Saturday, November 21, 2009

1944 - Gaslight

Without a washing machine in the building, Kat and I are forced to look elsewhere for our laundry needs. The easiest option is to take advantage of our local laundromat's highly convenient wash'n'fold service. Perfect for lazy husbands everywhere. You simply drop off your clothes in the morning and, just like magic, they are clean smelling and neatly folded when you pick them up in the evening. Now and then, I'll use the self-service washing machines to save a bit of money. Since the machines only take quarters, there is a handy change machine in one corner of the room. Pop in a dollar bill and out pop four quarters ... or so you would expect. Recently, upon operating this simple piece of machinery, I was mildly elated to receive five quarters for my one dollar investment. Ah, for the little wins...

Yesterday, I embarked on the 1944 Best Picture journey by watching...

George Cukor
John Van Druten, Walter Reisch and John L. Balderston
(based on the play by Patrick Hamilton)
Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotten, Dame May Whitty, Angela Lansbury
Academy Awards:
7 nominations
2 wins, including Best Actress

Renowned opera singer Alice Alquist has just been murdered in the home she shared with her niece, Paula. Understandably devastated, Paula leaves London for Italy, where, ten years later, she meets Gregory Anton. The two soon fall in love and marry, and he persuades her to move back in to her aunt's house. Once there, however, Paula is haunted by the memory of that fateful night. Strange occurrences abound as Paula misplaces objects, hears footsteps at night and witnesses the gas lamps in the bedroom dim inexplicably. Her doubt in her own sanity is reinforced by her sinister husband, who grows increasingly impatient with her, eventually shutting her off from the outside world.

The mood of this film is divine. The mystery. The suspense. The shadows. The fog... Ah, the fog. There's something about a scene of a finely dressed gentleman, cane at his side, strolling through the fog past a gas lit lamppost in the dead of night. It made me feel nostalgic for the 1940s, which is somewhat absurd considering I wasn't born until three decades later. But it just feels so classic Hollywood, despite the fact that it is set in England and the play on which it is based was written by an Englishman.

There is, unfortunately, one major flaw with this film - it's just so bleedingly obvious that Gregory is behind all the mysteriousness. Right from the outset, we are spoon-fed his evil nature as Charles Boyer, playing the mischievous husband, delivers glassy stares by the bucket load. There was a short period in which I wondered to myself, "What is he up to?" but it didn't last long and, soon, I was mildly disappointed in Ingrid Bergman's Paula for falling for his transparent trickery.

Luckily, being one step ahead of the plot doesn't substantially affect one's enjoyment of the film. The atmosphere created by the Oscar-nominated cinematography and Oscar-winning art direction is pure joy. Bergman won the film's other Oscar for her role as the crazy but sane Paula. Also, a fresh-faced Angela Lansbury makes her film debut as the Antons' maid. And an impressive debut it is.


  1. The mood of this film was sublime indeed. You seem to like it. Which makes me glad. But I'll see if I'm correct.

  2. Hi Matt,

    Just wanted to let you know I'm enjoying the blog! :) Hope all is well in NYC!!

    Luisa :)

  3. Try as I may (and I watched it again this week), I just can't buy into Gaslight. The atmosphere is splendid with its moody photography and its plot is palatable, but it's just so frustratingly unsubtle. That goes for both Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman. These are both good actors, so I put the blame on George Cukor.