terrorizing her with ghostly footsteps. Yet, despite Paula's isolated existence, she manages to find an unexpected ally in Brian Cameron, a suspicious Scotland Yard detective.

Director: George Cukor
Producer: Arthur Hornblow, Jr.
Screenwriter: John L. Balderston, Walter Reisch, John Van Druten
Cinematographer: Joseph Ruttenberg
Composer: Bronislau Kaper
Editor: Arthur Williams, Ralph E. Winters
Art Director: William Ferrari, Cedric Gibbons
Costume Designer: Marion Herwood Keyes, Irene
Cast: Charles Boyer (Gregory Anton), Ingrid Bergman (Paula Alquist), Joseph Cotten (Brian Cameron), Dame May Whitty (Miss Thwaites), Angela Lansbury (Nancy Oliver).
BW-114m. Closed captioning. Descriptive video.

Why GASLIGHT is Essential

Romantic young heroines who are threatened and terrorized (or imagine themselves to be) by the man they love were a staple of films in the forties. Joan Fontaine was put through that wringer twice by Alfred Hitchcock, in Rebecca (1940) and Suspicion (1942). The treatment was also doled out to Katharine Hepburn in Undercurrent (1946), Elizabeth Taylor in Conspirator (1949), and to an overwrought, bed-ridden Barbara Stanwyck in Sorry, Wrong Number (1948). While the above films have their merits, Gaslight is easily the most effective entry in the young-wife-in-distress category. Hitchcock's Suspicion, in fact, is a bit of a cheat since the husband turns out to be completely innocent of his suspected crimes.

Based on a hit London stage melodrama, Gaslight was first put on film in 1939 with Anton Walbrook and Diana Wynyard in the leads. Some critics today prefer this nearly forgotten British version, partially because it played so effectively on the subtle cruelties of the English class system. But the 1944 MGM release remains popular and acclaimed for its mounting sense of terror, aided in no small part by the strong, moody direction of George Cukor, known for coaxing superlative performances from his actors, particularly the female cast members.

Ingrid Bergman, who had long coveted the role of the tormented wife being driven insane by her husband in Gaslight, went after the role at MGM after resident star Hedy Lamarr turned it down. Bergman almost missed her chance when Selznick initially refused to loan her to MGM unless she was given first billing over costar Charles Boyer. When Boyer refused to budge on the matter, Bergman went to Selznick in tears begging him to reconsider - which he finally did.

Gaslight won an Oscar® for Best Interior Decoration and was nominated in the categories of Best Picture, Actor (Boyer), Supporting Actress (Angela Lansbury), Screenplay and Black and White Cinematography. The film marked the movie and acting debut of Lansbury, who had been working in a Los Angeles department store before being cast as Nancy, the maid. Director George Cukor was instantly impressed by the fledgling actress's talent and professionalism, and prevailed when the studio resisted hiring her because she wasn't "sexy enough."

By Rob Nixon & Frank Miller

back to top
teaser Gaslight (1944)

Pop Culture 101 - GASLIGHT

Some prints of the original 1939 British film version still exist, despite MGM's attempt in 1944 to destroy all existing copies to avoid competition and comparison. This version still turns up occasionally on Turner Classic Movies.

Gaslight was referenced in the TV movie A Slight Case of Murder (1999), in which William H. Macy plays a film critic who tries to cover up the accidental death of his lover.

"Gaslighting" has entered into the language as a term for deliberately trying to drive someone to insanity by manipulating their environment, the way Boyer does to Bergman.

A similar plot device was used in the movie Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), in which Olivia de Havilland and Joseph Cotten (one of the original cast members of Gaslight) attempt to drive Bette Davis mad in order to take possession of her home and money.

by Rob Nixon

back to top
teaser Gaslight (1944)

Trivia and Other Fun Stuff on Gaslight

MGM head Louis B. Mayer, determined to eliminate the competition for what was expected to be one of the studio's biggest hits of the year, ordered all prints of the 1939 British version purchased and destroyed. Prints, however, did survive, and the film turned up again in the 1950s, often under the title of the original 1938 stage production, Angel Street.

Jack Benny did a spoof of the movie on his TV show in the 1950s. Called "Autolight," Benny spoofed the Boyer character while Barbara Stanwyck performed a comic burlesque of the original Bergman part. MGM brought an infringement suit against Benny, but the comedian's lawyers argued the skit was in the realm of parody and therefore not a copyright violation. The suit was dropped.

