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Scorsese Screens - June 2017
Remind Me

June Highlights on TCM

In partnership with The Film Foundation, Turner Classic Movies is proud to bring you this exclusive monthly column by iconic film director and classic movie lover Martin Scorsese.

GASLIGHT (June 19, 3:45am)--This month, TCM is offering viewers an interesting opportunity to study two very different adaptations of the same play made within a few years of one another: the first in England and the second in Hollywood. Gas Light, set in Victorian London, was written by the English playwright and novelist Patrick Hamilton in 1938. Hamilton had his greatest successes as a playwright--his second most famous play was Rope, adapted by Alfred Hitchcock--but he is more highly regarded as a novelist. He was, it seems, a deeply troubled man (he died at the age of 58 from alcoholism, apparently brought on by a car accident in the early 30s that left him disfigured), and his temperament is reflected in his novels, many of them set in the seedy worlds of London and Brighton pubs and boarding houses. He was admired by Graham Greene, J. B. Priestley and Doris Lessing, and a 2013 article in The Times begins with the assertion that Hamilton "was one of the finest novelists of the 20th century." What's interesting about Gas Light and Rope is that, unlike Hamilton's novels, they are each set within his own upper middle class world (he wrote two other less successful plays, one of which, The Duke in Darkness, is set in 16th century France during the time of the religious wars). But one of the principal characters in Gas Light, the husband, is a gentleman in disguise, a creature from the harsher world of Hamilton's novels.

Hamilton's play, about a con man who marries an upper crust woman and then gradually convinces her that she's going mad, premiered on the West End in 1938 and ran for six months, and it had an even longer run on Broadway in 1944 (where it was retitled Angel Street), with Vincent Price as the husband and Judith Evelyn (who would later play "Miss Lonelyhearts" in Rear Window) as the wife. The first film version was made in England in 1940 by Thorold Dickinson, who stepped in to direct three weeks before the start of production, with Anton Walbrook as the husband and Diana Wynard as the wife. George Cukor's more famous 1944 version was made at MGM with Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman. The differences between the two versions are striking. The Dickinson version is visually stark and borderline austere, while the Cukor version is plush and visually sumptuous. The relationship between the couple in the Dickinson version forefronts the cruelty--Walbrook is a forbidding authoritarian figure, and Wynard is a wealthy ugly duckling. In the Cukor version, Boyer is suave and truly romantic, and he appears to have actually married Bergman for her great beauty. In the Dickinson version, the detective who uncovers the husband's scheme is a good-natured middle-aged man played by Frank Petingell, a veteran character actor. In the Cukor version, the detective is played by Joseph Cotten, and the implication is that he's fallen in love with Bergman. It's instructive to watch these pictures back to back, because they represent two equally compelling and exciting approaches to Hamilton's original. MGM attempted to destroy all extant prints and negatives of Dickinson's version when they acquired the property--unsuccessfully as it turns out--so we should realize how lucky we are to have both pictures to compare.

by Martin Scorsese