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The British version of Gaslight (1940), also known in England as A Strange Case of Murder, preceded its American remake by four years. The original stars Anton Walbrook as the villainous husband in search of a fortune in rubies and Diana Wynyard as the unfortunate wife who is almost driven insane by his devious ways. When MGM bought the rights to remake this Victorian mystery-thriller with Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman in the leading roles, it ordered all copies of the British film destroyed. Because the original had won high critical praise, the studio hoped in this manner to avoid unfavorable comparisons to the lavishly produced remake. Indeed, many critics still feel that the British version is superior, portraying as it does the casual cruelty of the English class system. Luckily for film fans, the original somehow survived and may be enjoyed today.
Both versions of Gaslight were adapted from Patrick Hamilton's Angel Street, a long-running London stage mystery that also enjoyed success on Broadway in 1941 with Vincent Price and Judith Evans in the leading roles. In the British film, Walbrook plays Paul Mallen, who convinces his bride Bella (Wynyard) that she is losing her memory and indeed her mind while he searches her Victorian mansion for the rubies that had belonged to her late aunt. Bella at last finds an unlikely aide in an ex-Scotland Yard detective (Frank Pettingell) she has met socially. Both roles offer plum parts for actors, with Wynyard delivering a convincing performance in the role that would win Bergman a Best Actress Oscar. Walbrook was singled out by critics of the day for particular praise as the husband, whose outward veneer of suave sophistication hides inner cruelty, greed and desperation. London-born Wynyard (1906-1964) was a distinguished star of the British stage who also succeeded on Broadway and in American and English films, winning an Oscar nomination for Cavalcade (1933). In the 1940s she was married for four years to the celebrated film director Carol Reed. Vienna-born Walbrook (1900-1967) established himself as a star of stage and films in Germany and Austria before emigrating to England and becoming a Continental leading man in such films as The Red Shoes (1948) and La Ronde (1950).
Producers: John Corfield, Richard Vernon (associate)
Director: Thorold Dickinson
Screenplay: A.R. Rawlinson, Bridget Boland, from play Angel Street by Patrick Hamilton
Cinematography: Bernard Knowles
Original Music: Richard Addinsell
Editing: Sidney Cole
Settings: Duncan Sutherland
Principal Cast: Anton Walbrook (Paul Mallen, aka Louis Bauer), Diana Wynyard (Bella Mallen), Frank Pettingell (B.G. Rough), Cathleen Cordell (Nancy, the Parlour Maid), Robert Newton (Vincent Ullswater), Minnie Rayner (Elizabeth, the Cook).
BW-85m. Closed captioning.
by Roger Fristoe