The British play on which Gaslight was based, Angel Street, was produced on Broadway in 1941 starring Vincent Price and Judith Evans.

Screenwriter John Van Druten was also a successful playwright and many of his plays were made into movies: I Remember Mama (1948), Bell, Book and Candle (1958), and Cabaret (1972, based on his play I Am a Camera, which was made into a movie in 1955). His play Old Acquaintance became a Bette Davis movie in 1943 and was remade by George Cukor as Rich and Famous (1981), the director's last film.

Ingrid Bergman won her Oscar® for Gaslight while filming The Bells of St. Mary's (1945) with previous Oscar winners Bing Crosby and director Leo McCarey. In her acceptance speech, she said, "I am particularly glad to get [the Oscar®] this time because I'm working on a picture at the moment with Mr. Crosby and Mr. McCarey. And I'm afraid if I went on the set tomorrow without an award, neither of them would speak to me."

Bergman learned her lesson shooting the love scene with Boyer before any of the rest of the film had been shot. She hated doing passionate takes with a leading man she barely knew. Years later, making the movie Goodbye Again (1961), she co-starred with Anthony Perkins who played her younger lover. Before shooting began, Bergman invited Perkins into her dressing room and asked him to kiss her so she wouldn't blush and feel uncomfortable when the cameras rolled for their first love scene.

During the production of Gaslight, Boyer's wife, Pat, was pregnant after many years of trying to have a baby. Bergman said Boyer was always rushing to the phone to check on his wife as the expected birth date drew near. The couple thought the baby wouldn't arrive until after filming, but their only son, Michael, was weeks early. One day, Boyer rushed to the phone and came back with tears streaming down his face. Pat had delivered while he was on the set. The cast and crew immediately opened bottles of champagne.

In the big confrontation scene between the chambermaid and the lady of the house, Lansbury was required to light a cigarette in defiance of her mistress's orders. But because she was only 17, the social worker and teacher assigned to her would not allow her to smoke until she was a year older. When her 18th birthday arrived, Bergman and the cast threw her a party on the set, and the scene was done shortly after.

Boyer opened a French library in Los Angeles and formed a French society there.

Bergman placed number 30 on Empire magazine's list of the 100 Sexiest Stars in film history in 1995.

Compiled by Rob Nixon

Famous Quotes from GASLIGHT

Paula (Ingrid Bergman): Suddenly, I'm beginning not to trust my memory at all.

Gregory (Charles Boyer): Jewels are wonderful things. They have a life of their own.

Miss Thwaites (Dame May Whitty): It's an odd household, too. That maidservant most impertinent. I can't get a thing out of her. She won't talk to me, though she would quick enough if I wore trousers. The way she carries on with that policeman on the beat. Scandalous!

Paula: Gregory, are you trying to tell me I'm insane?
Gregory: It's what I'm trying NOT to tell myself.

Paula: If I were not mad, I could have helped you. Whatever you had done, I could have pitied and protected you. But because I am mad, I hate you. Because I am mad, I have betrayed you. And because I'm mad, I'm rejoicing in my heart, without a shred of pity, without a shred of regret, watching you go with glory in my heart!

Compiled by Rob Nixon

back to top
teaser Gaslight (1944)

The Big Idea Behind GASLIGHT

Gaslight was based on a successful London stage production of 1938 called Angel Street, by Patrick Hamilton. A British production was filmed by director Thorold Dickinson in 1939. The U.S. film rights were acquired first by Columbia, then by MGM, who handed it to one of their top directors, George Cukor. The adaptation by John Van Druten, Walter Reisch and John L. Balderston was very faithful to the original.

Although the heroine, Paula, is one of her best-known roles and the one that earned her the first of three Academy Awards, Gaslight was almost not an Ingrid Bergman picture at all. The story was bought in 1941 by Columbia Pictures as a vehicle for Irene Dunne. Metro later acquired the rights, intending it for Hedy Lamarr. Cukor, however, wanted Bergman, but the increasingly fragile and disturbed young wife was not a role independent producer David Selznick wanted to allow his hottest contract star to take on. Bergman herself had doubts; she was a tall, strong, robust young woman and feared she couldn't pull off the frailty required of the character. But Cukor convinced her that was exactly what he was looking for. "She wasn't normally a timid woman; she was healthy," Cukor explained years later. "To reduce someone like that to a scared, jittering creature is interesting and dramatic. You have to avoid letting people play scenes before you get to them. It would have been dangerous to cast the kind of actress you'd expect to go mad, the kind you know from the first moment you're in for a big mad scene."

Once Bergman was convinced, there was no stopping her from playing the part; not even Selznick could refuse her the role. The next big hitch came when Charles Boyer's management insisted on top billing for the French star, who was then the "Great Lover" of the screen. It was an uncharacteristically villainous role for Boyer, which made it all the more attractive to him. First and foremost an actor of integrity and taste, Boyer later welcomed the receding hairline and slight paunch of middle age that would break him out of the romantic "continental lover" mold. With Gaslight he saw one of his earliest opportunities to stretch, but he had also been a star several years longer than Bergman, and his agent felt taking second billing would be seen as a sign that his prestige was fading. But Selznick was adamant if one of his top stars was to be loaned out to the biggest and most glamorous studio in Hollywood, she would have to get prime billing. (For a time, there was talk the role would go to Greer Garson, then one of MGM's leading actresses.) Bergman, however, didn't care; she desperately wanted to work with Boyer and Cukor, and she wasn't above resorting to a great show of tears and high theatrics to bring her boss around to her way of thinking.

It also helped that MGM promised to beef up the role of the Scotland Yard detective assigned to Joseph Cotten, another Selznick contractee, and put his name above the title as well. With Bergman sandwiched between the two male stars, the billing looked more like the sexual symmetry studios went for in their advertising (think of Katharine Hepburn framed by Cary Grant and James Stewart in Cukor's The Philadelphia Story, 1940). Selznick gave in, clearing the way for one of the most memorable screen duos ever.

By Rob Nixon

back to top
teaser Gaslight (1944)

Behind the Camera on GASLIGHT

Director George Cukor suggested Bergman study the patients at a mental hospital to learn about nervous breakdowns. She did, focusing on one woman in particular, whose habits and physical quirks became part of the character.

Bergman usually succeeded in getting her way during film productions, but she did lose on one important detail. The actress hated to begin shooting with a passionate love scene before she got to know her leading man better. But the first scene captured on film had her leaping out of a railway carriage and racing into Boyer's arms. It was an awkward moment for her, all the more so because Boyer was a few inches shorter than her and had to stand on a box for the scene. "I had to rush up and be careful not to kick the box, and go into my act," Bergman said in her autobiography My Story (Delacorte, 1980), written with Alan Burgess. "It was easier for us to die of laughter than look like lovers."

Bergman had great respect for Charles Boyer, however. In her autobiography, she called him the most intelligent actor she ever worked with and one of the nicest. "He was widely read and well educated, and so different," she wrote.

Boyer's height presented more than one problem during the shooting. He had to perch on a box again when he next appeared with Bergman in Arch of Triumph (1948). And at 5'8", Angela Lansbury, his co-star in Gaslight, was as tall as Bergman. Cukor made her wear platform shoes to increase her height and accentuate her sinister persona in scenes where she had to threaten Bergman. That only made Boyer's shortness (and need for a box) more evident.

One of the happy results of Gaslight was that it launched Angela Lansbury's long and acclaimed acting career. In Peter Bogdanovich's book of interviews, Who the Devil Made It (Ballantine Books), Cukor recalled the casting of Lansbury: "...there was a very good part of a rather sluttish housemaid. We looked around, we saw some English girls, and they weren't really very fresh or quite right for it. And playwright John Van Druten, who wrote the script, said: 'You know, Moyna MacGill' - who was a very well known English actress - 'is here with her three children. She was a refugee during the war and I know she has a daughter - I think she may be fourteen; I have no idea how old she is.' Then he found out and said, 'Yes, she is sixteen or seventeen.' At the moment they were working at Bullocks making Christmas packages and this girl came up who had never acted before, and she read the thing and I thought she was awfully good....Anyway, she did get the job. Now: the very first day on the set, she was absolutely at home - she had never acted. She wasn't as accomplished as she is now but she was an actress and she had the talent for changing herself physically without appearing to. And she had this rather sullen, bad-tempered face - rather impertinent face - it just came from the inside. And there was this full-blown character. Then what makes her interesting is that right after that she played in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945) - directed by a friend of mine, Albert Lewin - in which she played the most exquisite and fragile heroine. That could have been awfully saccharine and she did it with great delicacy and feeling - and looked quite different."Lansbury made such an impression in her debut she was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award and cast in another film that same year as Elizabeth Taylor's older sister in National Velvet. Many years later when she was watching the film again, Lansbury commented with astonishment, "My God, how did I have all that assurance?"

George Cukor was known in the industry as a "woman's director," and many of his best-known movies up to that point had been stylish and breezy comedies: Dinner at Eight (1933), Holiday (1938), The Women (1939), The Philadelphia Story (1940). But he also knew his way around period dramas: Little Women (1933), David Copperfield (1935), Camille (1937). Still, many were surprised and impressed by the skill with which he created the tense and moody atmosphere of Gaslight. "I really think the style comes out of the story," he told film historian Gavin Lambert late in his career. "If you're going to do a story about a murder in a Victorian house, you make it claustrophobic, you make it clouded and gas lit. You research the period, not just to reproduce things physically but for the emotions it stirs up in you. ... I always say the text dictates the whole style to me, which may not be to the director's advantage, because it means his touch is not immediately recognizable."

Cukor said he didn't like to talk about the part with actors too much because "you lose the magic" and that he never rehearsed the emotions of a scene, only the mechanics, so the actors could make fresh choices when the cameras rolled. But he also admitted that he had a tendency to "lead" the actors, in his own special way. While directing Bergman, he kept retelling her the plot to bring her up to the emotional point of the scene and keep her intensity up between takes. Finally one day, she told him politely, "I'm not a dumb Swede, you've told me that before." Cukor stopped telling her anything, the result of which, he said, was that the producer watching later rushes told him the actors appeared to be "acting as thought they're under water." So, Cukor resumed his storytelling method, a practice Bergman soon grew to appreciate.

Years after the release of Gaslight, Cukor pointed out that his direction and the performances of the cast weren't the only factors that made the film a success. He also credited the rich production resources of MGM for access to all the items needed to create the film's Victorian home in minute detail, an important factor in a story that involved objects from the house being deliberately misplaced and "stolen" to convince Bergman's character she was going mad. Cukor told Lambert about Paul Huldschinsky, a German refugee whose family had owned newspapers and whose wife had once owned railroads in their native country. At the time of the film's production, Huldschinsky was working in a rather obscure job as a set dresser at Metro, primarily doing gas stations and other rather pedestrian assignments. The studio wanted to put one of their more established and well-known dressers on the project, but Cukor insisted on Huldschinsky and was rewarded for his support by an intricate and lushly detailed set that earned an Oscar®.

By Rob Nixon

back to top
teaser Gaslight (1944)

The Critics' Corner on GASLIGHT

"Nice little personal vignettes are interestingly contributed by Joseph Cotten as a stubborn detective, Dame May Whitty, and Angela Lansbury as a maid." - Bosley Crowther, The New York Times, 1944.

"If subtlety is the hallmark of Boyer's dramatic art, then Gaslight exemplifies it, and not only in his scenes with Bergman. Consider the scene wherein Gregory, alone, discovers by accident the jewels he has quietly been seeking with Javert-like doggedness. It might have provided an eye-popping display for a lesser actor, but it revealed Boyer's power for understatement." - Larry Swindell, Charles Boyer: The Reluctant Love (Doubleday, 1983).

"Cukor plants an indefinable sense of unease during the sunnily romantic Italian holiday (a lengthy addition in this version), then gradually orchestrates it into a genuinely harrowing crescendo of terror in the claustrophobically cluttered house in fogbound London where the husband is methodically driving his wife insane. One of Bergman's best performances, with Boyer not too far behind, and Lansbury unforgettable...." - Tom Milne, TimeOut Film Guide (Penguin, 1999).

"A terrifying study of how a husband can dominate and abuse his wife through manipulative words and actions as easily as with fists." - Danny Peary, Guide for the Film Fanatic (Simon & Schuster, 1986).

"[Bergman] runs the gamut from antimacassar to antimacassar, and it's good scary fun all the way." - Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies (Henry Holt and Co., 1982.

"...an exciting screen treatment by Arthur Hornblow Jr's excellent production...There are times when the screen treatment verges on a type of drama that must be linked to the period upon which the title is based, but this factor only serves to hypo the film's dramatic suspense where normally it might be construed as corny theatrics." - Variety Movie Guide.

"There is no subtlety, and it's rather like watching zee Frenchman kick zee puppy poodle for an hour and a half. There's also an unconvincing attempt to turn the sanity tables on Anton in the final act, where his passion for precious stones is meant to mirror Paula's need for marital understanding even at the cost of her mind. Mind you, Gaslight is an expertly directed and evenly paced slow burn (and Dame May Whitty is a stitch, though underused, as a nosy neighbor lady), but its lack of a sound moral and psychological center renders it totally transitory and forgettable." - Eric Henderson, Slant Magazine.

AWARDS AND NOMINATIONS

Gaslight won Academy Awards for Best Actress (Ingrid Bergman) and Art Direction-Interior Decoration. It also secured nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor (Charles Boyer), Best Supporting Actress (Angela Lansbury), Adapted Screenplay, and Cinematography.

A Golden Globe also went to Ingrid Bergman as Best Actress for Gaslight.

Compiled by Rob Nixon

back to top
teaser Gaslight (1944)

At the 1945 Academy Awards® ceremony, when Ingrid Bergman accepted her first Oscar® for Gaslight, Bing Crosby and Leo McCarey had just won awards as, respectively, Best Actor and Director for Going My Way (1944). "Tomorrow I go to work in a picture with Bing and Mr. McCarey," said Bergman, referring to the upcoming The Bells of St. Mary's (1945). "And I'm afraid that, if I didn't have an Oscar® too, they wouldn't speak to me." Bergman's Best Actress Oscar® was presented by best friend and fellow David O. Selznick contractee Jennifer Jones, who had emerged the winner the year before when both actresses were nominated - Bergman for For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943) and Jones for The Song of Bernadette (1943).

"Your artistry has won our vote and your graciousness has won our hearts," Jones said as she handed the statuette to Bergman. An even more generous compliment came from fellow nominee Barbara Stanwyck, who many felt should have won the Best Actress Oscar® that year for Double Indemnity (1944). Declaring herself "a member of the Ingrid Bergman Fan Club," Stanwyck told the press, "I don't feel at all bad about the Award because my favorite actress won it and has earned it by all her performances."

Bergman, who had long coveted the role of the tormented wife being driven insane by her husband in Gaslight, went after the role at MGM after resident star Hedy Lamarr turned it down. Bergman almost missed her chance when Selznick initially refused to loan her to MGM unless she was given first billing over costar Charles Boyer. When Boyer refused to budge on the matter, Bergman went to Selznick in tears begging him to reconsider - which he finally did. Because the statuesque Bergman was taller than her co-star, Boyer stood on a box during certain scenes - a ploy that would be repeated when the two stars worked together again in Arch of Triumph (1948). Boyer reportedly was distracted throughout the filming of Gaslight because the production coincided with the birth of his son, Michael. When the blessed event occurred, the proud papa treated the cast and crew to champagne.

Gaslight also won an Oscar® for Best Interior Decoration and was nominated in the categories of Best Picture, Actor (Boyer), Supporting Actress (Angela Lansbury), Screenplay and Black and White Cinematography. The film marked the movie and acting debut of Lansbury, who had been working in a Los Angeles department store before being cast as Nancy, the maid. Director George Cukor was instantly impressed by the fledgling actress' talent and professionalism, and prevailed when the studio resisted hiring her because she wasn't "sexy enough." Lansbury turned 18 on the set - and had to wait for that day to legally light a cigarette, a defiant gesture made by her saucy character. She, too, had to contend with Bergman's height, wearing high platform shoes to give the impression that Nancy towered over her timid mistress.

Director: George Cukor
Producer: Arthur Hornblow, Jr.
Screenwriter: John L. Balderston, Walter Reisch, John van Druten
Cinematographer: Joseph Ruttenberg
Composer: Bronislau Kaper
Editor: Arthur Williams, Ralph Winters
Art Director: William Ferrari, Cedric Gibbons
Costume Designer: Marion Herwood Keyes, Irene Sharaff
Cast: Charles Boyer (Gregory Anton), Ingrid Bergman (Paula Alquist), Joseph Cotton (Brian Cameron), Dame May Whitty (Miss Thwaites), Angela Lansbury (Nancy Oliver)
BW-114m. Closed captioning. Descriptive video.

by Roger Fristoe

back to top